There are times when it’s really hard to be a parent. There are some surprisingly easy ways to make things better for yourself and your children, though. Strengthen your connection, and you make everything else about parenting easier (and make everybody happier, too).
Here’s 10 ways strengthen that connection.
1. Get outside together. Sunlight and fresh air are not just healthy for our bodies, they’re healthy for our minds. This is true for kids and us grown ups. Whether you go for a walk, play frisbee or go biking together, it’ll refuel you both. Winter is coming here in Minnesota but there are still plenty of ways to enjoy the outdoors, from making snow forts to pulling your tot on a sled.
2. Cuddle in bed. There is something about gathering in bed that brings kids and parents close again, even when they’re teenagers piling on the bed to watch “Iron Chef” or “Project Runway” with us.
3. Say “I love you” — often. These little words are important to children and remind them how much they’re worth to us.
4. Hit the library together. Books are wonderful for so many reasons. They help young children learn to talk and then to read, they increase vocabulary, they expose children to art and other cultures, they inspire a love of language and they teach everything from empathy to sea life. Even older children love to be read to, and books are also a great way to give children tools to get through tough times. Keep an ever-changing pile of wonderful library books to read together.
5. Develop rituals. For years, my oldest daughter and I had a complicated series of words and hand gestures that we used every night when she went to bed. The ritual involved the sign language sign for “I love you,” a hug, blowing a kiss and several other steps. Sometimes I jokingly added several other silly steps for a laugh, but both of us secretly treasured the ritual. Our ritual now is mostly a practical “good night” and sometimes a hug, but we still sometimes get silly and string together a bunch of those old gestures and some goofy new ones. Meanwhile, my younger children have enthusiastically adopted their own nightly routines with me. It’s a small but sweet way to make children feel special.
6. Talk. Tell your stories, share your embarrassments, ask questions. Make sure to make time to simply chat with your children often. Nothing goes farther in passing on values, preparing children for life and creating memories than those simple times sitting and talking.
7. Listen. The second part of the talking formula is knowing what not to say. Keep advice to yourself unless asked (once you stop forcing it, children generally will ask for it), and definitely refrain from judgment. If your children expect a lecture from you, they’ll go elsewhere when they need someone to talk to. Remember that often the best way to talk to children is to listen to them.
8. Play. Children don’t just need us for practical things. Be fun. Enjoy their company. Find some games you don’t mind playing and be willing to put aside the dishes and laundry and get down on the floor or over to the table and play them.
9. Do some art. Even if you just get out some crayons and make a “Mom and me” picture together, this can really be a special time for children. There is a type of art to suit every child (and every grown up). Older children may enjoy scrapbooking or photography. Other kids may enjoy altered books, artist trading cards, whittling, polymer clay sculpting, charcoal sketching, painting, collaging, you name it. Experiment and find types of art you both enjoy.
10. Give lots of hugs. It takes only a few seconds to give a hug, but the feeling of being special lasts much longer.
This is obviously just a drop in the bucket. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.
What do you do with your child to strengthen your connection?