Building Relationships Through Connection
by rebecca stewart | photos by Kristin Jean hotographer
Over the course of our lifetime and theirs, the relationships we build with our children are carefully constructed day by day, in the big moments, sure, but more so in the minutiae of the everyday. Generation to generation, the way parents connect with their children has evolved; beautifully, there is often a consistent desire to do better. For some, it pushes beyond that; it is a commitment to doing the important work of breaking negative and abusive cycles. Regardless of the why, we’ve learned the significance of being intentional in the way we are connecting with our children, we recognize the value of creating a solid foundation on which to build upon.
From the moment these precious beings come into this world, we are creating connections, yet how we accomplish that is ever evolving. In the beginning, it is in the quiet moments; every gaze held, every tender touch felt as we marvel over tiny toes, button noses, and inexplicably exquisite baby curl-hawks and fuzz. The joy of unleashing their funny bone in precious, bubble-filled smiles and giggles. Alas, it is not all roses and sunshine wrapped in warm and fuzzy feelings – each age and stage comes with its own unique set of challenges, but don’t be fooled, even in periods that feel rife with disconnect, connections can absolutely be made - from littles to bigs.
One might think that, in comparison, it’s easy-peasy to make those connections with our children when they are wee ones versus those tumultuous tween/teen years. However, ask a parent in the thick of things with a colicky baby or a rambunctious threenager seeking ALL the independence, and they might disagree as it feels like they’re living life in survival mode with nary a positive connection to be found.
The days are long, but the years are short,” a quote frequently shared because it’s so utterly true. So, in full acknowledgment of the ever-changing challenges, we’ve pulled together some ideas for connecting at every age and stage.
But first…What about connecting in times of disconnect?
As impossible as it feels in the moment, it’s striving to respond instead of react. It’s circling back and acknowledging and apologizing when we get it wrong. Our kids so desperately need to see that modeled from us – they not only need to see that we’re fallible but that we’re willing to atone for our mistakes and then make changes. It’s recognizing that these precious beings are human, just as we are, and they deserve grace and understanding (even as they’re driving us bonkers) in imperfect moments. But it is also holding them – just as we hold ourselves – accountable for their actions.
In the Big Feeling moments, it’s as Gwen Felten, MA, LCPC, PC at Northwest Counseling, said to us in 2020, "When someone is having an emotional outburst, they downshift from their thinking brain (cerebral cortex) to their emotional brain (part of the limbic system)." Essentially, when a child is having BIG emotions, it’s imperative that the adult part of the equation keeps their thinking brain in play. As the fully formed adult, we are the safe space. We are the balance. We are the teachers. It’s in this safe space that we are cultivating connection, where they feel heard, and they know no matter what, they are loved unconditionally.
Connecting at every AGE & STAGE
- Say “yes” when you might otherwise have said no. Sometimes it’s just easier to say no – we’re tired, cranky, just don’t wanna. But that “yes” could be a total game-changer/day-maker for your kid. So, next time you find an unnecessary “No” about to slip out, discover the joy that comes from “Yes.”
- Immerse yourself in the world of their imagination. Real talk? Getting on the floor and playing with your kid is not always what dreams are made of, but we do it anyway. Wrap yourself up, not only in the comfort of connection but that you are encouraging their social and emotional development.
- Invite their help and then be patient. Empowering them in their independence – at all stages – is vital to their development as a human being, but that patience piece of the puzzle is where the connection happens.
- Compliment them. Dig deeper than the superficial “You’re so smart!” or “You’re beautiful.” Be specific, “That was so amazing when you…” or “I love how you…” or “Look at how well you…” This is true at every age.
- Snuggle in and read together. Start this habit from day one and make it a part of your daily routine. There are so many known benefits to early reading, and it can be a lifelong endeavor together. (You’re basically setting yourself up for your own mini book club as they get older.)
- Sing to them. I used to have a whole bedtime concert for my girl, and there were times after she had aged out of this that she would have a rough day or trouble falling asleep and want her songs. Music is known as the universal language for a reason.
- Engage in the things they love. So maybe you are truly terrible at Fortnite, but the joy of that truth for your kid is next level. At least you tried. And, if it ends up being the hottest of hot messes, then you can find something on both of your levels. P.S. this also includes you being their biggest fan in the stands or audience; remember, the best thing you can say when all is said and done: “I love to watch you play/perform.”
- Invite them into the things you love. They might just be surprised to find they love it, too. This inviting each other into the things that each of you love is really about bringing you together when you might have otherwise been apart.
- Learn something new together. There is something incredibly bonding in being the newbie with another newbie.
- Set aside distractions and really listen when they talk. That is all.
- Ask questions that require more than a yes or a no.
- Play games, do puzzles, be silly. The louder, the better, I always say.
- Dance it out. Starting when they are just a wee babe in your arms all the way through their snarky teen years. It might just pay off on their wedding day.
- Give hugs and cuddles. Easy enough when they are little, but more difficult as they age. Respect their bodily autonomy and find other ways to show affection if they’re no longer feeling the hug and snuggles.
- Go on a walk and talk. There’s something about walking side-by-side without the pressure of being face-to-face.
- Make the most of your chauffeuring years (see above). Somehow the magic happens in the confines of a vehicle amidst all the seemingly endless running from point A to B and all the way over to Z.
- Learn to use their favorite apps. It opens the door to different kinds and levels of communication. Essentially, meet them where they are.
- Reminisce together. Is there anything better than watching someone’s eyes glow as they share a favorite memory about you? Give your kids the gift of memory lane – tell the stories, dig out the old videos, make the picture books.