“This mustang is really just a cranky teenager,” I mused as I intently watched the horse-trainer’s keen discernment and saint-like patience. Nicole would take a small step toward the wary horse, carefully assessing his response. If he even flickered a muscle to hint at moving away from her, she took a step back to give him space. Only when the horse showed signs of comfort would she take another small step forward. If he seemed unsure, she stayed where she was until he became more comfortable. Her goal was to move toward him at the pace he determined, always keeping him comfortable.
When our children are cranky, it can feel natural to take that crankiness personally. But in almost every case, we have found that a child’s distance or critical reaction is actually self-protection flowing from their own hurt or fear of rejection.
Parents who are frustrated by a child’s aloofness or distance can often drive that child away by moving too fast, and perhaps with some anxiety. The kids perceive this, even if they can’t give it words. So learning to connect and guide in ways that feel safe to kids is extremely important if the life lessons, whatever they are, are to be received by the kids.
Ideas for connecting with younger kids:
One of the key ways we’ve found that parents can connect well is through play. It is through play that the they enjoy that children can relax and feel safe as they receive your love. Here are some ideas for connecting, especially with younger kids (older kids ideas below):
- Body Tracing – Have your child lay down on a large sheet of paper and then trace her body. Color in the outline and point out unique physical features about your child. Write notes on the tracing such as “Gracie is wonderfully and uniquely made.” “Gracie is loved by God and Mommy and Daddy, no matter what.” “Gracie will always be a part of our family,” etc. You can say them out loud as you write them and then when finished, read them together with your child. Hang the paper in your child’s bedroom as a reminder.
- Secrets – Ask, “Can I whisper a secret in your ear?” With permission, whisper how much you love him, or certain characteristics that you love about him.
- Mailbox – Send your child notes, reading them out loud as you write them. Put them through a slit that you’ve cut in a box, and then you can open the box and read them again for her after she opens the envelope.
- Love Sandwich – Squeeze your child between both parents (or for single parents – on the floor between two pillows, squishing from the top). Make up some silly chant such as, “Mommy loves Aidan; Daddy loves Aidan; Jesus loves Aidan; squish, squish, squish!”
- Knock, Knock! – Take a book and put it over your face. Invite your child to knock on it like its a door, and then peek around the side/top/bottom and tell her you love her, will never leave her, she’s your special girl and so on.
Ideas for connecting with older kids/teens:
As kids get older they can feel patronized by even the best efforts to connect. Parents can grow discouraged, resentful, and often just give up trying. But to give up is to communicate the message, “Loving you is just too hard.” This tends to lead to even more difficulty connecting.
Here are things parents have done to start rebuilding connection with their teens:
- Acknowledge that connection is hard and ask the kids for their ideas. Even if the kids don’t have any ideas or don’t want to talk at first, they will get the message, “You’re worth learning from and connecting with.”
- Use whatever social media your kids use to message them simple notes. A text message or Facebook note saying, “I love you and notice your progress,” can go a long way toward building eventual bridges.
- Ask occasional non-threatening questions. “What was the most memorable part of your day?” or, “What’s one thing you’re looking forward to this week?” If kids are short in answer, be OK with that for now. Progress can be slow.
- Turn off the radio and stay off the phone during car rides. Even if your kids don’t notice at first, they will eventually. Especially if you ask a non-threatening question or two.
- Attend favorite activities with the kids. Don’t just drop them off. Stay and watch the same game they watch, or wander the same halls at the mall. Even if there’s not much conversation the kids are likely to notice. If they don‘t want to be with you, simply tell them you’re staying because you want to experience what they are experiencing.
- Be patient. If you do any of the above with a sour or impatient attitude, the kids will notice and the effort will likely feel counter-productive. The connection may take quite some time to build.
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[Photo Credit: eyecrave | iStockphoto.com]