What You’ll Find Inside: We all have moments in our parenting journey when we feel disconnected. Our ‘always-connected’ world can leave us feeling far away from the little people we treasure. In this post, you’ll find ideas to reconnect with your child and a surprising reason you may be feeling disconnected. Plus, download your FREE Cheat Sheet for Better Connections.
Are you feeling disconnected and not sure how to reconnect with your child? Not sure what to say (or when to listen) to relate to your kids? Wondering what stresses your children during their day? Or do you need to reconnect after an angry outburst? You’re not alone and your children are likely also feeling disconnected. Read on to find out how you can reconnect with your child meaningfully.
In today’s technological society, we are becoming increasingly disconnected in the name of ‘connection’. It’s hard to peel ourselves away from our devices – especially if our work depends on them. If not for work, then there are the millions of other good reasons we need to be on our devices, catching up with a friend, making plans with family, checking the finances, cancelling piano lessons or appointment – the list never ends.
On top of being device dependent, we are so busy rushing around from jobs to after-school activities we often miss the little things that are happening in our children’s days. Just like us, our children live very full and complicated lives. They experience a range of events and emotions on any day and have many more difficulties than we imagine.
Our Busy Lives Keep Us Disconnected
If your children are in public school, by the time they get home they’ve forgotten many of the day’s events but often the feelings remain. If we immediately shuttle them to activities or they have a mountain of homework to do, these feelings rarely get processed.
As parents, we have our own mountains of stress and we often believe our stress is much more ‘stressful’ than that of our children. This belief can lead to a disconnect and a dismissal of our children’s problems (and excitements) as being ‘not as important as what I’m dealing with now’.
When we don’t make time to be present with our children, we lose sight of their needs and who they are growing to be. We become ineffective at communicating because, in the flurry of our day, we only communicate the necessary words: “Did you brush your teeth? Your lunch is in the fridge, I’ll pick you up at 4, oh and remember to wear your hat today, ok? Love you!” and then again at night: “How was your day? (no pause for an answer), I packed your dinner to eat in between dance and soccer practice; hopefully, you don’t have too much homework (a statement, not a question), it will be a busy night.”
Since we’re so stressed ourselves when the child doesn’t fall into line we don’t have time to investigate the why behind the behaviour. Why is my 3-year-old fighting to put shoes on every single time we leave the house? Oh well, no time to figure it out, we’re going to be late, again!
We don’t have the time or the patience to ask, “is there something you don’t like about these shoes?” So instead, we raise our voice, we threaten, perhaps bribe, and in the end, we pick the child up and carry them crying to the van and toss the shoes in, making a comment about how this is making you all late.
Is this the parent you want to be?
Deep inside you, there is a loving, patient, compassionate and curious parent that basks in the wonder and amazement of these little beings you have the privilege of raising. I envision myself as that parent. Then I sometimes feel like the fly on the wall watching myself behave and don’t even recognize myself. So disconnected from the ‘me’ I want to be.
Bonus: Download a free cheat sheet – Cheat Sheet for Better Connections as an added bonus of joining my weekly newsletter.
Connecting with Yourself First
There are many reasons we feel disconnected from our children. In my life, as a mother of 4 under the age of 13, I find a lack of sleep and lack of scheduled time to care for myself as the top two stressors for me that lead to a feeling of disconnection.
Notice I wrote “lack of scheduled time” – when you break the day down into bite-sized chunks, there are many moments I could schedule for myself. I just don’t. If I am being honest, it’s sometimes because of an inflated sense of importance (the kids always need me).
For example, I could fit in the time to do a few sun salutations in the morning when I get up (even before I am fully awake and while the kids and baby are crawling under and around me), I could take a 10 minute shower while baby is in a jumper and the other kids are watching a show or listening to an audiobook, have a cup of tea in a quiet room before bed, go to sleep early and skip getting sucked into social media scrolling or the TV show that my husband is watching, the list goes on!
