Whether you’re a veteran parent, a new mom or dad, or building a kids’ baseball team, there’s one thing we all have in common – learning to connect with children.
However, with busy jobs, extracurricular activities, and other responsibilities, you may sometimes feel like you’re coming up short. This blog post discusses the importance of making time to connect with your kids and helpful ways to do so as they grow from toddlers to pre-teens.
What does it mean to connect with kids?
When you hear the word connection, you may automatically think of the physical aspect. However, connecting with your kids is more than simply being physically available to them. It’s a combination of being both physically and emotionally present.
You might say, “Well, I’m with my kids all the time.” This may be true, but is your body physically inhabiting a space while your mind is elsewhere? Being present means you’re engaged in the here and now rather than mentally absent or distracted.
A great example is a parent who is always on their phone at their child’s sporting event. Sure, they are there physically, but are they present?
Connecting with toddlers (1-3)
From ages one to three, toddlers are learning to explore the world. The best thing you can do as their parent is to involve them in every aspect of your day. Remember, right now, they’re learning about how the world works, and it’s up to you to guide them.
Here are some ways to help you connect with your toddler:
- Give them positive attention – Positive interactions can be as simple as putting your arm around them as they play, making eye contact, or using caring facial expressions.
- Play together – Make time to play dress-up, a game of imagination, or any other activity your kids enjoys. Whatever it is, let them take the reins during this special time.
- Allow them to make their own decisions – Have your child pick out their outfit, snack, or toy to encourage a sense of independence.
- Read a book together – Reading with your kids helps stimulate their imagination, expands their understanding of the world, and develops language and listening skills.As a bonus, once you’re done reading, work together to create your own imaginative story.
- Disconnect from technology – Sit down, put your electronic device aside, and play with your child for a few minutes. The vital part of this is being present with your kids.
- Sing together – Who doesn’t love a good tune? Especially little kids. Listening is a critical development skill. Sing their favorite song and have them join in.As a bonus, add humming, clapping, and clanging kitchen utensils to extend your musical number further.
- Build – If you don’t have building blocks or Legos at your disposal, find household items, such as cups, bowls, or reusable containers, to create towers. Take turns building them up and then knocking them down (which is often twice as fun).In doing so, you’re helping them to learn gross and fine motor skills, spatial reasoning, hand-eye coordination, dexterity, and problem-solving skills.
- Play a board game or cards- A board or card game offers early learning opportunities. They increase memory and cognitive skills, boost processing speed, develop logic and reasoning, and improve critical thinking, problem-solving, verbal, and communication skills. Plus, these games can expand your child’s attention and concentration.Examples of perfect games for toddlers include Memory, Bingo, and Go Fish.
- Talk with one another – Remember, your toddler is learning how the world works by watching you. Incorporate dialogue into everyday activities like brushing your teeth, making breakfast, doing household chores, grocery shopping, etc.Tell them how and why your actions are similar to what your family and friends do. Encourage them to ask questions and make their own observations.
- Encourage independence – Your toddler might have difficulty being without you (and vice versa). If this is the case, talk to them about times when you’ll be apart from one another. Children feel more secure when they know the whole picture, so do this as often as possible.For example, you could say, “I’m going to dinner tonight with mom. I won’t be home to put you to bed, but I’ll be here to get you up in the morning.”
Connecting with younger kids (4-8)
You’re right in the sweet spot when your child is in this age group. While they aren’t wholly dependent on you anymore (like they were as toddlers), they still need significant help, encouragement, and guidance. Here are ways to connect with your younger child:
- Incorporate special time – No matter what age, children want to feel like they have their parent’s undivided attention. To provide this, set aside time devoted to them. This can last anywhere from ten minutes to an entire day/night. What’s important is that you’re setting aside one-on-one time for them, making them feel loved.
- Talk to your child – Communication is vital in any relationship. While doing chores around the house, running errands, driving in the car, or going for a walk, talk to your young child. Discuss their likes and dislikes, what they’re learning in school, or their favorite movie or book. You may already know the answers to most of these questions, but the conversation is what matters.
- Family chores – Parenting experts highly recommend giving appropriate chores for each age group. Doing chores helps kids learn about caring for themselves, their house, and their loved ones. It also gives them a sense of responsibility, a role in family duties, and the belief that you trust them.For example, you might have your child wipe off the kitchen table, help with the dishes, meal prep, or set the table.
- Arts & Crafts – If you’re looking for a great one-on-one activity with your child, consider arts & crafts.For example, you could make a new wreath for your front door if it’s a new season. You could also play with water beads, draw with stencils, paint rocks, or make tie-dye shirts. Really, the sky is the limit.
- Play together – Sometimes, the seriousness of the day is hard to shake off. When you get home from work, get on your child’s level, and have some fun. Play video games, make a fort, watch Bluey, or play make-believe. Remember, you’ll pleasantly surprise your young child if you suddenly yell, “Tag! You’re it!”
