Do you go to bed at night wishing you had managed more quality time with your children that day? Dinner was rushed, or you were driving from sport to sport, or they had homework, and you had chores to do? We're all so busy in this day and age, trying to accomplish things, and develop our children with learning, social interactions and sports, that sometimes there's just not enough breathing space, time to relax and have long conversations, and really check in with our kids to see and know how they're doing.
There are things we want, and need to ask them, such as:
- How have you been feeling?
- What's on your mind?
- How's school going?
- Tell me about the friends you hang out with at school?
- Is anyone upsetting you or treating you unkindly?
- What do you enjoy most about your life?
- Do you get anxious or sad? When?
- What makes you happy?
- What activities do you like the best?
Let me tell you, in some ways having the opportunity to talk with your kids gets harder the older they get, because they start focusing on friends more, and on their plans for the future. They may seek you out less, as they take steps towards adulthood.
My hubby and I have 3 children, and have been married for 29 years. We had our children a bit spaced out; our oldest son is 22 and married, then we have a 15 year old daughter and our "little guy" who just turned 13.
It's absolutely true when you hear that the "days are long, but the years are short." When I look back at pictures of when my children were little, I wish I could have one more day to just enjoy that littleness, and hold and snuggle them at that sweet stage.
But I'm here to say that whatever age your children are, even if you have regrets for lost opportunities, you can start connecting more today. Even though I do suggest making some time for planned one on one opportunities, if you're overwhelmed and don't feel like you have a moment to spare, you CAN still connect and make memories by taking advantage of any one on one time with them that you ALREADY HAVE.
Here are some ideas on how to do that:
- Take the opportunity when you're playing chauffeur. My husband and I have had some really enlightening conversations with our children when we were driving them to playdates, sports, school, etc. Now of course, drive safely, but if you can drive and carry on a conversation at the same time, take advantage of that time with your "captive" audience to LISTEN and talk.
- In the evenings or mornings when they may come sit on, or crawl into your bed is a great chance to talk too. Our youngest son still climbs (more like catapults) into our bed on a lazy Saturday morning. Usually a pillow fight ensues with dad, while mom seeks safety. 😛 But many times our guy will settle down, and often seems in the mood to talk and willingly share things about his week. Our oldest son, when he was dating, would often come in afterwards, and sit on our bed and talk. Even though occasionally we had to hold our eyes open, we tried to be available to listen, and give advice. Any time your child wants to willingly talk, listen. Someone smart said that if you don't listen to the little mundane things, your kids won't come to you for the big things.
- If you have errands to run, I know it's easier to just go and get them done, especially when your kids are old enough to stay at home by themselves. But take advantage of that time, and take turns having one of them go with you. Because when they get older they'll probably rather stay at home. Of course, you can help make the time a little more special by stopping and getting their favorite soda, doughnut, frozen custard or breakfast sandwich. 🙂 But while you're with them, listen to what they have to say, and you'll be making memories with them.
- Try something that they like to do. Even when you don't think you'll enjoy a particular activity of theirs, at least once in a while try it. I really don't care for video or computer games, but occasionally I say yes, and play Mario Kart with my kids, which is about the only video game I can handle as far as skill goes. And even then, I'm always driving off the road and shrieking, and for some reason my kids think it's hilarious. But I can tell they appreciate that I've made the effort, and we all end up enjoying the time very much.
- Go for a walk, no phones. Skip your workout for the day, and take a walk with your kiddos. In our family we're establishing a weekly Sunday afternoon family walk. Sunday afternoons are a little bit of a downer anyway, cause everyone's thinking of having to go to work and school the next morning. So if the weather permits we like to walk and talk, throw the football, and get a few endorphins going, and get out in nature. It gives us all a little boost.
- Do a chore together. My husband and I both tend to want to focus, do the job ourselves, and get it done, whatever it is. But for many good reasons, our children need to learn how to do things, learn to work as a team, and the satisfaction of a job well done. I was just thinking that my children have never done some of the things I did as a kid, like picking green beans out of the garden, helping stack wood to burn in the winter, painting a house and deck, etc. And even though, as a child, those probably weren't my favorite things to do, it taught me a good work ethic, got me outside, and I learned how to do things. Don't do all your chores by yourself. When it's age appropriate get your children involved in whatever you're doing. I remember putting a bed together when my youngest was little, and how he "helped" me with the screwdriver and sliding the rings on, and it was the sweetest thing. It's harder to convince the kids when they're older, but be persistent, and I believe they will appreciate those opportunities at some point in their lives.
- Helping with their homework is another good time to really focus on your child. Make it a time that you're being patient, helping, and making them feel loved.
- Sometimes just ask your children what they would like to do with you. They may surprise you. Last weekend I asked my daughter what she would like for us to do together, and she wanted me to draw with her. Nothing fancy, she just wanted me to sit on the couch, and draw things while she did too. My youngest son usually likes playing jenga with me. He always wins. 🙂
- If you're children are old enough, let them help you in the kitchen fixing food for the family. They may gripe at first, but later they will appreciate the skills, and the memories they made.
- Have seasonal routines because children like those and find stability in them, even if they don't always act like it. It gives them a bonding experience and provides consistency. Bake cookies at Christmas. Go caroling, take a plate of goodies to elderly or sick people who can't get out. In the fall shop for school supplies together, go to the ocean once a year, have sunday dinners, go to the drive-in once a summer. Whatever your family likes to do whether it's the zoo or library, clothes shopping, birthday traditions, etc.
- At the end of the day, I know you're exhausted, but taking some time to even just read a book with your child or let them read to you, doesn't take a whole lot of energy, but can still be so meaningful for both of you. Coloring together is another activity that doesn't require tons of energy, and yet will show your child he/she is special to you.
We all have different ages of children, and these are just a few general ideas that you can tailor to your children's ages and abilities. But just remember that doing something to connect with your children doesn't always have to be some big production or learning experience, although those are good. But it's still so beneficial for you and your child's relationship to spend time doing ordinary things, and just talking together. We all know communication is vital to every relationship.
We have so much to "teach" our kids, but if common theory is right, they learn more by what we do, and how we act, than the actual "formal" instruction we give them. Sometimes when a child is being "talked at" or lectured to they shut down and aren't really listening. That's why these other types of interactions can be so valuable in making lasting connections with your kids.