According to John Gottman of the Gottman Institute, successful relationships have at least 5 positive interactions to every 1 negative interaction. He was referring to married couples but it’s likely that maintaining this 5 to 1 ratio is effective insurance in every relationship – including between parents and children.
Life, with its infinite distractions and constant separations, has a way of eroding connection. It’s important for all parents to repeatedly reconnect with their children, just to repair the daily erosion created by life’s normal separations and distractions. Connection equals cooperation. If there is no connection with our children, they will find others to connect with: their teacher, their peers or their computers!
Maybe you can think about connection as a preventive measure, before there’s a problem. What are some ways you can connect with your children on a regular basis? Parenting expert Marie Marchand shares practical tips you can apply daily.
1. Say goodbye, say hello
It’s pretty straightforward: when you leave, say goodbye; when you return, say hello. When you first see your children in the morning, make a point of greeting each of them, preferably physically. This may seem obvious, but a lot of families don’t do it. Instead of saying: “how many times will I have to tell you to get up?”, try gently patting their arm and saying: “good morning sleepy girl, it’s time to start your beautiful day”. That positive connection sets the tone for your time together.
2. Physically reconnect, with focus, at their level
Get down to your child’s level, look into their eyes and put your hand on their shoulder or give them a meaningful hug or kiss. Show them how much connecting with them means to you.
3. Keep distractions to a minimum. For both of you
Giving your children your full attention shows you care. If you can discipline yourself to turn off the news when your child gets in the car, you’re much more likely to make a connection with him and hear about what happened during the school day. When you arrive home, don’t answer the phone during your greeting. As automatic as it is to answer the phone, greeting each other and reconnecting is ultimately more important.
4. Play together
With toddlers, get down on the floor with them, in their space and in sync with their energy level. Connect with them in their world, whether it’s building a train track, excitedly running around or reading a book. When they’re a bit older, it might be a social game, a riddle, charades or anything that will bring fun and connection.
5. Have family rituals and traditions
Rituals are special to a family and it helps connect daily. It doesn’t have to be anything major. It can be a special handshake, a written note in a lunch box, or a certain song – anything unique between you and your child.
Traditions also help families connect. They give children a sense of belonging. As they grow older, they will be look forward to family traditions and will likely pass them on to their own children one day. For example, on Christmas Day, your family may choose to start the day donating something to a charity before you sit down for a turkey dinner. Kids don’t need big gestures.
6. Know what they like
Do you know your child’s favorite song? Color? Food? Friend? Game? It’s important to have an idea of what they like so that you can talk about those things and create ‘connection’ between you and your child. Even if your child is not speaking yet, take a look at what they gravitate towards. With younger children, talking with them about things they like helps them build their language skill. With children of all ages, it shows you’re interested in their life and want to hear about the things that matter to them.
Imagine yourself connecting to your child, feeling deep love, right now. Maybe it’s that good morning snuggle with him or you’re twirling her around, both of you laughing or you sing out loud with your little one in the car. Hold that picture for a full 60 seconds. Watch it like a movie. How are you feeling and acting? How is your child responding? Let that heart-melting, connected feeling soak in. Connections feel so good!