BUT when I don’t plan these ‘me moments’, other things fill the space and I feel I have no time for myself. When it’s not on the schedule, I feel guilty for taking time here and there.
What’s more likely to happen (and this will sound ridiculous but I’m sure I’m not alone) is that since I feel I’m not getting time for me, I get sucked into mindless things under the guise of ‘connecting’ i.e. checking social media on my phone – for 20-30 minutes at a time!!! While the kids are waiting for me to make a snack, finish something, or while I’m “going inside for a second to get some water.”
I feel like a teenager trying to sneak time to myself – and what’s worse, it’s a total WASTE of time!!! So NOT what I would plan for me time. Definitely not soul food.
How is this Related to Disconnection from Your Children?
When we feel disconnected from ourselves and from our value (I am worth making time for a shower and self-care, a relaxing tea, exercise my passions), we tune everyone else out. We are not meeting our needs so we cannot wholeheartedly be present for our children.
Our eye contact is nil, we hug less and offer less genuine smiles. We meet bubbly, excited requests to “come to see this AAAHHHHMAZING at colony I found!” with “uh huh, ok just a second” and you saunter over like it’s not all that important and a serious interruption to your stolen Facebook-checking time.
You don’t want to be that parent (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this) and thankfully there are simple tweaks to your days that can help you reconnect with your children.
But before we move on, plan time to take care of yourself. Get your needs met. It sounds silly but with so many kids to juggle in my house, I HAVE to schedule shower time. I also have to distinguish between a utility shower (a bare minimum, 7ish minutes – with the baby in the jumper in the bathroom) and a luxury shower (25 minutes, maybe a skin brushing, hair mask, nail trimming etc. – my husband is home and can watch the kids).
Once you meet your needs, you will feel more ‘full’ and able to be present and connect with your child.
Reconnect with your Child
Coming back from mindless parenting moment or trying to bridge a communication gap with a child because of busy schedules can sometimes leave us a little scared and at a loss of where to start.
It’s important to remember that as disconnected and uncomfortable as we are, our child is feeling it with heightened (still sometimes primitive) emotions. They need help to open up and reassurance to know you love them NO MATTER WHAT.
There are also times though that we feel disconnected from our child and things ‘seem’ to be fine. Around the age of 8, I felt out of touch with my oldest daughter’s life.
I wasn’t sure how to talk to her at her level and what about. I was working at the time and pregnant with my third child; my oldest was in school and before and after care with my dear friend. My second oldest (2.5 at the time) was having a rough time in full-time daycare (which was a half hour across town each morning, then a half hour back to my work – same routine at night). Life was a little hectic at the time and I’m not sure I was connecting to anyone.
Before we get to some of the actions you can take to reconnect, I have one more note: Quality of Time CANNOT replace Quantity of Time. You have to be present consistently and ‘show up’ as a parent to connect. Kids will see right through you if you ignore them all week then play 20 questions on Sunday night dinner. Ok, on to the lists!
Actions You Can Take to Connect
- Hug, snuggle or just touch.
- Get down and play with them regularly.
- Plan regular dates with your child.
- Ask them to help you with a chore and do it together mindfully.
- Make eye contact.
- Rough play.
- Bedtime Stories and Pillow Talk.
Some children lavish a hug, some do not. I have a little Tigress that will growl if you speak or touch her when she’s feeling disconnected. She loves hugs, but it needs to be her choice and her that starts the touch in those moments. You know your child the best – they may need you to scoop them up for a long hug, or a touch on the shoulder may be a good first step.
With my Tigress, she really needs a hug, so I will often sit beside her and pat my hand beside me and either give a soft growl back (this works!!!) or acknowledge that she can come for a hug of she would like to. She usually jumps into my lap.
