Tiffany N. Smith, LPC, LMFT, NCC
Often times as parents, we get so wrapped up in the business of life that we forget the purpose of it all. The Monday through Friday routines are filled with work and school followed by a ton of extracurricular activities. Between soccer practice, band, school plays, piano lessons, and scouts, we don’t have time for much else in our lives. Not to mention the yard work, laundry, dishes, and day to day chores that have to get done for the household to run on time. Parents can be overwhelmed with homework, chores, and extracurricular that they sometimes lose focus of the little person sitting in front of them.
The question then becomes what is more important? We often get side tracked and the focus becomes getting them in this activity or that activity with no left over time for family closeness and connection. Meals often get shuffled to whose take out is the best and what is the fastest on our way to and fro. Let’s not even get started on the evenings when Little Johnny comes to you with a book report due the next day or Mr. Jones who has handed out enough 4th grade homework for a college student to struggle with.
So what happens when the rush, rush, rush becomes the center of our lives? We lose the opportunity to connect with our kids. As parents, we may think we know what they like and who their best friend is, but do they agree? Or do they feel like their parents don’t know them at all? Connecting with your kids is about creating the environment for them to feel comfortable to be themselves and open up to talk to you. Where they can feel heard and validated. It’s about building that trust that if they do have a bad day, they feel relief that Mom or Dad will be there for support. Connecting with your kids involves more than just telling them that you will “always be there for them,” it’s about building that trust and proving it to them.
Step Into Their World: What does your child love most? What is he or she into? You may loathe Justin Bieber, but if your kid is into his music learn about him so you can talk about it. Not into sports, but your child is…get into them. Have your child teach you about what he or she is into. One of my favorite commercials has a Dad answering the door dressed in a football jersey, make-up, earrings, and a tiara. Right beside him is a little girl beaming because her Daddy just spent time in her world.
Play With Them: Whether it’s board games, leggos, painting, crafts, Barbie, or puzzles. Whatever your child enjoys playing most, take the time to do it with them. Children express themselves through play. Ever wondered why your kid’s favorite time of day is recess? Because they get to play. They process their world through play. Get down on the floor and play with them. You will be surprised what you learn from them. Not to mention what you can teach them. A truck telling a car, “Please don’t yell at me when you play with me,” is great for teaching children to be assertive with peers. When play is involved, children feel less threatened. You become on their level and it does not seem like a lecture.
Kidnap them to go Camping: Aaahhh, the fresh air, wilderness, silence, no electronic media, and family. An adolescent’s worst nightmare. True there may be some grunting and groaning about this one, but what better way to bond with your kid than to take them into the woods and camp for the weekend. You are forced to talk. So take your kids and leave the chaos behind. Feel free to throw in a little Truth or Dare around the campfire or take some cards and board games to help get the talking started.
Family Mealtime: There is a reason the research out there supports family connection with sit down meals together. It’s not about the home cooked meal (although I certainly agree with promoting that); it is about the time spent together without distractions. No television, texting, or telephone calls. Just family togetherness sharing love, laughter, and even uncomfortable silences. The truth is even when families have conflict, continuing to promote the family meal time teaches your kids how to work through things and not avoid them. So whether you ordered a pizza or all worked hard together as a family in the kitchen to make a 3 course meal, sit down and share it together. Allow everyone the opportunity to talk about their day and what is on their mind.
Go for a Drive: Sometimes when you have multiple children, it is hard to focus on one child. Take the time to once a week take one child out for a drive. Not for errand running, but for ice cream, hot chocolate, or to feed the ducks. This allows your child to have your undivided attention so he or she can talk freely about whatever is important. It alleviates the pressure of having to censor him or herself in front of siblings or to avoid being teased later. Finding the time to spend half an hour alone with your child promotes that feeling of “I matter.” Giving the special time a label is that much more empowering for children. Call it a Daddy/Daughter date or Mommy/Son date. To you its only 30 minutes, but to them it’s the world.
Accept the Silence: Sometimes their little minds are busy thinking. Hanging out together can often end up in silence, especially with teens. Silence is okay. Maybe you are sharing a meal or going for a drive and your child seems bothered but not willing to talk just yet. It’s okay to back off and sit in silence. Maybe their anxiety is too much to tell you just yet. But as you accept the silence, you allow time for your child to express him or herself to you when ready. Accepting the silence can surprise you. Sometimes they work through it themselves with you just being there because your presence gives them the courage to figure it out on their own. Then they come back and tell you all about what happened and how they handled it.
Take the time this New Year to look at the little people in your lives and remember why you decided to become a parent in the first place. Take the time to teach them the values you want to help them be successful by focusing on what matters most, them. Enter their world, play with them, and support them for the people they are aspiring to be.