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  • Whole Child Counseling

5 Ways to Deepen Connection with Your Child

Updated: Nov 11, 2023



This is a guest blog post by Amanda Robinson, LPCS, RPT-S, author of the wonderful workbook, Connecting Kids to Parents.


Parents and children naturally crave connection with each other. You know those moments – the ones that touch your heart and make parenting feel worth all of the challenges and sacrifices. A strong relationship with a parent can provide children with a sense of security and belonging, helping them to feel supported as they navigate the obstacles of growing up. Kids who feel attached to their parents are also more likely to cooperate with rules and respect boundaries. Connection is protective.




It’s very common for relationships to wax and wane as children grow up and go through different stages. If you’re feeling like your relationship with your child is less than ideal right now, you’re not alone in that. It’s why I created my workbook, Connecting Kids to Parents, to strengthen the bond between parents and kids through engaging, educational exercises. I’m also providing some practical tips to help you along the way:



1. Listen to Understand

The power of listening can’t be overexaggerated; when any of us is genuinely heard, we feel important and valued, and this is certainly true for children, too.


I think we can all agree that while tuning into kids’ feelings may be a priority in theory, things can get lost in the haze of busy schedules and work stress and making dinner. Soon, we’re tunnel-visioned on finishing the to-do list, and we may not have patience for little ones’ needs and emotions that get in the way of that. Rather than feeling guilty for missing some of these chances (after all, you can’t be attuned to your child 24/7!), we can strive to truly hear them during strategic moments such as these:


  • Daily “check in” – Set aside 10 minutes each day to let your child vent their worries or frustrations. During this time, you’re providing your full, focused attention and trying your best to understand the problem from their perspective. Hold back on lectures and advice for now; instead, offer empathy and follow their lead on next steps.


  • When disciplining – if you need to set a boundary with your child, you’re likely to be feeling irritated with them in that situation (and I’m betting your child is feeling that way, too). This is a crucial time to hear out their viewpoint or needs! It does NOT mean you’re letting them “get away” with breaking rules. Rather, if you can show them that their feelings matter to you even during a disciplinary moment, it will go a long way in fostering a strong relationship between you.


That might look like saying, “Whoa, I know you must be really angry if you’re talking to me like that. I really want to understand what’s wrong, and I also want respect. Let’s try this again.”



2. Find a Passion You Can Share Together


Practicing a hobby together is a fantastic way to learn, laugh, and problem-solve together, which can increase that feeling of closeness between you. Bear in mind though that what you find exciting and interesting may be rather unappealing for your child, and it may take some trial and error to find something that fits. If you love cooking and you’re convinced your child will enjoy being in the kitchen, it’s fine to experiment and see where that goes, but it’s important to let go of expectations. Trying to force kids to partake in their parents’ passions will inevitably erode the relationship rather than improve it. Instead, try to listen – really listen – to what energizes your child, and then find common ground for you both to explore from there.




3. Play


Just as a date night with your partner can bring you closer together when your relationship feels distant, so can play time with your child. As I explain throughout Connecting Kids to Parents, laughing and having fun together builds trust, repairs relationship wounds, and gives you a window into your child’s world.


Now, I often hear from parents that pretend play feels uncomfortable for them. If that’s your experience, try not to be hard on yourself for it! Pretend play is kids’ jam, and I do think it’s important we try to push ourselves out of our comfort zones occasionally by playing the princess or dinosaur. However, it’s absolutely fine to lean on more structured forms of play, especially if that allows you to relax so the two of you can more fully connect – but it does need to be something your child truly enjoys, too. Some ideas include:


  • Color or do a craft together

  • Play catch

  • Create a story or play together

  • Play a board game or movement game (e.g., Hide & Seek, Balloon Volleyball)

  • Start a playlist of music you both enjoy and dance or sing along




4. Develop Rituals and Traditions


Today’s families are often trying to juggle the demands of busy work, home, and social lives. Family traditions provide a sense of comfort and stability within the frenzy. They’re also a great way for family members to create shared memories; to this day, I still remember swimming at the YMCA and eating grilled cheese sandwiches with my family every Sunday.


