Connection to a parent is as vital to your child as food and water. When children feel disconnected from their parents, their behavior goes off-track, resulting in challenges such as whining or aggression.
Ironically, right now our ability to connect with our children is being challenged like never before. With schools and workplaces closed and families living their entire lives at home, parents are juggling a lot right now—just as our children's need for connection is more acute than ever. It's no coincidence that your toddler insists on a snuggle or a game just as you need to hop on a video call for work. Or that your child resists homeschooling activities without constant input and "help" from you. Or that bedtime suddenly takes ages when all you want to do is collapse on the couch and decompress.
It can feel hard to nourish our children with all the connection time they need, especially in stressful times. Children need long stretches of quality time with us, but on some days it's inevitable that things get hectic, and it's all about juggling priorities.
Here 8 bite-size ways to give our children the deep sense of connection they need to thrive.
1. Set a timer for "Special Time"
Set a timer for 10 minutes. Tell your child it's 'special time' and they can do exactly what they want with you. if you can squeeze a short special time into a busy morning, you'll be amazed how much happier it makes everyone, and how much children are more willing to cooperate when they feel connected to you.
2. Try "Giggle Parenting"
When you need your child to get dressed or brush their teeth it can be easy to drop into serious parenting mode, lecturing, complaining and getting stressed.
Giggle Parenting is a simple solution. Whenever you need to get your child to do something, make your approach extra playful. For example, use a puppet or stuffed toy to make the request in a silly voice. Or ask your child to get dressed and pretend to 'accidentally' put the clothes on your own body instead. Giggle Parenting gives children the connection they need to cooperate, and helps make daily tasks fun.
3. Provide full attention moments
If there's a moment when your child is asking you something while you are cooking dinner, or talking about their day while you are trying to finish something for work, just stop for a short moment. Sit down on a chair and make eye contact. Give your child your full attention. It can be easy to get caught up in multitasking and carrying on a conversation while doing other things, but from time to time remember to stop when your child is talking to you and simply listen. Even if it's just a few moments here and there, it can make a difference.
4. Exchange whines for snuggles
When your child is whining, being irritable or showing signs of upset feelings, it can be easy to soak up their energy and feel a little irritable too. Shift the mood by adding in some connection so you both feel better.
Perhaps your child whines because you've set a limit about screen time or eating chocolate. Instead of becoming more serious in tone about the limit setting, turn it into a chance to connect.
Move in close and set the limit gently. Perhaps you say playfully, while making eye contact, "No, no, no I can't let you have any more chocolate.'' Or you playfully snuggle a child who's been annoying their sibling and say, "I can't let you do that, I'm going to shower you with 100 kisses!''
These little moments of connection go a bit deeper than the surface desire for screen time and chocolate and give your child what they really need—you.
5. Make a mistake
Comedian Victor Borge once said that "laughter is the shortest distance between two people." One thing children always find hilarious is when we adults make mistakes. It's the perfect way to release tension about times when they have felt small and powerless.
So perhaps you get something out of the cupboard and 'accidentally' drop it on the floor and exclaim out loud about your mistake, or you spell a word wrong while writing a text message, and say in a bumbling incompetent way, "Hm, I don't seem to know how to spell 'there.'" (Or some other word that you know your child knows how to spell.)
This can turn busy tasks into a chance for tiny moments of laughter, eye contact and fun.
6. Read together
Reading a short book or chapter can be a nice way to reconnect and relax as a substitute for screen time. Reading is my go to for those moments when I'm too exhausted to play, but want to spend time with my daughter.
7. Do household tasks together
When you are tired and stressed at the end of the day, the temptation can be to flip the TV on while you prepare dinner or get on with other household tasks. However, getting the kids involved in the evening routine can be a way to reconnect. Even the youngest ones can help with setting the table or putting plates in the dishwasher. If children complain, set a playful limit. For example, "If you don't help me, I will chase you around the house.'' This can lead to a lot of giggles and, in the end, they are more than likely to want to help and be with you.
8. Release tension through physical play
Especially at the end of the day, children love to release excess stress and tension through laughter and physical play. Set a timer for 10 minutes for some gentle roughhousing. Grab a pillow and have a pillow fight. Put up some resistance but let your child knock you over. This reverse power play helps your child to grow in confidence, let off steam, and is the perfect antidote to all those busy moments in the day when you've been telling them what to do.