Sometimes life gets a little hectic. A little busy. Sometimes it is complete chaos. Sometimes our priorities fall out of balance for various reasons. A work deadline, a new baby, illness, conflict, or even just feeling the, sometimes dull, repetition of everyday life. When imbalance occurs, we can become disconnected from those that we love deepest: our children.
When we feel disconnected from our children, fuses run shorter. We have less patience and start seeing our child as the enemy. Children whine, cry, scream and ‘act out’ more when they feel disconnected, which increases the sense of ‘us against them.’ What we need to realize is that our children are just communicating their desperate need for connection the only way that they know how.
Their loud and frustrating behaviors are their way of saying “I need you right now. I need you to be present with me. To meet me here in our special place. To connect with me.”
It’s important to remember that for every unwanted behavior there is an unmet need. When that need is met, our lives become more cooperative, peaceful, and cohesive. Our cups are fuller and we are able to manage emotions with more stability and empathy.
There are many simple ways to connect with your child, although some take a bit more effort, but have hugely positive results on your relationship.
Look at your child’s eyes.
If she is down in her own world playing independently, watch her eyes, even if you have to watch her for 5 minutes silently. If she knows you are in the room, she will eventually look up at you. And to look up and instantly meet your gaze will fill her love cup. She will see that she is your sole focus in that moment. That she is worthy of your undivided attention.
If she is in full on meltdown, meet her eyes. Find your center, your calm, and look into her eyes with compassion and love. She will feel your strength and support that she desperately needs in that moment. You don’t even need to speak (sometimes a soft “I’m right here for you” is all they need), just be that present and everlasting source of safety they need while they empty their hearts and bodies of huge emotions.
I love the quote by psychologist Virginia Satir.
“We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”
I know that when I feel disconnected from my son it is because I haven’t hugged or even touched him much that day. He feels it too. If I feel irritated with him for whining or needing me to constantly look at him, it is a huge signal that I am too distracted with “everything else.” That I need to stop what I’m doing in that moment and give him my undivided attention (of course, this isn’t always possible).
Everything else being all of the things that have nothing to do with what truly matters in the big scheme of life. Dishes. Cleaning. Errands. Surfing the internet. Screens in general. All of these things will still be there later. Tomorrow. Next month. Next year. My children will never be as young as they are in this moment. They will grow older later today. Older tomorrow. Next month. And most definitely, next year.
I have to check in with myself each day to make sure that my priorities are balanced. That I’ve given enough hugs. Held enough hands. Fluffed enough hairs. Kissed enough little fingers and toes.
Playfulness and play.
Being playful solves so many problems in a gentle, stress free way. Play is a child’s work. There are so many complex layers to a child’s play that allow them to explore, experiment and learn. Meeting them on their level by playing and being playful allows for more cooperation, communication and connection by fostering closeness instead of isolation and confidence rather than powerlessness.
The book “Playful Parenting” by Lawrence Cohen is a gem for how to make thorny situations playful. Whether it’s a preschooler not wanting to dress themselves when they know how, trying to get to activities and appointments on time, an anxious child at the doctors office, or even a preteen having a hard time fitting in, being playful and connecting with your child through play allows you to reach them on a deeper level and unlocks the door to their “tower of isolation and powerlessness,” as described in the book.
Get it. A must read (albeit a little slow towards the end).
Turn off technology.
This may seem obvious, but a very simple way to connect with your child is by turning off technology. Phones, music, tv, video games. Just turn them off. The only sounds filling your ears are the ones made by you and your child.
Screens can be such a huge distraction. I’ve seen families sitting together all looking at their respective screen. Nobody talking. Chances for connection missed, time and time again.
An important note: This piece is focused on simple ways to connect with your child. This isn’t saying you should give them every ounce of your soul and attention every second of ever day. My work is 100% online so I have to be at a screen daily. Sometimes I need to make dinner and screens are the only way to accomplish that in a peaceful way. Sometimes I just want to sit at the park and scroll through Instagram catching up with virtual friends while my kids burn off steam. And sometimes we just really like playing Minecraft together (which is a very valid way to connect with your child on their level). There is no judgement here for self-care and meeting our own needs, and sometimes screens are part of that equation, at least for our family.
Allow for all emotions to be expressed.
This can be a tough one for a lot of people. Loud, screaming, wailing meltdowns are big triggers for parents. They can make you feel angry. If “tantrums,” “fits,” and meltdowns immediately get your back up, it is important to dig deep into your own childhood to find out why they bother you. Do they send you into a fight or flight panic response? This is most likely because you were not allowed to express huge upsets as a child. Typical experiences from your own childhood could include “throwing a fit because you didn’t get your way,” or “getting glad in the same pants you got mad in.” These perspectives completely dismiss the child’s actual feelings. To them, the situation is a huge deal even if they were told “there’s no reason to be crying.” To them, as the child, there was absolutely a reason to cry. They were hurting. They felt powerless and isolated.
It’s important to break this cycle of forcing children to stuff their emotions. To “get over it.” We need to allow our children to cry huge, snot-filled, wailing cries. We need to be down on our knees next to them with a compassionate heart and calm composure (way easier said than done). Our children are releasing big emotions. By us being a present and unconditionally loving force, our children are being allowed to emotionally recover from their upset in a safe zone. They are being allowed to pour out this massive weight in their chests so that they can breathe freely and feel lighter.
If you struggle with this trigger, work on biting your tongue when you feel like telling them to knock it off, besides an “I’m right here. You are safe. I won’t leave you.” Focus on your breathing and keeping perspective. Reminding yourself that this is NOT an emergency. Nobody is in danger. Who cares what anyone else thinks. My child needs me in this moment. I can do this.
Connecting Through Filling Their Love Cup.
Other ways to fill your child’s love cup might include using their name often, reading their favorite story over and over, focusing on their strengths, playing their favorite game, and doing things that make them feel extra special.
Connecting might seem difficult and time consuming, especially considering the amount of tasks that we are expected to do in a single day, but considering the amount of time that could be and is spent on whining, nagging, frustration, and power struggles, connection definitely wins out on being the most worthwhile use of our time, allowing for relationships to be filled with love, warmth and security. When we choose connection, a lot of those other not-so-fun behaviors like whining and nagging fall away, leaving behind more space for cooperation and empathy.
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