Creating Connection With Your Children

In honor of Mother’s Day, I wanted to focus on something that I hear about quite frequently in the clinic—the struggle to maintain a connection with children in a culture where digital media and peers are often given more value than family. I see a growing sense of anxiety about how to maintain a meaningful connection with those they love. And yes, all of these same struggles and concerns are felt by dads too! (More on that next month!)

In today's digital age, social media has become a predominant force in our lives, often affecting the way we connect with others, including children. As a result, many people experience anxiety and disconnection from their children due to the constant distractions and pressures of social media. These pressures can be both from the parent’s relationship with social media and their children’s. By implementing some simple tips and strategies, you can enhance your relationships with your children and reduce anxiety in the process.

1. Quality Over Quantity: In the age of social media, it is easy to get caught up in the quantity of time spent with our children rather than the quality of that time. Instead of being physically present but mentally distracted by social media, prioritize being fully engaged and present with your children during the time you spend together. This can include setting aside dedicated device-free time for bonding activities such as playing games, going for walks, or simply having meaningful conversations.

For example, instead of scrolling through social media while your child is talking to you, put your phone away and actively listen to what they are saying. Engage in a genuine conversation and show that you value their thoughts and opinions. Quality time is essential for building a strong connection with your child.

2. Active Listening: One of the most effective ways to connect with children is through active listening. By showing genuine interest in their thoughts, feelings, and experiences, you can strengthen your bond with your children and create a safe space for open communication. This can be achieved by putting away devices, maintaining eye contact, and practicing empathy and understanding. In addition, remember to listen to understand and ask clarifying questions to help ensure you understand the other person fully. 

For instance, when your child (or anyone else) shares something important with you, give them your undivided attention. Put your phone on silent and make eye contact to show that you are fully present. Ask open-ended questions to encourage further conversation and let them know that you are actively listening and interested in what they have to say. 

3. Lead By Example: Children learn by observing the behavior of their parents, so it is essential to model healthy social media habits and prioritize real-life interactions over virtual ones. You can instill these values in your children and strengthen their relationship skills by demonstrating the importance of face-to-face communication, active listening, and genuine connection.

4. Remember its Design: Every social media platform is designed to be addictive to trigger an unconscious-seeking reflex and keep you scrolling. Much like our food system has invested in understanding how to keep you buying their food-like product without thinking about that choice, our digital platforms are investing in keeping your interest—it’s how they successfully place ads for your consumption and make their money. I’m not saying trash your accounts and eschew the internet. I am saying to be mindful of the purpose of these systems and use them for your benefit rather than allowing yourself to be used by them.

For example, make a conscious effort to limit your social media usage. Instead, spend quality time together engaging in activities that promote bonding and connection. Show them that relationships and interactions in the real world are more valuable than virtual ones!

The prevalence of social media in our daily lives can pose challenges to meaningful connections with our children. By prioritizing quality over quantity, practicing active listening, and leading by example, you can reduce anxiety and foster deeper connections with your children. 

Some recommended reading: Hold On to Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld, PhD

If you want to challenge your thinking, Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn, presents some radically different ideas on how we relate to our children and makes some good points about how thinking about how and when we use extrinsic rewards may deepen our connection with others—especially kids.

Getting our kids to eat healthily doesn’t have to be a nightmarish challenge. You don’t have to be a chef to make delicious meals the family will enjoy; you don’t have to be a master negotiator either. Getting our families to eat more healthily often starts with what is most readily available in the home and our own habits and attitudes when it comes to food. Children often mimic us caregivers—so leading by example can be very effective (for all of us!).

Here are a few tips and reminders to help instill those healthy habits—easily!

