Think about it — what is the greatest human need? It is to be loved, to belong and to know that you matter. So, as parents, work on building a deep-rooted bond with your children.
By Aparna Samuel Balasundaram
With over two decades of counselling experience with individuals and families, I can attest to the fact that many ‘broken, insecure or angry’ individuals, at the core, feel they are unwanted, misunderstood or lonely.
The same is true for our children. Anger outbursts, incessant crying, sulking ,whining and rebellious behaviours are usually a cry for help from our child. It is a sign that she needs to feel that emotional connect and unconditional love from the most important adult in her life!
As parents, we love our children and want them to be happy, confident and successful. However, in the chaotic realities of our lives, we often forget to invest in emotional bonding.
Here are FOUR ways to build an emotional connect with your child:
1. Harness the power of touch: Inside the womb, touch is one of the first senses we develop. Touch is a language through which we can build and sustain emotional bonds. David J Linden, a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and bestselling author of ‘Touch: The Science of the Hand, Heart, and Mind’, suggests that touch is not "optional for human growth and there is no substitute for touch as it is a central aspect of our human experience." Parents are advised to ensure frequent skin-to-skin contact with their newborn as it makes the little one feel protected, secure and nurtured. However, as our children grow up, we tend to physically hold back our affection. Don’t do so. Make sure you hug and pat them at least once a day.
2. Use the positive disciplining technique of ‘time-in’: We have all heard about using 'time-outs’ to discipline a child. This strategy requires removing the child from the environment where the unacceptable behaviour occurred and sending him to a corner to regain control of himself. Margo Tarasov, LCSW Clinical Social Worker and Certified Supervisor, New Jersey, shares that recent studies have demonstrated that ‘time-in’, as opposed to ‘time-out’, is more effective in obtaining the results parents are desirous of. What does that tell us? That children thrive when they are held close by those most important to them and do far worse when they are pushed away and kept at a distance. We are now learning that a prolonged ‘time-out’ actually reinforces the idea to children that they are bad and not wanted in the family system. The ‘time-in’ philosophy, which invites the parent to sit with the child in ‘time-out’ or, to ask them to do a chore with the parent who is in the same room where the chore is being done, helps to sustain the feeling of connectivity. This is how important the parent-child bond is, according to research!
3. Engage in shared experiential activities: Man of us believe that if we can get our children to do their homework, bathe, eat well and attend their extracurricular activities, it’s a day well spent and a job well done as a parent! However, as we rush our children through these daily ‘necessary’ routines, we forget to take time to have fun! Child development research has clearly highlighted the benefits of spending time in shared experiential activities — be it kicking a ball together, creating an art and craft project, cooking or even, reading a storybook. When we spend time with our children doing what they deem are fun and important, we send them a message that their interests are important too. This, in turn, means that we are investing in stronger emotional bonds. Who knows, you might even have fun in the process! Creating fun and sometimes, nonsensical ‘musical’ videos with my teen daughter was something that we connected over. It got us planning and singing together, and in the process, laughing and being silly together!
4. Be emotionally available: It's critical that we be there for our children — both in terms of quality and quantity of time. This does not mean that we should be at our childrens' beck and call, meeting their needs instantly and overindulging them. Rather, when we spend time with our children, we should focus on them and what they are saying or doing. Multitasking while engaging with our children, does not work! So, we need to make eye contact, get down to their level (if they are young) and express our love and attention through our actions and words. We also need to demonstrate to our children that we love them unconditionally. They do not need to do things to ‘earn’ our love. Margo Tarasov aptly shares that, ‘unconditional love means — conveying in subtle and not so subtle ways to our children that we love them, no matter what!' Of course, we hope that they will do their very best to please us and therefore we should spend much of our time praising the positive things they do. Do not focus on the negatives or be overly demanding and critical. And, when they do ‘mess up’, we need to be firm in our conviction that it is their behaviour that has upset and confused us but, that we love them nonetheless.
As parents it is critical to understand that, along with physical needs, our children have emotional needs too. We all are genetically wired for relationships. If these are not purposefully and positively cultivated within the family unit, the child might feel a void and try to fill that with negative emotions or, act out in a bid to get our attention. It has been astutely said, ‘A baby is born with a need to be loved — and never outgrows it!’
Aparna Samuel Balasundaram is the co-founder of Life Skills Expert that enables parents to raise happy, confident and successful children. www.lifeskillsexpert.com
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