“Relationships that are ‘connecting’ and allow for collaboration appear to offer children a wealth of interpersonal closeness that supports the development of many domains, including social, emotional, and cognitive functioning.” Daniel J. Siegel, 2001
I chat about connection with all the families I work with, and pretty much anyone who will listen to me! So what do I mean by connection? Put simply, it’s feeling like you’re a team. Your child may not like you imposing some of the rules, but they oblige because they trust you and understand you are working with them.
Whenever any relationship is approached on the terms of being adversarial, that is exactly how it will be. Power struggles are not necessary in any healthy relationship, and that includes the parent and child relationship. The more connected you are, the easier it is to overcome the inevitable hurdles that life throws us, and the developmental stages that children have to work through.
This all makes it sound like it’s a big ‘thing’ to achieve. It really really isn’t.
It’s true that as a parent we often have a mental load that could sink a universe and so many calendar alerts on our phones reminding us how late we are, what we’ve forgotten to pack, and that your children have conflicting appointments; so ‘finding time’ feels near impossible.
Yet the more connected we are with our children, the more cooperatively the household runs and the less stressed you get when it’s not going well, as you are more keenly attuned to your child’s needs, and this enables you to empathise with them.
I’m a great believer in being playful with children; laughter releases endorphins and lowers cortisol. This affect is felt by adults and children so it’s no surprise that laughing with your children and generally being a bit silly together, helps you feel better and makes you more resilient in your parenting. Finding ways to notice the fun or to orchestrate the fun in boring household activities, really does help.
Physical touch is so important. From the moment our children are born, the positive effects of skin to skin contact begin. Aim for 12 physical interactions a day as a minimum. Cuddles, hugs, cwtches – whatever you want to call them, they all count. As do little squeezes, hand holding, gentle tickling, hair tousling, foot rubs and massage. The more distant your relationship feels, the less likely you are to instigate physical touch. If you already feel disconnected to your child, start with a smaller physical gesture and build up their trust and connection using the other ideas too.
Societally, we’re encouraged to stop our children expressing their emotions. From toddlers being labelled as tantrumming, to teenagers stropping, we think we should all be level emotionally. Yet big physiological changes and development stages all mean that the world can feel overwhelming for our children at various different ages. We can support them through it by giving them the tools to recognise and name their emotions; give them a space to cry and feel sad without providing a logical solution; and by simply listening to their words. Build up your emotional connection by spending time at bedtime letting them tell you their worries, and have conversations about what made them smile during their day.
It may sound obvious, but in order for you to build a connection with your child, you have to spend quality time with them. Put away the technology and disruptions and hone in on what they would like to do with you. This only needs to be 15 minutes a day to be hugely beneficial. Even better if you can allocate some time each week to spend even longer doing a joint activity that you both enjoy. I really love my yoga sessions with my son, but it can be anything, as long as you’re both engaged in the activity and working together.
If this all feels like it’s too big to implement or you don’t know where to start, start small. A genuine smile, a compliment, or even letting them overhear you compliment them to someone else, all add up to bigger changes and helping you to have a fabulous relationship.
Mini Me Yoga Ambassador for Cardiff