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Connecting: Your most powerful parenting practice

If you’re like most parents, you want practical parenting tools that solve specific problems. You’ll need few parenting tools and techniques if you learn how to truly connect with your child.

Do it with love
One evening, after a parenting program, Andy, the father of boys ages three and five, approached me. “Vickie, this stuff might work on girls, but not on boys. You don’t have boys, so you don’t understand. I have to GET IN THEIR FACE to get their attention.”

“What is your tone of voice when you get in their face?” I asked.

He laughed. “I’ve had it, usually, and I’m mad.”

I empathized with him. I’ve been there at the end of the proverbial rope, resorting to the quickest technique I know — yelling. “Continue to get in their face,” I insisted. “Just do it with love. Instead of getting ‘loud and nasty,’ try ‘close and kind.’ Both get the results you want, and the latter doesn’t hurt the child.”

It’s true that we often get instant results when we get in their face. But we pay for these results with a strained relationship. This father had been practicing a truncated version of the eight steps of truly connecting. He made eye contact, used not-so-loving touch and gave the boys 100 percent of his focused attention. He just needed to add a few more steps to increase his likelihood for cooperation while, at the same time, preserving his relationship with his sons.

At the next class, Andy shared that, though he had not mastered all the steps, even adding a few made his interactions with his sons go more smoothly.

Let’s look at the Eight Steps for Connecting with Your Child:

Step one: Set your intention to connect. Before you approach your children, whether they are playing quietly or embroiled in a fight, take a moment to affirm your desire to use this moment to connect.

It’s easy to get in the habit of approaching our children with disconnecting thoughts (This child demands so much attention), commands (He’d better get in that tub without a fight tonight), or judgments (I’m so sick of you two arguing). It takes a strong conscious effort to overcome negative thought patterns.

Step two: Smile. A smile instantly relaxes the muscles and eases tension in your face. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “A tiny bud of a smile on our lips nourishes awareness and calms us miraculously. It returns us to the peace we thought we had lost.”

Step three: Get down on their level. That might mean sitting on the floor or squatting. Or, bring them up to your level. Either way, you establish rapport.

Step four: Give friendly eye contact. Smile with your eyes. This isn’t a flicker, a glimpse, or a glance. Smile for three beats or for one deep breath. Connect with your child’s soul.

Step five: Lovingly touch your child. Using loving touch, we can capture our child’s attention and show our love at the same time.

Step six: Give all your focused attention. Put down your cup of coffee. Set the newspaper aside. Let go of the world situation, what you want from your child, or what you’re going to do or say next and give 100 percent of your attention to your child.

Step seven: Use few words. Listen 80 percent of the time and talk only 20 percent. When we offer comments, suggestions, and lectures without first hearing the child, we disconnect. If we continually respond this way, over time our children develop a condition called “mommy and daddy deafness.”

Step eight: Give information or ask a question. When you speak, start by asking a question or giving information, not commanding. You’ll notice that your child often will respond by thinking instead of reacting.

These eight moves are a way to communicate with your child without yelling, nagging, pleading, threatening, manipulating, or worse. When we use negative motivators, we risk damaging our relationship with our child — the most valuable parenting asset we possess. Nearly any time is a good time to move toward your child with love and connect:

  • When they feel content
  • To calm a fight
  • When you or they are making a request
  • After a separation
  • When you want to get their attention
  • Instead of yelling or threatening
  • As a regular family activity

Whether you’re trying to calm a fight or ask your child to get ready for bed, you’ll find that using these eight steps infuses your interactions with more cooperation and peace.

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