- Establish a family day – Be consistent and make one day of the week, such as Sunday, your family day. Ditch your electronic devices and simply enjoy each other, with the only rule being to spend quality time together.Some examples include going for bike rides, to the zoo, running errands, or any other lovely ideas.
- Show affection – Physical intimacy is extremely important and lets your child know how much they mean to you. Every once in a while, remember to hug, kiss, put your arm around, or squeeze your kids. When you’re watching TV at night, pull them close and snuggle under a blanket on the couch.
- Pay attention – Put your phone down and focus on your child. Although this sounds rudimentary, most people struggle daily to disconnect from the internet and connect with those around them. If you have a hard time remembering, look around at how many parents are staring at screens rather than their children.
- Bedtime chat and snuggle – When it comes to bedtime, have a routine your kids can expect. After they brush their teeth, wash their face, and change into their pajamas, do something fun like reading stories or lying on the floor and chit-chatting. These are sacred moments, so don’t be a stickler when it comes to going a couple of minutes past bedtime.
- Welcome emotion – We can all agree that young children often have big emotions. As a parent, it can be challenging to respond correctly. It’s key to remember that even as adults, we don’t have everything together. So, why would they? Remember to be there for your child during their time of need. You’ll become closer by offering compassion, understanding, and creating a safe space.
Connecting with pre-teens (9-12)
Connecting with kids can be challenging, but when it comes to this age group, it can feel like uncharted territory. Suddenly, they don’t seem so kid-like anymore. They’re starting to have their own wants, needs, opinions, and ideas. They don’t want to just hang out with you or your family anymore. They’d rather “play with friends.” You might ask yourself, “Where did my baby go?” Don’t worry! You have yet to hit the teenage years. You still have time to feel connected to your pre-teen before the real power struggles begin. Here are some helpful tips:
- Share family meals – Whether you’re cooking, ordering takeout, or venturing to a restaurant, do it together. To help everyone remain present, turn off the TV and put away those phones! Try to dine together as often as possible to give your child a sense of stability and connection.
- Exercise together – If you’re looking for ways to connect with your child, why not incorporate something you do daily? If your kids like to run, buy some running shoes. If you hate running, find a joint exercise you both enjoy. Whatever you choose will strengthen your body and the connection you share in the same way.
- Give praise – It’s true. As a parent, we tend to praise our younger children more than our older kids. Although teens can act like they’re too cool for school, most kids care what their parents think. Seek opportunities to give praise and thanks whenever possible. Remember, we need five positive interactions for every negative interaction to keep a relationship healthy.
- Stay involved – Stay involved in your pre-teen’s pursuits. Doing so gives you extra bonding time and shared experiences. If they’re interested in field hockey, learn how it’s played. That way, you know what your child references when they talk about the midfielder who fouled them.
- Listen more – This age is a hard transition for both children and parents. Your child isn’t little anymore, so they’re not just learning from you. Because of this, it’s vital to listen to what they have to say, let them work out their own issues, and only give them advice when they ask.
- Don’t shy away from the uncomfortable stuff – You may not want to be first in line to talk to your pre-teen about sex, death, money, drugs, dating, and complicated family issues, but this will help you connect with them. It may be awkward initially, but challenging conversations create open communication and allow you to explore these topics together. Plus, your child will be more likely to come to you if they have any questions.
- Show trust – Look for ways to show your pre-teen that you trust them. You can ask for a favor, such as cutting the grass or feeding the dog. This shows you have faith in their ability to follow through and will help boost their confidence.
- Schedule a weekly movie night – Who doesn’t love movies? Whether you watch a movie at home or in the theater, make it a weekly or bi-weekly occurrence. Whatever you choose, it’s the perfect chance to spend time with your pre-teen without needing to talk the entire time. You can even have fun by throwing movie titles into a hat and choosing them throughout the year or taking turns picking snacks for the flick.*This is great for scheduling special time with your child if you have two or three kids (or more).
- Work together – We often bring our work home, interrupting family time. While your pre-teen is doing their homework, consider sitting at the table with them. You may be working on different things, but nothing can beat the chit-chat and interactions in between.
- Prepare meals together – We already talked about sharing mealtimes, but what about preparing the actual meals? One of the best bonding experiences is teaching your child how to cook.For example, introduce them to family recipes and your cooking techniques, and allow them to show you their own kitchen skills.
Why nurturing relationships is crucial for child development
As previously mentioned, our children’s relationships and connections shape how they see, understand, and interact with the world. Through their connection with parents and others, your child will learn how to express themself through smiles, laughter, anger, crying, and more.
As a parent, making your child feel safe and secure while guiding them throughout their development is essential. When you build a strong foundation by listening to what your kids say, being present, and setting time aside to spend with them, they are more likely to feel safe and secure with you.
Remember, the tips provided are just a few examples of how to make a deeper connection. There are countless more ideas to choose from.
For additional help
If you’re interested in learning about more ways to connect with your child, Anchor Light Therapy Collective offers experienced therapists in both child and family therapy.
Contact us today to set up a free consultation.