They say “communication is key” and while true, I would wager that when it comes to family life, “connection is key” is a more accurate statement. Establishing attachment and connection between parent and child begins with the first skin-to-skin moments as an infant. But, it shouldn’t stop there. Nurturing and maintaining a positive, healthy connection with your child continues and changes as a child’s needs grow and change. Ensuring a strong parent-child connection is tricky even during the easiest of seasons, but how do we reinforce connection during stressful seasons?
Last summer, our family moved from Albuquerque, NM (from the only house our kids have ever known) to my brother’s house in Iowa (for the summer) to Texas and then six months later bought and renovated our first home. Phew! Just typing that was stressful. Leaving the only home you’ve known to a year of moves is hard for anyone. My husband and I had many long, late night talks working out all.the.feelings from this past year. Talking through emotions helps. But, children don’t communicate that way (not yet or in much simpler ways). Children communicate through their behavior. And boy, did mine!
Tantrums galore! Refusing bedtime! Screaming as though possessed! At various times and from each of my children emerged this lovely behavior. Slowly (because sometimes I’m dumb) it dawned on me that my children were expressing the stress and uncertainty of our moves the only way they really knew how. What they needed was more connection from both my husband and I. When navigating stressful seasons, these three ways to connect have been tremendously helpful for our family.
Relax the Routine
Some family routines are necessary, but some can be relaxed. Deciding what routines can be relaxed looks different for every family. For our family, bedtime becomes a sweet time to connect and relax the routine. Practically, this means more time for books, songs, snuggles and mom laying with the kids. Typically, we run a tight bedtime routine. During stressful seasons, we (try to) focus on connecting. We also say “no” to too many activities and focus on family time at home. That usually means mom saying no to play-dates and opting to play in the backyard instead.
Our recent move was particularly hard on my youngest. Her challenging behavior demanded most of my attention and problem solving skills. Unfortunately, that meant less time for my oldest. I began feeling disconnected from him. So I decided a mom-son date was in order. We played putt-putt golf, took a trip to Target and ended with dinner at Piada. I have never seen my son so excited and flat out giddy than when we went putt-putting together. His smile was a thousand watt and he still can’t stop talking about it.
One-on-one time doesn’t have to be about spending money – even a simple walk around the neighborhood together can be a sweet time of connecting. My son loves LEGOS. One afternoon, as he asked me for the millionth time to play with him, I realized I had never actually sat with him and put together a LEGO creation with him. So, I sat down and did something I really don’t love to do. But, wow did it mean so much to him! One-on-one time doesn’t have to be fancy, but the focused attention your child receives is water to an emotionally thirsty child.
Connection During Discipline
Children express their stress through behavior so naturally problem behaviors will arise during stressful seasons. When I’m stressed and my children are stressed, life can easily turn into one gigantic screaming fit from both kids and adults! During these times, I have to remember to take deep breathes and give my children grace. Problem behavior shouldn’t be ignored, but discipline can be modified to allow more grace during stressful seasons.
Typically, we have the kids take a break in their rooms when they are “in trouble”. But keeping in mind our peak stressful seasons, I knew my children needed extra connection especially during problem behavior. So instead, we took breaks together. The first time I practiced this with my daughter, she knew she was “in trouble” and had to stay with mom in the bedroom and yes, she screamed her head off. But, her tantrum ended quicker and she crawled into my lap exhausted and needing extra cuddles. We talked through her behavior and the discipline was still effective – evidenced that as I continued this, she threw less and less tantrums.
My son is older and doesn’t particularly need a lot of discipline – he gets by mostly with lectures from mom and dad. One day, I decided instead of talking through a particularly crabby morning, I would try something else. I reflected to my son that he seemed extra crabby and then wondered aloud if snuggles might help. He instantly agreed and sat on my lap while we watched a cartoon. It was a sweet moment of connection and really helped his mood. Now, when he’s feeling crabby, he will occasionally come to me and ask for a cuddle. And mom is happy to oblige!