Staying Connected with Your Child
By Lisa Samick
I remember when my daughter, Jenna, was an infant – there were some days that seemed UNENDING; days where she would scream or cry all day and I was literally counting the seconds until bedtime.
I remember when she was a toddler, and we played the same game over and over again or I spent the morning chasing after her in the park so long that I wished we could both be pushed home in the stroller. I was exhausted.
I don’t mean to sound ungrateful or unappreciative – there were also days filled with love and joy and kisses. But, if I’m honest – some days lasted forever.
But as she grew older – in preschool and now in elementary school, it feels like time is flying by. We go from school to activity to homework to dinner to bath and I find myself longing for those long and repetitive days when I felt more connected to her and her more centered around me. So, coming out of the High Holy Days this year – I have made a resolution to find moments that I could steal back that I can find time to connect with her.
And I have a 3-step plan, which I invite you to join me on. Hopefully at the end of this month, this season, this year, we will be able to reflect back together and feel the difference it has made for us and for our relationship with our children.
Step 1: Bedtime
I’m not sure what life is like in your house, but Jenna will do almost anything to stall her bedtime – eat broccoli, brush her teeth over and over again, look for that toy that has been missing for 6 months, anything to grab eight more minutes. So, rather than make that a fight with her, I am going to capitalize on it. I am going to lie down next to her (or sit by her bed) and talk about her day.
I’m going to ask questions like – Who did you sit with at lunch? Who did you play with outside? What was your favorite thing that happened today? What was your least favorite thing that happened today? Who made your heart happy today? Who made your heart sad? Who did you help today? Who helped you? Questions that can help her be more reflective and learn how to express her feelings, but also will give me insight into what’s happening in her head and her heart that I otherwise wouldn’t know.
And then I’ll say goodnight. This extra 5 or 8 minutes will hopefully become a routine that we will both look forward to. Obviously, if you have more than one child it will be a little trickier, but make a schedule about who goes first, second and third – if their bedtimes aren’t naturally scattered.
Step 2: Dates
I am going to institute dates with my daughter – a time that we schedule to go out and do something just the two of us. I know this seems obvious and we are together all the time. But this should be something deliberate and separate from our regular jaunts to the grocery store. This can include places that cost money (a movie, pottery painting, out to lunch, etc.), places that cost little money (feeding the ducks, going for ice cream, etc.) or places that cost nothing (playing the park, bike riding, taking the subway to the beach, etc.) The point is that you are off your phone, not worried about laundry and just focused on you and him/her.
Step 3: A Journal
I read about this idea in a blog recently and fell in love with the idea. On one of our dates, we are going to pick out and purchase a notebook together. We will use the notebook to write back and forth to one another. Sometimes she might just draw – sometimes he might write. It doesn’t really matter. The idea is to open the lines of communication and as the practice becomes habit (and as his/her skills progress) it will feel like a safe space to write about feelings, experiences, answer questions, etc.
The only caveat to that is this idea is that you cannot correct their spelling. It’s the idea that is important, not the mechanics. So ask them to read it to you, if their writing isn’t legible – and depending on the age/stage of your child, you may need to read your entries to him/ her as well. Every time I write Jenna an entry, I will put it the notebook under her pillow to find.
Staying connected to your child only gets harder as they get older – but research shows that children who feel a strong connection to and support from parents are happier, more confident and more willing to help around the house. By working through these three goals, I’m hoping to set up a strong foundation for more a sophisticated and nuanced relationship later… I’ll keep you posted! In the meantime, I would love to hear how these ideas work for you – and what other ways you try to connect with your children!