You can create a strong parental bond and connection with your kids by being present to their emotional needs, validating their thoughts and ideas, and joining their never-ending desire to have fun and explore the world.
What does it really mean to be present with your kids?
Being present is placing your undivided attention and awareness on your child – as much as you can. You might spend a lot of time with your kids, but during this time, are you being present with them? Or are you mostly facilitating their lives, getting them ready, driving them around, etc.? It’s also possible that you’re spending more of your day struggling with your kids than connecting with and enjoying them.
If you are distracted, anxious or worried about something, you’re not present. Your kids can feel it when you’re not really with them.
Kids need to feel valued, listened to, and honoured for their unique selves. When you give this type of quality attention to your children, you validate them. With this sense of validation and trust that you are on their side, their need to push back, rebel, or act out can greatly diminish.
Entering your child’s world through fun and play is one of the best ways to create closeness and connection. Letting them lead the way during play is empowering and builds self-esteem. Laughter and giggling reduce anxiety and stress in both you and your kids.
In addition to playing with your child, you can enjoy each other by creating art or music, taking nature walks, or laughing and snuggling. Or simply join your child in whatever he most loves to do. The more uninhibited fun you can have with your kids, the more joyful your parenting experience will be!
But let’s be real. How easy is it to show up fully present with your kids when you’ve got responsibilities, schedules, tons to do, and a lot to worry about? How much room do you have in your life for fun and games? This is why taking care of your own needs is critical and your #1 priority.
It can seem like two very competing goals – taking care of you AND making time to be fully present with your kids. But when you take care of yourself first, you will have the energy and emotional resilience to be fully present with your kids. It becomes easy and natural!
Listening is one of the best ways to be present with your child. In your busy day, you can look for opportunities to listen to your child’s thoughts, ideas, challenges, and stresses. You can even schedule one-on-one time with each child to just sit and listen to what’s going on with them.
Active listening is a great way to connect.
When your child is ready to tell you something, here are some tips to help you actively listen:
Come into the situation fresh and neutral, with an open, curious mind
Get rid of distractions – turn off the TV, your phone and everything that beeps
Listen to what is being said in words as well as what is being communicated nonverbally
Look directly into your child’s eyes with compassion
Listen without judgement
Release the need to hear what you want to hear so you can hear what is actually being said
Don’t think about the next thing you’re going to say
Refrain from comparing them, yourself or this situation to others
Seek to understand
As tempting as it might be, don’t try to fix the situation in that moment. Give empathy instead. You can summarize what you heard and ask if that’s what they meant. You might ask, “Can you tell me more about that?” They will feel heard and valued and might go deeper into sharing with you.
Empathy is putting yourself in another’s shoes – to really understand another’s perspective and understand what they’re feeling. Empathy leads to connection and trust. Empathy takes continual practice – it can be tricky – you can over empathize or under empathize.
The most difficult part is to listen without letting your beliefs and attitudes about your child take the centre stage. We all have our filters and our perspectives of how things should be, especially when it comes to our kids.