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Building connection with children during the pandemic

So, it’s December. And, we’re in month ten of this thing. Month ten of virtual school and camps. Month ten of working from home. Month ten of having to overanalyze every social engagement to calculate risk to you and your family and weigh that risk against the benefit that comes from just Getting. Out. Of. The. House. And, it’s getting colder, which means our options to be outdoors become limited. So, what can we do to not only survive this pandemic but continue to not just love but like our family members by the end of it?

As parents, we often get the advice to appreciate the season when our children are little because it goes so fast and some day you will miss it. And, if you are anything like me, you smile politely while inside you rolling your eyes. Because, you’d given anything to sleep through the night or not have to think of another healthy snack when your children, yet again, need to eat. At the risk of sounding like those seasoned, well-meaning adults: this pandemic, this season of being stuck in the house with your children, offers you an opportunity for relational connection that the “normal” world doesn’t easily allow for (cue the eye roll). I absolutely recognize that, in addition to monitoring screen time, helping with homework, setting up video chats with extended family, finding virtual extracurricular activities, meeting your work responsibilities outside of the home and, you know, keeping everyone alive, I am adding something else to your plate. I am encouraging you to think of this time as an opportunity to build your emotional connection with your children.

So what does this mean, practically, in your daily interactions with your little people?

· Reflect Feelings. We all want to feel known and seen and understand by the people we love. Our children are no different. When we reflect their feelings back to them, we demonstrate our love but we teach them language for the feelings they are experiencing. Next time there is a meltdown in your house, try saying “I can see you are feeling frustrated right now”. Or “You really didn’t like what I just asked you to do”. Or “Wow! You are really excited about spending time with grandma today”. Being seen and heard will create connection between you before the correction comes.

· Avoid Questions to Which You Know the Answer. We’ve all been there. We see the evidence, we know what has happened and approach the culprit with rapid-fire questions “What happened here?! Did you do this? Why!? What were you thinking!?” These types of questions put our kids on the defensive and sets parents up for frustration. After all, is there really an answer your child can give to satisfy you? Instead of questions, make statements. “I see that you broke the lamp”. “I see that you forgot to put your dishes in the dishwasher like I asked”. Your child will feel less defensive towards statements and there will be less room for argument or excuse making. You can then move to a consequence or correction without hearing lies or excuses to which questions can lead.

· Try a 30 Second Burst of Attention. Anyone else feel like your children have a sixth sense for when you have settled in to productivity or found a few minutes to breathe or even to use the bathroom by yourself? Has your name or title ("Mooom?" "Daaad?") started to sound like fingernails on a chalkboard due to the frequency with which you are summoned? Been there. When your child wants to show you the 100th google slideshow they have created on puppies or tell you the latest joke their joke book, instead of blowing them off or hoping they will go away, try a 30 second burst of attention. Turn away from the computer, put down your phone, stop folding laundry and give them your full attention for 30 seconds. Sometimes, that’s all they need to feel your love and go about their business. And, in the long run, 30 seconds is much more efficient than the “hold on” or “one more minute” that leads to your child feeling unworthy or sidelined and your frustration growing. Maybe in those 30 seconds, you will catch a glimpse of your child’s charm, uniqueness and sense of humor that will leave you feeling warm inside too.

I don’t claim that these tips are magic. They may not work every time but I do promise they will work some of the time. And, especially when used consistently, they will create a stronger connection between you and your children and decrease frustrations within your household. And, when we are in this unpredicted season, every little bit helps.

By the way, these tips not only work on children, feel free to try them out on your partner too! We all enjoy connection and being seen and known by those we love.

The techniques and advice from this article are based on the tenants of Child Parent Relationship Therapy, which teaches parents how to “be with” their children and strengthen their bonds.


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