One of the most common heart cries of children and teens is wanting to spend quality time with their parents free from a teaching moment or need to perform.
We as parents do not always do this perfectly, nor do we need to be perfect for them to be emotionally healthy, according to attachment research. But if we can be present with our children much of the time when and how they need us in each stage of their development, they are likely to grow up feeling safe, secure, and emotionally healthy.
So how can we be present in a way that helps our children the most? No matter what their age, children need us to just “be with.” This means putting our own agendas on hold at times and letting them lead without our correction or judgment.
When we do a puzzle or build a tower with our toddlers and preschoolers, they are learning mastery. If they are struggling with a puzzle piece or the tower is about to fall, it is tempting to jump in to help. No matter what their age, our children are far better off struggling for a bit, even failing before figuring out problems on their own. This teaches them tolerance and persistence. It also allows them to feel a sense of accomplishment when they do it on their own.
When our children are of elementary school age, they are learning how well they can do things, it is important that we play with them the way they want us to, even if they are not following the rules of a game precisely. This is their way of experimenting and exploring their strengths and weaknesses. As parents, this is a good time to relax and have fun with our children and build trust and safety for the upcoming teen years.
As teenagers, our kids are trying to find out who they are, who they want to be, and how they fit in the world. As parents of adolescents, we tend to focus on their grades, sports, or other activities. It’s a good exercise to be aware of the conversations we have with them. Are our words more about their performance than their character or effort? If we stress their character over their accomplishments, children learn to be confident and secure in who they are, not what they do.
Being home and in our presence may be the only time our children feel safe and comfortable enough to express themselves honestly. There are times when we need to correct them. But the correction will be more effective if they know that we are a safe and loving presence. We can do this by giving our time and attention to them, even if for just ten minutes a day.
Ways to connect with our kids:
Take interest in their interests, without judgment. Listen to their music and talk about what they like about a particular song or genre. Ask them to teach you their favorite video game.
Play. Our sense of connectedness increases in our brains when we laugh and be silly together. Make a game out of everyday activities, like playing follow the leader when getting ready in the morning, using silly voices when asking them to do a chore, or dancing in the kitchen while making dinner.
Go on a date. Carve out special time with each child during the week. Ask them where they want to go (out for coffee or ice cream) or what they want to do (play a board game, bake, go for a bike ride).
Offer physical touch. Virginia Satir, a renowned psychotherapist who performed important work in family therapy, is noted for this adage: “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” Hug your kids; give back rubs or arm massages.
Be an active listener. Our kids feel connected to us when we are fully present (no phones) and listen without sharing our opinion. One of my frequent responses to my children -- especially when they say something I don’t agree with -- is, “Tell me more about that.” This creates space for them to verbalize their experiences, opinions or emotions, knowing I won’t offer my opinion – at least not yet.
If you or a loved one would like to think more creatively about ways to be present with your child(ren), do not hesitate to reach out to for a free 15-minute consultation with Keystone Services, LLC at email@example.com.
Licensed Resident in Counseling