EveryDay Strong: 4 ways to connect with your child
“Children’s hearts are won through relationships, not rules. You don’t have to force children to follow you if you inspire them as you lead.” – Lelia Schott
Many projects and organizations are talking these days about how to build resilience in our children so that they can overcome anxiety, depression or other life challenges. Very often, these efforts focus on teaching individual children unique skills or coping methods.
However, some of the latest research from Harvard shows that resilience is actually rarely built all alone. Instead, children and people thrive best when they have meaningful relationships that help build a web of resilience. This means that however simple it may sound, when you can find concrete, meaningful ways to improve and strengthen your relationship with your child, you’re actually protecting them against life’s challenges.
Here are four ways you can do that:
1. Put down your own phone
There’s a lot of talk in the media about how cellphones are wrecking our kids’ lives. But do you think about how your own device use is getting in the way of connecting with your child?
Collin Kartchner, a local social activist fighting for teen mental health, shared the following message he received from a teenager:
“Now that I’m a teenager, I’ve never been so distant, and it’s not because of me … the teenager like you would assume … it’s because I can’t get my mom or dad to put down their stupid phones, and get off Facebook and Instagram, to listen about my day or ask questions, or talk about my feelings. I’ve never felt more unloved and uncared for because of a stupid cellphone.”
2. Write a note
One way to build relationships is by writing a note to your child and leaving it to be found. Emphasize your relationship and your feelings about it. Put less emphasis on specific behaviors, choices or accomplishments of the child—this isn’t about praising their achievements, but demonstrating and talking about the strength of your bond.
Sometimes written notes can express feelings in a different and more thoughtful way than through verbal expression. It shows additional thought and effort, and may be treasured and re-read over time.
3. Offer specific and constructive praise
Kalleen Lund, from Provo, said, “I always felt like it was really important to offer true constructive praise to children. Not praise that’s general, but something that they know is a fact. Where you say, ‘You’re good at this’ and ‘Thank you for doing that.’ Even if it’s a simple thing, it is something they can hold on to. Then they think, ‘I may not be good at a lot of things, but today I was good at that one thing and somebody noticed.’”
She continued, “We’re not very good at this, but we need to allow youth to actually talk about what they want to talk about. Instead of interjecting all the time, draw them out. Try to have the kind of questions and comments that make them feel they’ve been understood. I think most people feel sad because they’re not understood.”
4. Love the child you have
Help your children feel safe to be themselves by accepting and loving them just the way they are. Praise something unique about your child. Consider even acknowledging how unexpected, different, confusing or quirky this trait or interest is, but how you love or admire it.
Self-acceptance, defined as viewing yourself as a basically good person who is worthy of love without needing to prove yourself, is a necessary part of having good mental health. Everyone needs to recognize their own unique abilities and desires. When you feel safe to be different from others, you can thrive and feel independently able to make your own choices.