Think for a second about your typical day. Are you rushing the kids to school in the morning? Are you rushing to get to work or complete household tasks? Perhaps you will later help the children with their homework or take them to an after-school activity. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of parenthood, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of connecting with our children. Not nag them about chores or take them to practice, but really connect with them emotionally.
Spending just a few minutes each day connecting with our children can make a huge difference in our relationship with them. Some research shows that children who have a strong emotional connection with their parents are more able to regulate their emotions, thus making emotional outbursts or tantrums less common.
Thus, it’s in our children’s best interests (and ours) to focus a bit of our time each day on emotionally connecting with our children. But how do we do this with packed schedules and hectic lives? Let’s consider just a few simple but powerful ways to connect with kids (that only take a few minutes a day).
Hug it Out
We all know how nice it is to get a hug from someone we love, but you may not realize that hugging has real psychological perks as well. Hugs, of course, show our children we love and care for them. Beyond talking or working together, the physical touch of a hug has unique benefits. Hugging triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin, which helps our brain (and our psyche) feel good. Hugs can be a great way to calm an upset child or decrease stress after a long day. Although teens may not be as eager to hug you as toddlers are, they might still enjoy an occasional hug or at least a pat on the back.
Finding Time to Fit it in: Hugging, of course, can happen almost anytime, but some times of the day seem more obvious places to fit in a hug. A hug first thing in the morning when children awaken is a nice way to start the day. Some children like a big hug when they return home from school or at bedtime before they drift off to sleep. However you fit it in, hugging is a simple and quick way to show children you care.
Play for Fun and Connection
Play, of course, is one of the children’s main activities during childhood. Sometimes they play alone, sometimes with friends, and sometimes they make a special bid for their parents to play with them. This tendency for children to reach out to parents in play is more than just a bid for attention; it is a bid for connection. This illustrates well the emotional power of play for children. More than other ways of interacting, play opens the door for children to be open with their feelings and share them with you. The type of bonding that occurs through play can keep your emotional bonds strong with your child.
Because of its connection to emotions, playing with children also enhances their regulation abilities. When parents really engage with children’s play, they are actually helping children co-regulate with them. The physical and sensory act of playing can help children calm down and focus.
One key to playing with children is for parents to act more as guides or consultants than as “the boss.” If parents find themselves controlling the play or the rules of the play, children fail to think creatively about other options or scenarios. Engaging with children’s play entails letting them take the lead while parents follow and suggest ideas, but not becoming too involved in the play.
Finding Time to Fit it in: Although children usually have plenty of time for play, parents may struggle to find a few uninterrupted minutes to play with them. The good news is that even just a few minutes a day of play can strengthen your emotional connection. You might try squeezing in a little playtime after dinner at night or on days when you and your child are home together.
Luckily, young children also enjoy “playing” with real-life tasks. One study showed that, given the choice between playing with pretend items or real items, children preferred the real thing. That is, involving children in chores such as folding laundry or putting away dishes may seem like play to them.
In our technology-driven world, we may sometimes forget that one great way to connect with kids is through nature. Exploring nature together gives us a plethora of opportunities to learn new things and spark new conversations with our children. Not surprisingly, then, we see that exposure to nature is beneficial for children’s cognitive development.
While hiking or exploring nature, children often open up and talk about their experiences or emotions more. While finding new insects or animals in nature, children sometimes discover new ideas and facts that they share with you. In sum, the whole nature experience can prompt some really interesting and insightful interactions between you and your children.
Nature can also be a wonderful way to build confidence and new skills, especially in older children. Being outdoors opens up many opportunities for new skills that children may not have been exposed to before, like knife skills, fire making, cooking, nature-based art, or orienteering. Learning skills like these, as well as experiencing the independence and freedom that come from exploring nature, might just turn your child into a nature-lover too.
Finding Time to Fit it in: Although older children and teens may sometimes be hesitant about getting out in nature, thinking it’s “boring” or “nothing new,” your persistence in this area can really help. Usually, once children (even teens) get out into nature, they enjoy it and find something fascinating. Try setting aside one day a week as “nature day” so children know in advance what to expect. Or start small with short outings to nearby parks, trails, or nature areas after school or on a free day. Encourage children to have some input into picking a new area of nature to explore each time you go out.
We all know that bedtime is a perfect time to squeeze in a little connection time with children before they drift off to sleep. Unfortunately, between busy schedules and bedtime resistance, sometimes the bedtime routine gets a bit overlooked. Reworking your bedtime routine to fit in some connection time can make a real difference not only in your relationship with your children but can also improve their well-being. Across the world, bedtime routines vary quite a bit, but most include activities like bathing, reading, hugging or massage, and songs or music. All these activities have been linked to positive developmental outcomes in children.
Finding Time to Fit it in: The good news about bedtime routines is that they don’t have to belong or elaborate to be effective. Experts like those from the Sleep Foundation suggest that an ideal bedtime routine lasts about half an hour. By starting the process of children’s bedtime a few minutes earlier, families can usually squeeze in time for at least bedtime activities that encourage bonding, like reading, back rubs, or just chatting about a child’s day.
Fostering emotional connection with our children, even for a few minutes each day, is not about making the moment “perfect” but about presence. In this busy world with many demands on our time, our presence for our children is perhaps the best gift we can give them. Creating a real emotional connection with our children each day helps them remember that they are still a top priority in our lives and that their well-being is important to us.
Preview Blurb: Feeling rushed through your daily routine and worried that your relationship with your child might suffer? Take heart! Finding time to emotionally connect with your children doesn’t have to be one more item on your to-do list. Read on to learn some easy (and not time-consuming) ways to build that connection with your children, even if you only have a few minutes to spare.
The information provided on this site is NOT medical advice and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, provide medical or behavioral advice, treat, prevent, or cure any disease, condition, or behavior. You should consult with a qualified healthcare professional regarding your child’s development to make a medical diagnosis, determine a treatment for a medical condition, or obtain other related advice.