Connecting with your child: a parenting superpower and how to prioritise it in 2021
What a year 2020 was.
None of us saw it coming (anyone else think there was an unprecedented use of the word
unprecedented?!) and most, if not all, of us had our lives pretty much turned upside down.
The things we knew to be our ‘normal’; the activities that made up our daily routines
disappeared almost overnight, often leaving us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.
Whether you were working-but-also-teaching or coping with the loss of contact and warm
familiarity of family, friends and community groups, chances are you were spending more
time with your children (in a way you didn’t plan to) than you can ever remember spending.
Spending more time with your children sounds like it would do wonders for your
relationship – but more time with them when you’re anxious, stressed and exhausted
doesn’t exactly set the scene for that to happen.
The events of 2020 put a strain on relationships everywhere. And when relationships are
tested, the first thing that can go is that warm, heartfelt feeling of connection - the feeling
of wanting to be close to someone and to have them around.
Why is connecting with your children so important?
When it comes to your relationship with your children, connection is the thing you really
don’t want to lose. It’s essential for so many reasons: it’s the thing that keeps your child
wanting to cooperate with you – especially in those moments when you really need them to
– and it’s the thing that makes you feel that all of the sacrifices you make each and every
day are worth it.
You don’t need to be reminded by anyone of just how hard being a mother
can sometimes be. I’ve heard from mothers that the pressures brought about by the
pandemic meant that on some days just meeting their children’s basic needs felt like a
momentous task; one that didn’t always go to plan and left them feeling like they weren’t
doing a very good job. But when you can make your connection with your children your
focus, it helps to keep you from berating yourself for ‘messing up’ or ‘getting it wrong’. It
allows you to relate to them with openness and kindness and, perhaps more importantly, to
be kinder to yourself in turn.
Your connection with your children is literally your parenting superpower. And so, if there’s
one thing worth prioritising this year, it’s this.
How can you connect with your children?
Connecting with your child doesn’t have to involve big, grand gestures. It doesn’t have to
cost a thing and it doesn’t have to mean you trying to find hours of time that you don’t
actually have. The key to it is often in your intention to connect, making it something that
you do consciously for the good of your relationship. Reminding yourself of this will serve
you well whether you choose to connect purposefully as a way of side-stepping what would
be an otherwise tricky moment or you choose to connect spontaneously for the pure delight
of your children.
Think about it as a habit. One that, if you can do it daily, can make an incredible difference
to the feeling of the relentless daily grind that being a parent can sometimes bring.
Here are 5 simple but powerful ways you can connect with your children – take something
that works for you and see if you can commit to making connection a daily habit.
1. Physical touch
Whether it’s a stroke of their hair, a rub of their shoulders, a squeeze of their
hands or a great big hug, physical touch is not only comforting but it’s such an
effective way of regulating mood and relieving stress and anxiety. And if you
have a child who seeks physical connection from you often, the more you can
give it to them before they ask you for it, the more secure they will be in the
knowledge that it will come – and the less they will need to seek it. If physical
touch isn’t favoured by your child, then a warm smile while making eye
contact can have a similar effect.
Play is a child’s work! And so, this is a pretty sure-fire way of connecting – it’s
far easier to connect with someone when you ‘speak their language’. Play
also tends to invite laughter, which is another way of not only relieving stress
and anxiety, but also bringing you closer together.
Being playful around daily, sometimes mundane activities such as getting dressed, brushing teeth and having dinner can make them much easier to navigate. So, pretending to put
pants on top of heads, pretending you’re looking for animals in a wide-open
mouth, or pretending you’re serving dinner in a Michelin starred restaurant
could be just what’s needed to bring a smile, a laugh and the connection too.
3. Create a ritual
Rituals are simply routines that have some meaning to them. They induce a
sense of safety and security and feeling safe and secure with another is what
paves the way for connection. So, whether it’s something bigger that you do
as a family to signal the end of the week like a pizza or movie night, or
something smaller like a special, made up handshake that belongs only to
you, creating rituals is a lovely way of inviting connection.
4. Morning or bedtime snuggles
The start and end of the day are prime times for connection as they signal the
end or the start of a period of separation. Just a few minutes in bed in the
morning (with a cup of tea for you if you can manage it!) letting them know
you’re happy to see them could be just the tonic for setting the day off on the
right foot. And at bedtime, a snuggle with you might be just the thing your
child needs to round off the day and get their fill of you before they nod off.
5. Slow down
There are many things you do require you to live by the clock, and your child
often couldn’t care less! And sometimes there isn’t much you can do about
that. But can you still find moments for connection that get missed in the
busy-ness and the time pressure? A rub or a kiss of their feet before you put
their shoes on or stopping to take in the smell of dinner before it gets
devoured. Living life on autopilot doesn’t serve anyone, and taking time to
savour a small moment allows you to connect in that small moment, even if
just for a few seconds.
The connection you have with your children – those moments with them that make your
heart melt – should never be underestimated.
As humans we are literally wired for connection, and the flow of warm and positive feelings from you to your children and your children back to you benefits you just as much as it benefits them. Understanding the power of connection and making a commitment to focusing on developing it is a great starting point for not only enhancing your relationship with your child but also helping you feel more empowered as a mum.
About the author
Dr Nneka Ikeogu is a qualified Educational and Child Psychologist and the co-founder of Mellownest. Nneka has practised as a Psychologist for the last 10 years and has worked with hundreds of children, parents and teachers. Through individual coaching workshops and group programmes, Nneka has seen real transformations in the mindsets of parents which in turn has transformed the lives of their families. Nneka’s mission is to empower parents to embrace a relationship-centred approach to parenting where punishments and consequences are abandoned in favour of a focus on emotions and connection – and where every child feels truly loved.