School is right around the corner. There is a part of me that craves the end of summer chaos and the return of the inevitable routine and order that comes with the school year. There is also a part of me that dreads all of it: the not knowing the details of my child’s day, the obvious formation of her separate life (something that will increase as she grows older), and the distance that creeps in from only having a couple of hours a day to be together . . . a couple of hours that are filled with homework, making dinner, packing lunches, and getting ready for the next day. I experience all of this from the lens of a full-time working mom, making me feel that much more unavailable to my child. So, how do I maintain a connection with her and my other two littles who will start pre-school at the same time, while we share our time with work and school?
As a social worker in the field of adoption, I work a lot with families that are working hard to forge connections with a child that has often spent years being raised by different people in a completely different environment. I have pulled together a short list of things that can be used across the board to help all of us stay connected with our children.
5 Simple Ways to Stay Connected to Your Child
Before your kiddos walk out the door, or before you all load up into the car to head to school, get eye-level with them and tell them the good things you know about them. They are about to step into an environment where they are seeking and forming their identity. Tell them what you see. Call it out to them. If you’re a praying parent, this is a great time to say a little prayer with your kiddo. As a mom to a first grader, I want to send my girl into school with her best foot forward, knowing that she is kind, she is brave, and she is smart.
2. Playful Engagement
How often do you ask your littles how their days were and get a one-word answer? “Good.” “Fine.” One word. Describing eight hours with one word. Sometimes, if we can hide our questions behind the guise of play, we can help facilitate more openness in communication. One way we do this at our house is by playing “High, Low, Buffalo.” Everyone at the dinner table gets a turn to share their high for the day, their low for the day, and a buffalo, which can be anything else that they want to share. For my kids, ages six and under, buffalo usually means that they’re sharing something potty humor related. But, I will suffer through a hundred poop jokes to hear my children share a sentence, or dare I say sentences, about their day. Play is a great tool for parents. Anytime we can engage our children in play, we are more likely to learn more about their thoughts and experiences.
3. Care Routine
This one is really important. Something magical happens when we consistently care for someone; trust develops, which leads to vulnerability and connection. Don’t laugh, I get it, as parents we are meeting needs ALL DAY, EVERY DAY, and meeting the needs of my children usually comes with one thing — “Can I have a snack with that?” But, what I am referring to is a different kind of care taking, one that has the sole purpose of communicating love and facilitating connection. It is an activity that is worked into your child’s daily routine, one that involves gentle, appropriate touch and is done consistently. Some examples are, brushing your child’s hair before bed (This is not ours . . . I could brush my child’s hair with a comb crafted by angels and she would still yell like I am pulling her hairs out one by one), applying lotion to your little one’s arms and legs, or giving him or her a back rub. Once you’re done, take turns and let your child return the favor. This, added to your child’s routine, will create a space free of distractions, for vulnerability and connection with one another. Your child may use this time to share their newest poop jokes with you, or they may just use it to open up about a hard thing on their mind.
Often times, with children, behavior is communication. When we see them at the end of their day and they are spouting off with attitudes, picking on their siblings, and tossing their backpacks across their room, they are using their behavior to communicate that they have had a tough day. The best thing, and sometimes hardest thing, is to soften our hearts to that sarcastic child and extend our arms for a hug (or whatever level of touch they will accept), and choose to forge a connection through the use of unexpected, loving touch.
This one is an easy one. Never underestimate the power of having fun together. In our house, we spell fun with two words: DANCE PARTY. Each person picks a song and we dance like fools, and we usually feel better afterwards. And if we’re really lucky, we like each other a little bit more than we did before the music started. And if that doesn’t work, there is always chocolate and a good night’s sleep.