5 Principles To Better Connect With Kids, For Busy Parents
I get asked a lot about parenting in a household with two busy professional parents. While I definitely don't think we have it nailed, I do think I’ve learned a thing or two about connecting with them on a deep level.
I’ve developed a few principles on the topic. Some of these come from pure experience, or trial and error, and some come from reading and research.
These principles aren't just the "laugh more" B.S. that isn't particularly insightful or helpful. These principles are habits we, as parents need to break. They take time, attention and require intentionality. They also move the needle. So, dive in. Our kids are worth the investment.
Build rituals around moments
Your kids are living in the moment - you are not. When we can elevate the little things so that they are the big things, then we’re making a better connection - one that they will remember their entire lives. Start capturing their moments and elevate their significance - it will make you feel better too.
Here’s what we do:
- We write down funny quotes our family says in a Quotebook (this is my passion project that I developed over the years). We then read from the Quotebook before bedtime at least weekly. We’ve built a habit out of it, so the process is a regular thing that we will remember forever. We also have a written record of their childhood together!
- We Created the “Jar of Awesome.” When anyone in our family does something exceptional, we write it down and put it in the jar. When the jar is filled, we do a celebration as a family. My son just scored his first touchdown in flag football so we added that to the jar in a small ceremony.
- "Boys night out" whenever my wife is out or working late (see picture above). We stay up late and pretty much anything goes - including being the "4 Robigos" in our robes!
Literally, kids don’t process things as quickly as we do. When you’re rushed, or telling them 3-5 different things at the same time, they don’t get your urgency, they just get your anxiety. And they build their own anxiety because they don’t know which one of the five things to focus on first.
We also just have to slow down our time expectations. Kids get distracted, they have other things that they feel are important in the moment.
Build time into the process. Have them do one thing at a time, and sequence what you ask them to do. This helps you, and it helps them all stay calm and together.
When you slow down, you’re meeting them at their level. They feel it, and respond to it.
What I try to do:
- Talk to one kid at a time
- Give them my full attention, one at a time
- Respond slowly and with context so they understand why I am telling them something
- Give them as much time as they need to get out their feelings and process what I say
PUT YOUR F—ING PHONE AWAY
Your kids know you’re on it. They know you’re not paying attention to them. They think your phone is super important to you. They model that behavior.
Put the damn thing away when you’re with them.
Yes, you have to respond to emails, schedule things, add to the calendar, and plan activities ahead. That’s all fine. But you’re also scrolling Facebook, Insta or whatever else. In essence YOU are distracted, and you’re modeling that distraction is ok, when in fact, distraction is the opposite of connection.
What I try to do:
I use my phone in front of my kids, but here are my rules:
- All these rules are communicated to my kids and they understand the rules
- My kids are allowed to tell me to put the phone away at any time
- I only read or work on my phone when I’m with them - articles, books, news (no mindless social media)
- I need to have already spent quality time with them (all three of them)
- I put the phone down, look at them and give them my full attention if we are speaking/interacting with each other
The outcome here is that my kids understand that my phone is a tool, and that I have control over it. They are more important than what’s going on in my phone and when it comes time for them to engage with their phones or ipads, they understand that that digital interaction can not control them.
Manage Transitions better
Transitions are the single biggest source of friction with kids. Parents are usually rushed themselves and kids are notoriously hard to get out of the house.
Less friction, better connection.
We have to manage this time better. That includes managing the other adults that are around. When two parents + grandparents, etc are all interacting with the kids WHILE you are trying to get kids attention to get somewhere else - it’s a disaster.
Children can’t focus on more than one adult telling them what to do. Plus, it’s even harder (and more frustrating) for them to try and reconcile if two adults are telling them different things.
What I try to do:
- Give my kids 15, 10, and 5 minute warnings of when we are leaving so they are already going through mental tripwires.
- Tell them what they are going to do next - ahead of time - and only one thing at a time.
- Only allow one adult to direct the kids in a transition. For example, mornings. I am responsible for directing the kids on what they need to do to get ready and out the door for the day. My wife helps by getting things organized and ready to go, but does not manage them out the door. This helps our relationship too - she doesn't have to worry about it, and we don't accidentally overrule each other either.
1 on 1
This isn’t just 1 on 1 experiences and play time - that’s definitely a must. Rather, I’m talking about what do you do when you have to discipline a kid or calm them down? Do you do it in front of the other kids or other adults?
In my experience this only builds shame in children, but when you take the time to pull them aside when no one is watching - YOU are fully present with them. You are calmer, and you can give them the proper attention that they need to manage their emotions in that moment.
This builds trust that I'm not just going to yell at them and leave them hanging. They are more open in telling me the truth and/or how they are feeling in a situation.
What I try to do:
- 1 on 1 events get built into my calendar
- When disciplining or dealing with an upset child, I separate him from everyone else so it’s just me and him, 1 on 1.
- I let him cool off and then come back to spend as much time as he needs to listen and tell his side of the story.
- I explain my decisions and why they are happening.
This all takes a lot of time, which is why “slow down” is the first principle.
I hope this list makes a positive impact on how you look at connecting with your kids. They’re only kids for so long.
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