Top 7 Ways to Connect With Your Child in a Disconnected World

We love our children and value connection with them, but we lead busy lives inundated by modern technology.   We’re constantly connected to things outside of the home.   It's too easy to lose connection with your most valued relationships as you quickly answer "one more email,” text a friend, post a quick update on Facebook or zone out on a Netflix binge.  The great news is that there are many simple ways to reconnect and develop long lasting, loving connections with your children (and you don't have to give up your phone!).  Here are the top 7 ways to connect with your child in a disconnected world:

1.)   Play Physically

Chasing our kids around the house, giving them a chariot ride on a blanket, giving them a horsey or piggy back ride, playing their favorite sport full out with them:  all of these playful, physically active ways of engaging with our kids boosts them emotionally and deepens our connection with them.

2.)   Listen to Feelings

To help our children develop a healthy relationship to their feelings, listen to all of them, even when they’re crying and tantruming.   Let them know you are there, hold them, rock them, and let them emote.  Don’t try to fix or stop their feelings.  Accept them and be there to witness them.

3.)   Do Special Time Regularly

Your child’s limbic brain thrives off uninterrupted, warm, loving one-on-one special time with you.  Set a timer for 15-60 minutes and announce you will be doing Special Time (you can call it something cooler for the older tween and teen set).  Say “We’re going to do special time.  We can do anything you want to do!”  And then give them your undivided, warm, loving attention.  Enjoy noticing your child and how wonderful he or she is.  Avoid the urge to suggest or direct and follow your child’s lead.  This is a deeply nourishing and connecting practice for both parent and child and will become a cornerstone of your parenting for years to come.

4.)   Stay Connected to Yourself

Instead of using social media to numb out or tune out from yourself and your actual life, put the phones and screens away for 30 minutes per day to actively connect with yourself.  This can include meditation, journaling, painting, writing stories, yoga, a walk in nature.  Take some time everyday to let your thoughts and worries go, to purposefully get away from screens, and tune back into who you really are.  The more you do this, the more available you are to tune in to your kids.

5.)   Make Eye Contact

It’s easy in the hustle bustle of our hectic days between drop offs, work, activities, pick ups, to not slow down enough to look people in the eye.  Children especially thrive off of the emotional connection that is fostered through eye contact.  Every chance you can, whenever you speak with your child, remember to make eye contact.  This helps build your connection and keep it strong.

6.)   Talk Thoughtfully About the Big Questions

Does your 4 year old already want to know where babies come from?  Is your 8 year old struggling to understand her grandparent’s death? As parents, these early curiosities related to life’s biggest and often toughest topics can seem too heavy and scary to address. Talk with your partner and decide what are the top 3 things you hope your child learns about this tough topic in their lifetime.  Then speak to those things.  Do you hope they know sex happens when two people love each other?  Then emphasize that people who love each other make babies (and you can reserve the sex-ed details for when they are older).  Do you want them to understand that even though someone dies, their influence lives on in the people they love?  Then talk about that to help bring peace and perspective.  The point is, don’t completely avoid these topics or assume kids can’t handle them or that they don’t want to hear from you.  They NEED to hear from you and base their own internal compass on yours.  Drop in to your own values and beliefs and teach from there, gently, and thoughtfully.  It will deepen your connection.

7.)    Tell Stories About Your Own Life

Kids want to know what it was like for you to do the things they are learning to do and figure out.  Tell as many stories as you can about your own upbringing and childhood.  Your kids should know who your grandparents were, where you went to school and how you got there, your favorite teacher, when you learned to ride a bike, when your first crush was and on who, who took you to your first dance, where you vacationed with your family, the books you loved as a child, how your friends were at various ages, their names, etc.  All these details help your child to feel close to you and to make choices in their own lives.

Kiran Gaind is a mom to two young girls and owns The Connected Family, a boutique life, leadership and parenting coaching practice for modern parents.  She teaches 6 Week Call-In Connected Parenting classes, offers private coaching packages, gives talks at schools and companies, provides webinars and writes a blog and email newsletter.  She is available for a free consultation (call 650-308-9425) to help you discover how connection can change your family and your life.

Building Emotional Understanding

The Connected Family Parenting Family Chetara-and-daughter
The Connected Family Parenting Family Chetara-and-daughter

I recently took a parenting class called Building Emotional Understanding and will be continuing with certification as an instructor of Parenting by Connection with a non profit organization in Palo Alto called Hand in Hand Parenting. Being a new parent of an infant is exhausting yet quite straightforward in the sense that if you are sure feed, clothe, bathe, cuddle and put to rest your new infant, he or she will be content and eager to interact, smile, play and learn.

Toddlerhood is a different ball game in that a parent meeting their toddler's basic needs for food, sleep, cuddling and bathing don't always compute to calm, angelic behavior (the understatement of the century!).

So what starts to complicate behavior as kids grow? In Building Emotional Understanding, Patty Wipfler, Director of Hand in Hand Parenting, teaches that the limbic system of the brain actually requires consistent, strong, trustworthy emotional connection in order to grow into an optimally functioning, learning system. In other words, the emotional bond is as important as sleep, food and bathing in a growing person's development and can actually be used in moments of off track behavior to help steer a child back to their calm and reasonable place.

This may seem obvious to many parents and caregivers as they often recognize the positive impact that their strong bond with a child has on that child's security and behavior, even in toddlerhood.

What is often misunderstood is what a child needs when their behavior goes off track. In our culture, time outs and punishments have become common place responses to a toddler's off track behavior.

In the Parenting by Connection approach that is taught at Hand in Hand Parenting, a toddler's tantrum is an opportunity to get closer, create safety, and invite a full session of emotional release from a toddler to create a deeper bond with caregivers so that the brain's limbic system's need for closeness is met. A toddler can cycle through a tantrum with an adult coming closer, rather than punishing and rejecting, much more effectively and with trust in themselves and caretakers in tact.

Many busy modern parents believe they don't have time to use Parenting by Connection techniques in their chaotic lives. The reality is that it doesn't take more time to implement this approach; it requires more presence. So if parents work on their ability to be present with their toddlers (and older children's) wide range of emotions, being their close connection and safety as they cycle through and release difficult emotions, they will find their attempts to "discipline" more successful and sustainable and children's limbic systems' are fed rather than starved, strengthening their foundations for learning and empathy as they grow.

For more information, see http://www.handinhandparenting.org and contact me at (415) 377-6791 or at kiran@rayoflightcoaching.com if you would like me to provide a demonstration of how to use these parenting and behavioral techniques with children. I give talks at doctor's offices, Mom's groups, preschools and provide one on one coaching as well.