Parenting should be the most natural thing in the world. And sometimes it is.
And sometimes...not so much.
In my decade of parenting, I have come to know one truth...you never know it all and you keep forgetting the things that you do know.
So I like to continually learn. Not just new things but things I already knew because it's easy to stop putting the obvious things into practice after a while. Which is why I loved an article recently by Laura Markham Ph.D on the Psychology Today website. In it, Laura shares 10 things you can build into your daily life that will enhance the connection between you and your child. The article did teach me some new things, but it also reminded me of some obvious things I had allowed to fall by the wayside in my busy life.
I'd like to share them all here with you.
"We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth." - Virginia Satir
Snuggle your child first thing in the morning for a few minutes, and last thing at night. Hug when you say goodbye, when you're re-united, and often in between. Tousle hair, pat backs, rub shoulders. Make eye contact and smile, which is a different kind of touch.
Laughter and rough-housing keep you connected with your child by stimulating endorphins and oxytocin in both of you. Making laughter a daily habit also gives your child a chance to laugh out the anxieties and upsets that otherwise make him feel disconnected - and more likely to act out. And play helps kids want to cooperate. Which is likely to work better?: "Come eat your breakfast now!" or "Little Gorilla, it's time for breakfast - Look, you have bugs and bananas on your oatmeal!"
Your child will remember for the rest of her life that she was important enough to her parents that they turned off their phone to listen to her. Even turning off music in the car can be a powerful invitation to connect, because the lack of eye contact in a car takes the pressure off, so kids (and adults) are more likely to open up and share.
Kids have a hard time transitioning from one thing to another. If you look him in the eye, use his name, and connect with him, then get him giggling, you'll make sure he has the inner resources to manage himself through a transition.
Do whatever you need to do to schedule 15 minutes with each child, separately, every day. Alternate doing what your child wants and doing what you want during that time. On her days, just pour your love into her and let her direct. On your days resist the urge to structure the time with activities. Instead, try any physical activity or game that gets her laughing.
Sure, it's inconvenient. But your child needs to express his emotions or they'll drive his behaviour. Besides, this is an opportunity to help your child heal those upsets, which will bring you closer. So summon up your compassion, don't let the anger trigger you, and welcome the tears and fears that always hide behind the anger. Remember that you're the one he trusts enough to cry with, and breathe your way through it. Just acknowledge all those feelings and offer understanding of the pain. Afterwards, he'll feel more relaxed, cooperative, and closer to you. Yes, this is really hard. Regulating our own emotions in the face of a child's upset is one of the hardest parts of parenting. But that doesn't mean we're excused from trying.
Connection starts with listening. Bite your tongue if you need to, except to say, "Wow!....I see....Really?...How was that for you?...Tell me more..."
The habit of seeing things from your child's perspective will ensure that you treat her with respect and look for win/win solutions. It will help you see the reasons for behaviour that would otherwise drive you crazy. And it will help you regulate your own emotions so when your buttons get pushed and you find yourself in "fight or flight," your child doesn't look so much like the enemy.
You aren't just rushing your child through the schedule so you can spend a few minutes with him before bed. Every interaction all day long is an opportunity to connect. Slow down and share the moment: Let him smell the strawberries before you put them in the smoothie. When you're helping him wash his hands, put yours in the running water with his, and share the cool rush of the water. Smell his hair. Listen to his laughter. Look him in the eyes and meet him heart to open heart, sharing that big love. Connect in the magnificence of the present moment — which is really the only way we can connect. (For most parents, this is also the secret to being able to tolerate playing that same game, yet again.)
Set your child's bedtime a wee bit earlier with the assumption that you'll spend some time visiting and snuggling in the dark. Those companionable, safe moments of connection invite whatever your child is currently grappling with to the surface, whether it's something that happened at school, the way you snapped at her this morning, or her worries about tomorrow's field trip. Do you have to resolve her problem right then? No. Just listen. Acknowledge feelings. Reassure your child that you hear her concern, and that you'll solve it together tomorrow. The next day, be sure to follow up. You'll be amazed how your relationship with your child deepens. And don't give this habit up as your child gets older. Late at night is often the only time teens will open up.
Most of us go through life half-present. But your child has only about 900 weeks of childhood with you before he leaves your home. He'll be gone before you know it. Try this as a practice: When you're interacting with your child, show up 100 percent. Just be right here, right now, and let everything else go. You won't be able pull this off all the time. But if you make it a habit several times a day, you'll find yourself shifting into presence more and more often, because you'll find it creates those moments with your child that make your heart melt.
It all seems so simple and obvious doesn't it? So why do I feel so relieved when I read them over and over again in different places?
Because I forget. And I want to show up as much as I can.
So I love the reminders.
You can read the full article here.