It's a busy, crazy world and our culture sometimes makes the effort of connecting fully with our kids a difficult chore. It's okay, I get it. But in doing my research, I found that quality emotional connectedness is the best shield our kids have against low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, suicide and addiction.
And that shield comes from us, their parents.
Big responsibility, isn't it?
Sounds hard, right?
Luckily for us, there are some simple steps we can take to improve the emotional climate in our homes so that connection is high, there is trust and there is security.
Here are three simple steps to achieving emotional connectedness with your child.
1. Loving Responsiveness
From the moment we are born, our primary desire is to have our needs met and this continues throughout our whole lives. It is far more obvious in babies as they are completely dependent on us for those needs but is a part of all of us.
The work of John Bowlby on attachment theory provides us with a framework that traces the importance of forming secure attachments all the way back to infancy. Bowlby described attachment as "lasting psychological connectedness between human beings." From his work emerged the idea that loving responsiveness to an infant’s needs by the primary caregiver creates a sense of security.
By responding lovingly and promptly to an infant’s needs, they come to depend on and trust their caregivers, thereby forming a secure emotional bond.
Empathy works in two ways. Being empathetic to our children’s feelings and experiences helps us to be emotionally connected, and according to research, "adolescents who reported secure attachments primarily with the mother, but also with the father, reported greater ability to empathize with another’s situation." So not only does empathy help us connect to our children, but it helps our children develop empathy and the ability to connect to others, providing further protection later in life.
Parents are often told to ignore tantrums and other displays of emotional distress and try to get our kids children to move quickly through negative emotions or to do so alone (like in their room). But this does not build either empathy or emotional resilience but rather a sense of frustration and the belief that their feelings are wrong.
This does not make well-adjusted adults.
A great example of a way to deal with emotional outbursts can be found in this post.
Between school, work, extra-curricular activities, chores, shopping, food preparation, homework, bath time, bedtime and the like, there are not many hours in the day and it is easy to get into the habit of moving from one "to do" to another. And what suffers?
I know. I've been more guilty of that than anyone.
In fact, over the past 20 years, children have lost approximately eight hours of free play per week. Unfortunately, this free play is crucial in your child's emotional development and it has been noted that the reduction in it is directly correlated to the rise in children’s mental health disorders.
So we need to play. They need to play and WE need to play with them.
Luckily, play doesn't need to be long in order to reap the rewards. According to some researchers, playing for just 2 to 10 minutes can be beneficial in restoring connection and physical play and roughhousing is especially good at helping children release negative emotions and feel bonded.
See? Easy. You're probably already doing these things, but it's always nice to know you're on the right track. And why.