  1. Lead by example: Do you display healthy eating habits? Do you choose whole, healthy foods instead of chips or sweets? Is it considered a “treat” when you all sit down for a healthy meal for dinner, or do you save that term for the Friday night take-out pizza or greasy bag of burgers from the drive-thru? Do your kids see you choosing water when you’re thirsty or guzzling back a can of soda? Kids are easily influenced by what goes on in their personal environments; and the choices we make in front of them about food and drink should be considered just as much as, say—not letting a curse word slip in front of them.  
  1. Involve the family in meal planning: Meal planning can be quite fun, and involving everyone ensures that each family member has something to look forward to when it comes to sitting down at the table for a family meal.  If one family member wants a dish that another family member isn’t so crazy about, think of a simple variation you can make so that it’s more enjoyable for them and you don’t have to cook a separate meal. 
  1. Offer (healthy) options: Providing options gives your child the autonomy they crave, while helping you have some control of the nutritional value of their food. Offer things that you know they like—such as apple slices or whole grain crackers with almond butter for a snack. If there’s a vegetable they really like, offer to serve it a couple of different ways with your meal and see which they prefer. Offering choices doesn’t just give them a sense of inclusiveness and independence, it is also is a time saver for you. Instead of scrambling to find a replacement when your kid turns a nose up to something, you can have more confidence about your kid actually eating what you serve them. 
  1. Mix things up: You may have a picky eater, but you don’t have to surrender!  Preparing foods they may not typically love but in different ways may just pique their curiosity.  Consider using different seasonings or methods of cooking, or even making the food more visually appealing and fun for kids. Try using small cookie cutters in shapes or characters they like; or little colorful silicone cups. The key is not to force it. Invite your kids to try something new and different and if they prefer not to try it—describe what it tasted like and tell them why you liked it. 
  1.  Educate your kids about food and where it comes from. Have you ever taken your child to a farmer’s market? This is a great way to learn about where food comes from, the care that is taken in growing and harvesting it, and opens lines of communication with local farmers; and your kid will likely enjoy the experience! There’s also the visual and learning aspect—the colors of homegrown fruits and vegetables are often more vibrant! I also recently learned from our friends at Living Water Ranch that the yellowish tint I’ve noticed in the beef fat means high beta-carotene content. This shows you that beef is a good source of Vitamin A. Even us adults can learn new things at the farmer’s market! Spending some family time at a farmer’s market can make for some great memories and can also be educational (and not to mention, quite affordable!)

These changes may need to be done gradually, and it may take some time for everyone to adjust. If the habits have been in place for a while, just remember to practice patience, understanding, and open dialogue, and the payoff will be huge—with better nutrition, overall health, improved energy, money, and time savings in the end. Eating healthy won’t seem like a “downer” or “punishment”; but a real treat that can be easily shared among the family—and can instill healthy habits that can last a lifetime.

As a society, I feel we share a responsibility to show and teach gratitude to children.  Often, the responsibility to teach values such as gratitude falls upon parents.  Although parents may be the primary source of interaction and teaching for their children, we can all contribute by sharing this important gift to future generations.  

Gratitude isn’t simply ignoring the difficult areas in life.  It is seeing everything.  In most cases, there will be a positive and a negative.  Gratitude doesn’t mean we ignore the negative.  We simply find a way to understand it.  How can we teach this to our children when as adults we tend to struggle with it?  The most simple method is by example.  

One of the easiest ways a caregiver (parent, grandparent, step-parent, babysitter, etc) can display daily gratitude is simply telling your child “I love you” and “I am grateful for you”.  This is a simple phrase that even an infant can interpret as positive words of gratitude.  

The simple phrase “thank you” is a form of gratitude that all adults can use with children.  The key to this phrase is to use it appropriately.  When not used at all children may feel ignored and unappreciated.  When overused they may require a thank you for normal daily chores.  The key is to use thank you at a moment when you are genuine.  Just like adults, children appreciate honesty when they are being acknowledged.

Lastly, listening and making eye contact with a child who is speaking is a simple way to convey gratitude.  By doing this we communicate that their words, thoughts, emotions matter and we display gratitude for their input.  

These examples only scratch the surface for teaching gratitude to children.  However, simple steps tend to build and create amazing change.  Implementing these three ideas can create an excellent start for a child to see gratitude being expressed and learn how to share this wonderful attribute.  

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