7 Sweet Opportunities to Show Children They Count – Intentional Ways Parents Can Connect.

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It’s ironic. In an age where connecting with each other is simpler than ever (think Facebook, tweets, cell phones and Skype), hectic schedules for children and parents mean it’s easier than ever to become disconnected from each other.

In the thought-provoking book, The We Generation: Raising Socially Responsible Kids, author, clinician and research professor Michael Ungar discusses the great need for our children to feel noticed and loved in order to embrace “we” instead of simply “me.” He says it’s unfortunate that at times parents attempt to connect with their children by providing expensive toys and other material items, or by becoming too permissive or even overprotecting them.

Unger urges parents not to miss the value of providing opportunities for their kids to help others, model competency, and develop a sense of “we.”  “Give a child a chance to connect, and she will,” says Ungar. The key to true connection is to offer opportunities for compassion.

The following tips represent ways to help strengthen your family’s connection with each other. They come from ideas woven throughout Ungar’s book, from my experience as a trained professional counselor, and from what’s worked for my own family.

1. Give your children a stage to show off. Make it a habit to ask your children what they think they are good at, and then have them demonstrate. For my son, it always thrilled him to show us his ability to walk on his hands. A skill could be writing a word in cursive, or pouring juice into a glass. Children love showing what they’ve learned and how strong they’ve become. Your glowing response will make your children feel ten feet tall and cherished!

2. Leave work behind. This can be challenging, but take as much family vacation time as work allows. The opportunities that spring from time away from the grind and spent relaxing with your children are GOLDEN and create memories to last a lifetime. No one at the end of their life wishes they had taken fewer vacations.

3. Eat three together. Set a new rule about family meals: everybody joins at the dinner table at least three times a week. It’s not always realistic to squeeze in three weeknight dinners, so think about Saturday breakfasts, Sunday brunches, or a Wednesday late-night snack together. At our house, we have “Italian Friday Nights” where we’re often joined by a few of our children’s friends. Have you seen the research results about the many emotionally healthy benefits of eating together? Prioritize it – it’s a simple gesture that packs a profound punch.

4. Time out. Give your children your time. So often we underestimate how much our kids want to spend moments with us. If you have teens, you know what I’m talking about. It’s important to carve out family time as often as possible even if it seems like your children’s friends have surpassed you on the influence scale.

5. Hear your children’s highs and lows. Remember to implement the classic “best & worst” exercise into each meal-time conversation. It’s easy. Ask your children to identify their best and worst daily moments. Don’t use this time to lecture if their “worst” happens to be failing an exam. Instead, open your heart and connect with the feelings they are expressing. Share in their joy! Cry with them over disappointments. If you haven’t tried this, you may be surprised at how much you’ll learn about your children’s inner lives.

6. Form a team. Rally your children to help with a project. Whether it’s painting the family room, volunteering at church, organizing the garage or helping an elderly neighbor with gardening, join forces and you’ll see that the fruits of your labor extend far beyond an afternoon of hard work.

7. Write love notes. Words are powerful, and are sometimes more easily expressed on paper. Fill the page with what you
appreciate about your child, the potential you see in your child, and your wishes and hopes. Leave the note on his pillow, and know it will touch him deeply whether he mentions the note or not.

Connecting with your children is important. Not just for strengthening your family bond, but for helping them develop empathy and a healthy outlook.

Michele Ranard
About Michele Ranard

Michele Ranard has a husband, two children, and a master’s in counseling.

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