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.

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