Connection is an important factor in a balanced relationship with your children and is essential to their overall wellbeing.
It’s encouraging to know how many little things we can do as parents can have a lasting effect on the relationships our kids form in their youth and later in life, as well as indirectly influence the choices they make. That’s not to say we are actively trying to control their choices; just nurture them while we can so that they grow into empowered adults who have felt their parents’ love and true connection within relationships.
A CDC study by the American Academy of Pediatrics looked at the benefits experienced by teens with strong connections to family and friends and found that they had better mental health. They are also 66% less likely to engage in risky behaviour or substance abuse (both as a teenager and as an adult). It’s pretty clear that connection makes a huge difference in the paths they choose.
It’s about what they need
As kids grow from tweens to teens and into adults, they are experiencing hormonal changes and new brain development activity within their bodies. If you can learn to understand that they are not in control a lot of the time and that they need some distance from you, it will help strengthen your connection to your kids. When they just want to hang out in their room watching TV or bouncing a basketball against the wall; when they walk past you with a grunt of acknowledgement as they tap away on their smartphone. That’s not to say there may not be anything else going on beneath that behaviour, but it is important that parents understand how to reach out to their kids and create a connection instead of a sense of control that scares them off.
Time is what they crave
Honestly, the most important thing you can do is spend time with your kids, no matter what age they are. As parents, we balance competing responsibilities, often with restrictive timeframes attached. Time is precious because we never seem to have enough of it. So, giving your children time shows them exactly how much you mean to them.
Here are some suggestions for spending quality time with your kids:
- Play something together: Yes, they may be a bit old for LEGO (or are they?), but you can grab a boardgame or card game they enjoy and play that. Don’t know how to play Magic: The Gathering? Learn!
- Go for walks: This could be a family activity on specific days of the week; or it could be something more involved, such as a hike or bushwalk. Spending time in nature helps ground us, which is essential if we are to communicate well and fully engage with our children.
- Eat food: The sharing of meals has been a way to bring people together since the beginning of time. Making sure to eat at least one meal together daily (as a non-negotiable ritual) provides space for conservation and connection.
- One-on-one time: If you have more than one child, you and they may benefit from individual pockets of time that are dedicated to each of them. This means they get your undivided attention for that period of time – they don’t have to share you with their siblings, like they usually do. Use this time to connect through conversation and through activities that you both can enjoy together.
Communication is key
Communication is the other major factor for connection, as you can probably already see from the examples above. When we are not communicating (or not communicating well), we are disengaging from the connectedness of our relationships. Communication is key for fostering connection.
Here are some ways to enhance your communication with your teens/tweens:
- Have conversations: And we don’t mean those deep and meaningful ones that teens/tweens (and sometimes even adults!) like to avoid. Talk about fun things, silly things, profound things – anything that provides an opportunity for your kids to open up and engage in that connection with you. Check out our top 10 conversation starters for the dinner table here (of course, you can use them any time!).
- Make it a habit: Carve out time specifically to talk to your teens/tweens about their individual concerns. Let’s call it a debrief – a chance for them to unload after a gruelling day at school, or for you to address important issues with them and get their input.
These are just some of our suggestions on ways you can engage with your kids – there are many, many more. Perhaps it’s as simple as checking in with your teen and asking them what makes them feel connected. Is it putting your phone on silent at the dinner table, so they don’t feel like you’re still working when you’re at home? Is it letting them have their own space so that they can unwind or process their day before engaging in family togetherness? Whatever it is, remember it is as much about what they need (perhaps more) than your desire to create connection.