The good thing is, rituals don’t need to be fancy or even overly meaningful in order to foster connection! Your family likely already keeps some yearly traditions (such as dressing up for Halloween), but it’s also worth having smaller rituals that everyone can look forward to on a more regular basis. Here are some ideas for daily, weekly, or monthly rituals:




Daily:

  • Screen-free dinnertime

  • Perform a secret handshake at school drop-off

  • Share the high and low from your day


Weekly:

  • Taco Tuesdays

  • Family Fun Fridays: rotate activities such as playing games, watching movies, riding bikes, and so on

  • Share what you’re grateful for on Sunday evenings


Monthly

  • Hold a family meeting

  • Cook a cuisine from a different country or region each month

  • Do a random act of kindness for others



5. Figure Out Their Love Language


In his bestselling book, The Five Love Languages, marriage counselor Gary Chapman suggested that all people have a preferred way of expressing and receiving love from others. Determining your child’s love language can be a game-changer in strengthening your relationship, because your loving gestures will have maximum impact.


How can you tap into your child’s love language? One option is to take an online test to help you figure it out. This one was developed by Dr. Chapman himself.


Another option is to examine how your child tends to express love for you and the rest of the family – often, the ways we like to show affection indicate how we most want to receive it as well! I’ve broken down the love languages (and their indicating signs) below to help you decode your child’s:


Physical Touch

  • They freely give away hugs and kisses

  • When they’re sad, they opt for hugs over talking

  • Their play with you is very physical – climbing on you, wrestling, etc


Ways to meet this need: offer back scratches, head or hand massages, and snuggles on the couch while watching a movie.


Gift Giving

  • They’re interested in buying or making things for others

  • They light up when given something, even if it’s very small

  • They have great difficulty throwing away items that were gifted to them, even if the item is broken or not used anymore


Ways to meet this need: there’s truly no need to spend a lot of money! Kids with this love language aren’t being greedy – it’s often more about the reminder that their parents were thinking about them. Brainstorm free or low-cost gifts you can leave for them: a wildflower, a little drawing or note, a cool rock, or their favorite snack from the grocery store.


Words of Affirmation


  • They beam when praised

  • They seek out compliments from you

  • They provide you and others with lots of kind-hearted feedback


Ways to meet this need: acknowledge when you see them do something you like, and let them overhear you “gossiping” (positively) about them to another person. Keep praise focused on effort instead of outcomes!


Acts of Service

  • They’re often willing to lend others a helping hand

  • Their “gifts” to you may look like trying to make you lunch or doing a chore for you

  • They notice when you do things for them


Ways to meet this need: acknowledge when they try to do something helpful for you – yes, even if the attempt created a mess! You can also brainstorm little actions that your child might appreciate, such as cutting their sandwich into a heart shape or offering to make them cocoa after playing in the cold.


Quality Time

  • Their behavior improves after getting one-on-one time with you

  • They frequently ask you to play with them or watch them do something

  • They stall for time at bedtime


Ways to meet this need: set aside a 30-minute block once a week for you and your child to spend time together (the key here is quality time, not quantity – undivided attention is what’s needed).


Through intentional time and building trust, it is possible to deepen connection with children. No matter what your relationship looks like now, it’s never too late to turn things around! If you need additional ideas, check out Connecting Kids to Parents, a fun workbook designed for parents and kids to complete together in order to build trust, improve communication, and increase closeness.







Guest Blog Post by Amanda Robinson, LPC-S, RPT-S


Amanda earned her BA in Psychology from Hardin-Simmons University and her MA in Professional Counseling from Texas State University. After working in nonprofit agencies for a few years, Amanda is now in private practice in Austin, Texas, where she provides play therapy to children with anxiety, trauma, and relational challenges. She is also passionate about her work with parents and facilitates Child Parent Relationship Therapy groups. Amanda is the author of Anger Management Skills Workbook for Kids and Connecting Kids to Parents.





My review of Connecting Kids to Parents










Amanda's book Connecting Kids to Parents is full of so many fun activities to help build closeness and connections with your kids! As a Mom and a counselor who specializes in working with kids, I feel like I hit a gold mine with this book because my son actually enjoys the activities we've tried so far!







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