Written by Nalina Ramalakshmi and published on 13 July 2021.
A strong parent-child connection keeps the lines of communication between parent and child open and clear. It helps the child feel understood, loved and secure.
In a recent conversation I had with Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids and founding editor of www.ahaparenting.com, I was particularly struck by one thing she said, "Connection is 80% of parenting. Guidance is only 20%."That really got me thinking.
Remember the phones tethered by wire to the telephone jack? If the phone lines were bad, the conversations you had were worse. You listened and enjoyed conversations only when the lines of communication were clear. Today, instead of landlines, we have wireless connections, dominated by Wi-Fi and 4G. When there is clear reception, there is a wonderful flow of conversation. A drop in signal, and your conversations are interrupted, frustrating and abrupt. Let's see what can happen when phone connections are weak:
One evening, Ruchira is talking to her daughter, Ramya, who is away in college. The phone signals are weak and they can barely hear each other.
Ruchira tells her daughter, "I saw your picture on Facebook. I do like it." Her daughter responds, "What? You saw my picture and you don't like it? Oh,Mom! You just don't get it, do you?" Ramya hangs up the phone in anger and frustration.
Bad phone signal = poor communication = misunderstanding and frustration.
Just like the phone connection has to be strong for clear communication to happen over the phone, there has to be a strong parent-child connection so the parent and the child can have clear conversations, listen to each other, understand each other and trust each other. When the connection is strong, the child is more willing to listen and cooperate with the parents. The child feels loved, understood, safe and secure.
When the baby is inside the mother's womb, it is attached to the mother through the umbilical cord. The cord supplies nutrients and energy to the developing baby. If the mother eats healthy food, thinks positive and regulates her emotions, the baby thrives and grows. On the other hand, if the mother has unhealthy eating habits and is anxious, stressed, or sad during her pregnancy, it will negatively impact the baby's development.
Then, the moment a baby is born, the cord is cut. Now, the baby receives all care and communication from the parents wirelessly-without the cord that once connected the child to the mother. This wireless parent-child connection gets a boost with every gentle and loving touch, every attuned response and every vibrant interaction by the parent. If this parent-child connection is strong, there is better communication and understanding between parent and child, and the child thrives.
On the other hand, if the connection is weak, the communication signals the child receivesfrom the parent are feeble and therefore, he will not listen or cooperate. Parents toowill have no idea about what their child is thinking, feeling or trying to say. This will only lead to misunderstandings, conflicts and frustrations.
You need not be physically present with your child 24x7 to build a strong parent-child connection. But, when you are there with each other, you need to be there for your child without any distractions. Your child needs to know you are paying full attention to him during those moments. For example:
When you are all eating together, if the phone rings, do you answer the phone?Or do you wait till you finish your meal before you call back?
When your child is talking to you and you hear a "ping" on your phone notifying you of a message, do you check your phone and respond to it right away?Or do you wait till you are done conversing with your child before you check your messages?
Do you let your child watch TV or use the mobile phone while she eats, while you are doing something else? Or do you share stories and chat with each other while the child is eating?
In all the above cases, you may be physically present with your child. But, if you are constantly being distracted by other things, you are not mentally present for her. Instead, when you spend quality time with your child-listening, chatting, engaging-without any distractions, even if it is for a few minutes a day, it strengthens the parent-child connection.
Additionally, when you converse with your child, the words you use, your tone of voice, your body language and facial expressions can either boost your connection with your child, or dampen it. When you talk to your child in a calm, gentle voice, the connection gets a boost. On the other hand, when you scream at your child or shame your child, the connectiondrops.
Remember, it isn't the amount of time you spend with your child that strengthens your parent-child connection, rather it is what you do and what you say during the few moments you are together that boosts or dampens the connection.
Here are 20 simple tips to help you strengthen your connection with your child that can be easily built into your daily or weekly routine:
1. In the morning, when your young child wakes up, let her cuddle up with you for a few minutes. The warmth of your hug energizes her for the rest of the day.
2. Look into your child's eyes and greet him with a smile when he comes to have his breakfast. Your smile adds an extra spark to his day.
3. Before your child starts her school for the day, smile as you give her high-five or a thumbs up. Your child feels loved and supported.
4. When your child comes back from school, greet her with a smile. When you show you are happy to see your child, she feels happy.
5. If your child comes to you with a problem, whether it be related to schoolwork or friends, listen without judgement. Often he doesn't need your advice, he just needs you to listen to him. He knows he can trust you and lean on you for support.After your child is done with schoolwork in the evening, take a few minutes to just sit down and chat, before either of you rush off to do the next task on your lists. Your child has the opportunity to share her experiences and feelings. She feels seen, heard and connected to you.
6. When your child is hurt or in pain, let him know you understand how he feels-"Oh, that must hurt so much". Your child feels understood and safe with you.
7. When your child is talking to you, switch off all phones and gadgets, and focus on what your child is saying to you. Your child knows you care.
8. Have at least one meal together as a family. Make sure you switch off all your phones and gadgets during this time.Your child feels secure that she belongs to a loving, caring family.
9. Set aside gadget-free time every day for the whole family, so you can spend time with your child without the distraction of calls, messages, likes and comments. Your child feels important and valued.
10. Set aside a few minutes of special time to spend with each child every day-play together, paint together, sing together, read together or justchat and get silly. Let your child lead the way.Your child feels special and in control.
11. Before your child settles in for the night, thank your child for one thing-for helping you with a chore, for finishing his work by himself, for being kind and helpful to a friend, or for just giving you a big hug. Your child knows you noticed and feels encouraged.
12. Have a night-time ritual where you spend a few minutes either reading to your young child or chatting over a glass of warm milk with your older child, before they settle in for the night.Little moments like this create fond memories for your child.
13. When you have to correct your child, don't raise your voice and shout. Instead, keep your cool and talk in a calm voice. Your child is more willing to listen to what you have to say.
14. Give your child a pat on the back or a high five to show your appreciation for something she has done. It builds confidence and motivates your child to do more.
15. Go on nature walks, and together explore the world around you. Remember to leave your phones behind so you don't get distracted. Your curious child feels safe to explore and learn.
16. Play board games and games such as hide-and-seek as a family. It will create fun memories for your child.
17. Share stories of your own childhood. Your child will love to hear them. She feels a stronger connect to you as she experiences your childhood.
18. Do a project or volunteer together. Do chores or cook together. She understands the value of working together and supporting each other. Your child knows you are a team.
19. Have a weekly outing as a family-either going out to eat at a restaurant, or going out to play in the playground or going on a picnic. Only conditions-no phones or gadgets, no nagging, no advising. Your child enjoys your company and this strengthens her bond with you.
20. Pray together. You child feels a connection not just to you, but also to God. This gives your child hope and a sense of security.
These are just a few ideas on simple ways to connect with your child. You don't need to be there 24x7 connecting to your child. All it takes is a few minutes a day-or a few hours a week-to keep the connection strong between you and your child. So, go ahead and build in special connecting moments into your daily life and experience the joy of parenting.
About the author:
Written by Nalina Ramalakshmi, Founder and Editor-in-chief of ParentCircle, on 19 October 2020.
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