After a conflict or in the middle of a power struggle a hug or touch may be the glue to repair the damage. Sometimes if I find myself in a heated argument with any of my girls and I have the presence of mind to stop and look at what’s going on, I’ll just pull them in for a hug and it changes everything. Except for Tigress who just growls at me 🙂
Devote at least 15 minutes of undivided attention to play – per day and per child if you can. Set your phone on silent, wait for the baby to nap or ask your husband (or friend) to take the rest of the kids and show your child you are there. Let your child draw you into the play. Your child should be leading. Sit down quietly where your child is already playing and just be there. Engage, collaborate and smile!
You could also ask them if they have a game or puzzle or book they would like to play/read with you – and then do ONLY THAT for 15 minutes (or more, if you can!) regularly.
Could you manage 15 minutes daily? Every few days? I’ll be honest, with 4 kids and a home and business to manage I find it challenging to fit in the undivided time for each child. Sometimes, I fall prey to believing that their abundance of sibling play suffices.
Unfortunately, as child development researcher Darcia F. Narvaez points out, “[p]arent-child play has been shown to contribute more to a child’s ability to give structure to early social interactions than play with siblings.” Narvaez goes on to state that “[i]t has been hypothesized that parent-child play first catalyzes the child’s development of new skills and playing with their siblings helps consolidate those skills.”
Engaging in play can help to repair your relationship after a blowout and can help both of you to feel calmer and more connected.
If you can, set one for you and each of your children. This does not have to be fancy. In all honesty, this is one of the few saving actions we have in our home to ensure that the kids get my time alone.
My oldest loves to go shopping while my second daughter revels in a walk or tea at the beach. Tigress comes grocery shopping on Sundays often with me and she really feels that is special time – and I try to make it special. My little guy gets me all the time since he’s so little but he’ll be there one day.
In ideal conditions, there is one date night a week, so the older girls swap up weeks and Tigress comes grocery shopping a few times a month. No matter what we do, the fact that we do something consistently is critical to them. I’ve wondered at times if it’s me driving it but whenever life gets busy (after the last two babies) and dates become few and far between the girls long for them and make that known.
You could bake, do dishes (as a bonus, the water can be calming to most children), make dinner, feed the pets, do laundry, grocery shop or even pay bills with a tween/teen and show them how the household works. Helping with chores teaches important life skills.
Sometimes in our haste, we find it easier to complete these mundane tasks with children not around (and it IS much faster and easier). But are we teaching our sons and daughters what we want them to model as adults? Children can feel special and empowered when we let them in on how their home works – from finances to chores (as long as we are not just dumping responsibilities on their plate) – the key is to do things together. That’s how they learn.
Get down to their level, either with silence if that’s comfortable or during a meaningful exchange of words. As infants, we often have many moments of prolonged eye contact as we change them, feed them, and snuggle them to sleep.
It’s harder to engage in that meaningful eye contact and soul connection we all long for once they start running around. It gets even harder with tweens and teens as their lives get busier.
So many times our children are talking to us and we continue on doing what we are doing with our backs turned making dinner or we remain in another room. But flip the roles here: when your children don’t look up when you’re talking to them about something important, does it bother you if they keep doing what they’re doing and give you an “uh huh”?
My gut says it’s rude and disrespectful. So why do we do that to our children?
This is a favourite at our house and a staple for my husband to reconnect with our kids. They LOVE to roughhouse. This can help children to get out frustrations in a safe and loving way as long as the rough play is respectful. My husband also uses “the Claw” and makes up mock threats to snap the kids out of situations that seem futile.
Not only is roughhousing a way to bring a relationship back into focus, but there is plenty of evidence that roughhousing has huge benefits for kids. In their book, The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It, authors Anthony T. DeBenedet, MD and Lawrence J. Cohen offer over a hundred fun ways to bring roughhousing into your home. They claim that “Play—especially active physical play, like roughhousing—makes kids smart, emotionally intelligent, lovable and likable, ethical, physically fit, and joyful.”
Bedtime has the potential to be a magical time between kids and parents. All is quiet, the lights are dimmed. Life slows down, finally at the end of the day. This is often the time when children start to open up about things that may have bothered them in their day. It’s a great opportunity for parents to practice their listening skills.
