Sneak peek: To connect with kids seems like an easy task but in reality, it can be challenging. A few helpful ideas on why it’s worth our time to focus on connection.
Do you know that feeling you get when you feel really emotionally connected with someone? Maybe it’s a friend, spouse, partner, or family member but the feeling is similar. When you are physically separate, you still feel an emotional connection. It’s almost like an invisible thread that connects you to them. You think about that person and what they might be feeling and you sense that they are thinking of you too.
The same type of connection happens with our kids too. In fact, our kids need to feel connected to us. Their connection to us (their caregivers) is what helps them feel safe and secure in the world, both physically and emotionally. To connect with kids means to make our relationship secure.
As we go through our journey with our kids, however, sometimes this thread of connection can become a bit frayed. The daily grind of busy schedules, little disagreements (or big ones!), or being pulled in multiple directions can make it challenging to keep a strong connection. Let’s dig into why this emotional connection with our kids is so crucial and easy ways we can foster it.
Why Connecting with Your Kids Matters
Although we all know that it feels good to have a strong emotional connection with your child, the benefits go beyond feelings. At its core, our emotional connection with our children helps foster a secure attachment. While we typically discuss the concept of attachment in the infant phase, attachment is helpful to discuss throughout childhood. Even our older children need to feel they can rely on us for physical and emotional support.
This type of secure attachment primarily centers on responsiveness. When we are responsive to our child’s physical and emotional needs consistently, the more secure attachment we tend to form with them. Of course, in older kids, this doesn’t mean we have to fall into helicopter parenting and end up doing everything for them. Responsiveness simply means we recognize and validate their needs and feelings. In some cases, it might mean that we meet those needs for them; at other times, it might be more appropriate to simply support a child in them meeting their own needs (e.g., teenagers don’t really need you to make their grilled cheese for them but a toddler does).
Beyond ensuring a strong attachment, connecting with kids also usually helps with cooperation. To connect with kids is to make sure you are all on the “same page.” When the connection is strong, children typically cooperate with your instructions much more readily.
Think about it this way: how would you feel if you had a boss who never asked how you were doing, hardly spoke to you except to give commands, and overall didn’t seem to care about you beyond your job duties? Would you feel very inclined to respect them or be very motivated to do a good job (beyond the threat of losing your job)? Probably not.
Of course, our relationships with our children are not quite like a boss-employee relationship but you see the point. We, humans, are wired for social connection. When we can establish a strong emotional connection with our children, it’s easier for them to listen to our instructions or advice. They know we “have their back” and are not trying to bully them into what we want them to do.
How to Connect with Kids
It’s clear that the goal to connect with kids should be a big part of our parenting journey. But how do we do this well? A recent survey found that 71 percent of parents struggle to communicate meaningfully with their children. Similarly, 78 percent of parents said they felt “shut out” of their kids’ lives. Now, some of these findings may relate to the normal developmental process that teens experience during puberty. It’s not uncommon for teens, in an effort to establish their independence, distance themselves a bit from their parents for a while. Overall, however, this survey speaks to the widespread disconnect that many parents feel from their children.
Overcoming this distance and establishing a strong emotional connection is possible but it may take some intentional effort and persistence on our part. These are just a few meaningful ways we can connect with our kids in everyday life:
- Activities together. Depending on your child’s age and interests, finding activities to do together may be easy or challenging. Keep in mind the main goal is to spend time together. If the activity your child chooses is not your favorite, it will show them a lot of care if you try it anyway. This might mean playing that annoying video game with your child or trying a sport that you don’t really enjoy. Your openness to understanding why your child likes their activity of choice will help you gain insight into their personality. Plus, having a good laugh together as you try something new is always a good bonding experience.
- Reminiscing about past events. Kids often really enjoy reminiscing about past events and/or memories you created together. I’m always surprised at how much my boys enjoy looking at old photos or videos of when they were younger. We end up telling stories, laughing, and having a great time. Recently, I’ve taken to making easy digital photo albums on the free program, Memento, as an easy way to share with my kids and extended family members. You can also collaborate with others on the albums (which can be displayed as slideshows) so you are able to combine everyone’s photos together. Fun and connection-building!
- Listening (really). Of course, we all listen to our kids on a daily basis. If your kids are like mine, they chat almost non-stop. The type of listening that really helps to connect with kids, however, is a bit deeper. This type of listening sometimes involves reading between the lines a bit. For example, when your child comes home from school and you ask how their day went and they respond with a half-hearted, “fine,” you know it may be time to dig a bit deeper. Their “fine” response might really mean something awful happened. This is when it’s really time to listen deeper. It might involve asking a few questions or listening as they pour their heart out to you. This type of deep listening is what can really help in building a strong emotional connection with kids.
- Validating feelings. If you’ve been learning about positive parenting for a while, you probably know we talk a lot about feelings and validation. Validating a child’s feelings does not imply that you approve of all their behavior (this is a common misconception). The experience of having your feelings validated is a powerful one. Have you ever had a friend or partner who validated your feelings well? For example, when you came home from work upset at your boss and your partner didn’t try to immediately solve the problem but instead just listened and understood that your feelings were valid. This experience probably made you feel more connected to your partner. The same process works with our children. When we validate their feelings of frustration, disappointment or anger (even though they are uncomfortable for us), our children feel strongly connected to us. Oftentimes, this validation also helps them process their emotions so they are able to calm down and regulate their emotions better. Win-win!
Connecting with your kids doesn’t have to be just another item on your to-do list. By approaching together time with a mind toward openness and humor, you and your child can feel a strong emotional connection.