The question I ask myself as a mum of two girls growing up in this digital age, this time when play and connection can be so challenging is:
What is really important?
I’ve been at this parenting gig for a while now, 11 years to be exact. But as a practitioner of homeopathic medicine, I have been working with children and teenagers clinically for 17 years.
There’s something I see that all children have in common — they are all CRAVING greater connection!
But what does that mean? What is “connection” actually?
I believe that it’s the ability to understand, relate and feel like we are ‘normal’ compared to other people.
Some of the greatest conversations I have had in my clinic with anxiety ridden tweens, special needs and Autism Spectrum Disorder teenagers is their desire to just be heard, validated and accepted by others.
Not surprisingly, they want this the most from their parents!
Thank goodness! We can still have an influence, even when we are so worried that we are losing them to the influence of their friends and peers. The truth is the way we MODEL OUR connection to the people in our lives teaches them the ways and importance of maintaining a connection to others.
I know I’m not the only parent out there that worries that their tween is more connected to their technology than their family. But what can we do to strengthen connection and keep the dialogue and honestly flowing within these relationships?
Here is my 5 Point Conversational Checklist that I teach my patients and use with my children every day to strengthen and maintain connection.
I strive to hit these 5 points when I get any alone time with each of my daughters. It’s a way of keeping myself in check with what’s most important and keeps me feeling intentional in my desire for connection and keeping our relationship nourished with what I feel in valuable.
Whether it’s sitting on the end of their bed at night listening to their fears, or just driving in the car taking them to choir practice, I use the little time I have to intentionally listen and connect.
NUMBER ONE: Ask questions gracefully. Don’t Bombard them!
It’s so easy to bombard our children with questions.
We are curious! We want to know how their school work is going, whether they like their teacher and how their friendships are.
The problem with this is it sounds very confronting and if there are any problems in any area of their life they don’t often feel safe and comfortable bringing them up when there are 20 questions involved.
Instead ask meaningful questions about THEM, not the details in their lives like their grades. Some examples include — “Are you enjoying singing in the choir?” “Did you have a good time at the sleepover last weekend?” “What are you most looking forward to doing in the Summer?”
Often times by asking these less daunting and more conversational questions you will get the answers you want/need in follow up questions without your children feeling grilled or put on the spot.
NUMBER TWO: Respect the Boundaries your Children Put in Place
Our children are often more moody than we are!
You know how it feels when you aren’t in the mood to accept responsibility or confront a difficult topic. Sometimes you’re just not in the mood to talk about heavy stuff and that is OK. It needs to be OK for our kids too.
We have to allow them the space and the time to work through things sometimes and also respect their right as an individual to place boundaries around what they are comfortable sharing and when.
Obviously this has to be within reason, you are still the parent and they are the child however in my experience the more you respect the boundaries they put up initially the more they will open up and tell you what you want or need to hear when they are ready.
Why does this work so well? Because most of the time they DO want to tell you, they just don’t know how, they may be embarrassed or just not be ready.
When you respect their boundaries and don’t push you make them feel safer with you and more approachable with what can be difficult topics at times.
Trust your kids when they need time, space or boundaries as most of the time it’s for good reason — they may be processing, making sense of it all or getting the courage to tell you something really important.
Give them some space but also a deadline to revisit the conversation so they know they are not ‘off the hook’ but you do respect their need for some space and time right now.
NUMBER THREE: Remind Your Children About Gratitude
If all else fails and you struggle to connect to your child start with gratitude.
Model appreciation and gratitude in your relationship and they are more likely to reciprocate. Conversation starters such as:
“I really appreciated the way you helped me this week with the laundry. . .”
“I noticed how kind you have been to your little brother this week and I really appreciate it.”
These comments go a long way to building your child’s self esteem and reminding them what is important.
A daily practice that I started with my girls when they were very young is to list 3 things you are grateful for before bed every night. This routine started at bed time, we would both list 3 things we were grateful for.
Now that my girls are older and put themselves to bed it has become part of our dinner table discussion and routine. Over the years they have shifted from gratitude for the ‘stuff’ they have — toys and the like to now being grateful for people and opportunities in their lives.
NUMBER FOUR: Listen More Than Give Advice
This one can be really hard for most of us. We want to impart our wisdom and let’s face it, it’s hard to watch our children make mistakes.
The point is though, they LEARN from their mistakes which is why it’s so important to allow them to make them. As a general rule I like to give 1:5 ratio of feedback and advice. What this means is that for every 1 piece of advice or parental correction I give I try to ensure that I give 5 pieces of encouragement, praise or validation.
This 1:5 ratio stops my kids from rolling their eyes at me and expecting that everything that comes out of my mouth will sound like criticism. Try this with your kids, you will be amazed how quickly the relationship dynamics can shift. Another though on this — it doesn’t always have to be verbal communication.
In this technological age I like to use text and fb kids messenger to give encouragement and praise. Getting connected on their level and seeing the emojis come back when I validate and build my girls up warms my heart and theirs.
NUMBER FIVE: Remember to Keep Responses Short and Proportionate
A lot of the time when children act out or withdraw it is from overwhelm.
They need us to model proportionate and responsible behavior even in the face of catastrophe. Ask yourself — how do your children see you react to negative situations, criticism, feedback and stress?
When we keep our responses to bad news, challenges and tough times short, quantified and proportionate we show that it’s OK, you can and will overcome these things in your life. If they see you exaggerate, catastrophize, rant and rave and lose your temper they are more likely to copy this and also be in despair of things resolving positively.
Above all remember that their biggest influence is us and every day we get to show up for our children with our behavior as this really does influence the people they become.