A routine of reading aloud also strengthens the parent-child bond and has been shown to be the single most important activity for reading success (Neuman, Copple, and Bredekamp 2000).
Since my kids were about 9 months old each, my husband and I have been reading to each of them before bed every single night. We read when we are away, camping, on good days and bad days. The only time we ever miss is when one of them falls asleep in the car after a long drive.
They all cherish this routine. It’s a part of them. As my oldest grows she still loves read-aloud time, but she now wants to split the time in half and chat about her day.
Bedtime for us comes with very consistent and early times – so that everyone gets their 30 minutes of parent time. My oldest gets about an hour of my time between reading and chatting. So in our house bedtime for the 4 kids takes about 2 hours (between 6:30 up to bathe little ones, story time and then ending with Miss A at 8:30). No matter how the day goes, we reconnect and make amends by the time lights go out.
In all honesty, I need this as much as the kids do. I know this won’t work for everyone or fit everyone’s schedule – if my husband is away, the bedtime routine is shorter. And in case you’re wondering, it exhausts us. My husband and I generally fall asleep with one or two of the children by accident. The kids just jostle us awake if we fall asleep mid-sentence! I have been known to fall asleep with each one as I move from room to room.
Words to Connect
Along with actions, there are words we can offer in times of disconnect that can ease the tension, especially after a conflict. Even if we believe we are in the right, our goal is to connect with our child. We lose the lesson we are trying to impart if our child feels disconnected anyway so don’t think you are ‘giving in’ by coming back to them with kindness.
Showing compassion and empathy can help to strengthen the lesson if we refrain from the “I told you so” and just let nature be the teacher. Kelly Holmes, author of Happy You, Happy Family and blogger at happyyouhappyfamily.com also writes about reconnecting with your child and tons of other parenting struggles and joys. She suggests 10 Miracle Phrases to help you reconnect after a big blowup. My favourite on her list are:
- “I want to understand how you’re feeling”
- “Let’s take a deep breath together…”
- “I’m sorry for…” << this one is super important. If you’ve blown up, be the adult and apologize for it. This teaches your child responsibility for their actions and words even when they are not pretty.
And here are a few other very effective choice phrases we use in our house after a conflict with good results:
- “I LOVE you” (pause with a hug) this works alone almost every time
- (child is amid emotional chaos) “Hi, I’m right here. What can I do to help?” (a light touch and some eye contact added here can help)
- “Can we have a do-over?”
- “If we could redo this whole thing, what could we both do differently?”
Even when there isn’t conflict, sometimes you and your child seem to be miles apart. Some of these ideas may help:
- Start the day with words of connection. If you know your child is stressing about a project or speech, let them know that you believe in them and remind them that they’ve worked hard on it
- Ask a specific question about something current in your child’s life. For example “I remember you said you were working on a model of the Eiffel tower for your science class, how’s that going? Do you have a partner or doing it alone?” When we ask generic questions, our child’s brain is programmed to give a generic answer “How was your day?” “Good/Meh/Fine.” We as adults do the same thing so we can’t fault them for this. To show we care, we need to tune into what’s happening in their lives and ask pointed questions without interrogating.
- Let them know you were thinking about them. Say: I was thinking about you today. It was so hot outside and I was hoping you didn’t have an outdoor gym class or you had extra water breaks
- Practice respectful listening. Give your child the attention we all need. Turn around, stop what you’re doing, look them in the eye and really listen to what they are saying.
And that’s it!
Want these ideas in a handy cheat sheet to print out? It’s yours!
Here’s a preview of the cheat sheet you’ll get – just print it off, post it on your fridge, in your bedroom or anywhere that you’ll notice it when you need some connection ideas.
And how about you? Do you have troubles connecting with your child or children at certain times or ages? What are your tried and true strategies? I’d love to know how you reconnect.