That’s the question I asked colleagues who work with families or in the mental health field. They all answered with one common them: connect with your child!
And, while that may feel like an impossible task in this age of phones, tablets, and social media, the idea that connection is what leads us to have more meaningful relationships remains the same from generation to generation! Jennifer Senior, author of “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood,“ even said it: “Children learn from the world through doing, touching, experiencing; adults on the other hand, tend to take in the world through their heads – reading books, watching television, swiping at touch screens. They’re estranged from the world of everyday objects. Yet interacting with the world is fundamental to who we are.”
So, then, how do we connect to our children? To our families?
Well, for one thing, we wise up and get with the times. We develop an awareness that we live in a “plugged in” world. We don’t try to run from it, but we embrace it and, in turn, we model helahty ways to use technology for connection!
As a family and parent coach, I often see parent cringe at the idea of using technology to connect with their child. But, instead of letting the technology be a barrier for you and your child, I challenge parents to let it be a new way to connect. And, while good old-fashioned talking will always be best, her are a few extra ways you can be effective in your parenting today:
- Send them notes via texts – simple, one sentence notes that say things like, “Good luck on your test” or “I hope you have a great day at school”
- Friend them on social media and post motivational and postivie messages on their wall
- Share funny memes with them over dinner
- Read a book together on a Kindle or iPad and leave notes with your thoughts on the book or highlight quotes you enjoyed
Now, as I shared, I also asked colleagues what parenting skills they felt were essential for todays’ parent. Here’s what they had to say:
To be present. I’m pulled in so many different directions between running my own business and being a mom, that I have to continually remind myself to focus on what is finite, what is right in front of me and what really needs my attention.
Awareness. Most don’t realize it, but there are stages of early parenthood and challenges in each stage that parents need to know about so they can prepare for and know how to navigate with their partner. Couples often get into a parenting power struggle or blame their partner for the challenges. But often, it’s not anybody’s fault, just a lack of awareness.
One area that many of the children/adolescents tell me is that they need for their parents to really listen to him. I believe one of the essential skills a parents need to develop productive children is to take time to hear their child’s heart and consider that life may affect their child differently than it does another child. Another thing, I believe is very important to youth of today it to look for ways to show them love and respect. As adults Eggerich Emmerson in his book, “Love and Respect,” says that men should love their wives and women must respect their husbands. I believe parents should start to teach their boys and girls that they deserve love and respect by looking for ways to give it to them even when they might now deserve it.
Parenting can be extremely challenging in today’s face-paced, technological society. A few essential skills for parents to remember are as follows: (1) as we live in an ever-changing environment, create a loving space your child can always return to when life gets tough and chaotic. For example, it may be a “cozy corner” in your home, (2) consider small ways to connect with your child each day to create long-lasting memories. More than likely, your child will remember the small acts of kinds, perhaps even more than you will, (3) practice self-care and role model for your child how to be intentional about caring for yourself and giving yourself grace, especially during times when there never seems to be enough time in the day to complete the never-ending “to-do” list, (4) relationships are important; be deliberate about cultivating a meaningful relationship with your child by being cognitively and physically present, but also provide opportunities for your child to connect with other children and adults who can teach your child skills and life. Positive role models can be extremely important throughout a child’s life; (5) being busy all the time can be counterproductive. Creating blocks of time for children to play, invent/create with few to no limitations, and “dream” is essential to their development and well-being; (6) advocate and serve together with your child. Expose your child to a variety of types of situations and people in our world. Talk to your child about what they notice, listen to their observations, and answer their questions. Then, together take action and serve for the betterment of others within your community and beyond. My final thought: parenting is the most challenging job out there. For the most part, you know your child better than anyone else. When in doubt go with your gut and develop a support structure to go to when you are unsure of where to go next. Connect and ask other parents who are more than likely asking the same questions and experiencing similar situation as you about what they are experiencing. We are in it together, so let’s help each other out and support each other along the way. Isn’t this what life is all about…caring, loving, supporting, and connecting with one another to make the world an even better place for our children?
Angie Smith, PhD, LPC-S, NCC
Compassion, reflection, curiosity and play. I believe that parenting starts with ourselves. If we struggle to regulate our own emotional experience how can we help our children learn to regulate theirs? And if we didn’t have parents who did that for us…it’s easy to find ourselves without tools. Compassion allows us space to dive in and reflect. When we reflect we can see those holes in our own childhoods. Curiosity allows us to understand them and again, compassion helps us heal. Play is the glue that helps it all stick.
I think parents need the ability to be present with their children. We are all very busy, stressed, and distracted. It is so easy to numb out with electronics, food, alcohol, etc. All of these things keep us from being fully present with our kids (and others). It seems that parents increasingly struggle with how to calm and center themselves. I think that without the skills to be mindfully present, everything else about parenting becomes even more challenging.
I think that one of the most essential parenting skills is curiosity. (And no, I don’t mean snooping!) See if you can have an attitude of being curious towards your child in an open, friendly, genuinely interested way. As parents, we tend to assume that we already know what our child’s intentions/feelings/thoughts are, without actually stopping to find out if we’re right. When you invite your child to explore his motivations, feelings and thoughts with you in a non-judgmental, thoughtful way, you are helping him develop what psychologists call a “mentalizing capacity” which will help him build emotional resilience and the ability to make good decisions in his life.
Parenting can be stressful and overwhelming at times so it is essential that parents find healthy ways to de-stress. For some this maybe exercise while others may get up early for some alone time to read.
Setting limits and boundaries. Picture the scene: you’re in the supermarket, your child is screaming and demanding something they shouldn’t have. Everyone is looking at you and you think judging you because your child seems out of control. At that moment it feels easier to give in to your child’s demands but you shouldn’t. Children learn what behavior is acceptable by what you allow them and if you don’t set limits and stick to your boundaries i.e. teaching them that “No” does mean “No” then they will always expect to get everything their own way and will have a tantrum when they don’t.
Time. Being present with your child and playing. Slow down and be with him/her. This will help you know your child, understand life from their eyes, make them feel loved and important, hear about their hurts, joys and needs.
Making sure we communicate respectfully to our kids and are accountable for our own actions when we make mistakes.
Thanks to my amazing colleagues for sharing their insights!
Looking for more ways to enhance your parenting and get more effective skills for raising healthy children? Contact me today!