10. “Parents – you can have it all”
How to be a kid whisperer.
We parents spend the majority of our waking hours working toward shaping our children into the kinds of adults we want them to be. We campaign to have them be more organized, better students, courteous, etc. But sometimes our objective should be to simply relate to our kids and enjoy them so they don’t go through life feeling like a project you’ve undertaken.
Flawed, fragile, wonderful little people. And sometimes they need a relationship with us that is more about nurturing and bonding than about checking something else off the to-do list.
This blog topic was so much fun to research, and there is a vast array of resources on this topic.
I hit pure gold in the first article I looked at “How to be loved by little kids” (wikihow). The sage all-knowing people who collaborated on this article certainly nailed it, by summarizing the keys to connecting with kids:
The article centers on three suggestions:
- Put the child first:
- remember the kids name
- focus on the kids first and ask them questions about what they like and what they are good at
- give them credit for their skills
- Spend time with the child:
- Pay attention to the kids. Show them that you love them and enjoy spending time with them. Many times kids are starved for attention and love, so sharing a little around will go a long way.
- Play/hang out with the kids. However, don’t invite them to your house unless you are very good friends with the parents; most people will find this questionable.
- Ask the kids questions. Ask them questions about anything, such as: favorite color, what they had for dinner last night, what they want to do when they grow up, where their favorite trees are, etc. Listen to their answers and really pay attention. Show them you value their opinion. Look them in the eye. Sometimes, you get some funny answers, so keep your ears peeled.
- Be enthusiastic around the child. Kids love it when you are over-the-top. Act larger than life around them! You’ll have time to be dreary and tired when you get home or they leave.
- Do things that the child adores (and almost all children adore these things):
- Make the kids laugh. This will get them to trust and let you into their heads. However, don’t go by age, gender, etc. to try to determine what they will find funny. Everyone has a different sense of humor- get to know them a little first and you should be able to determine what will make them laugh.
- Find common ground. Find something you are both into. For example, if you both like magic, teach them a trick. If you both like ball games, get out and play some. If you both like cookies, bake some together.
- Teach kids to do things. Little kids respect you when you teach them how to do something. They love it when you take time to play with or teach them something, whether it’s a sport, art, computers, cooking, and so forth. Consider the skills you have and ask the kids what they’d like to learn from you.
- Don’t think that you’re beneath anything. When they ask you do something, give it a go, even if you’d never be seen dead doing it around your mates. Show the kids you’re cool enough to blow bubbles with them, just because they asked you to.
- Compliment the kids. While you do sidewalk chalk with the kids, tell them how awesome theirs look. They’ll be stoked that you’re interested.
- Invent games. Make up completely new games, or change the rules of existing games. However, if you aren’t creative enough to come up with games to play, search for new ones online.
- Follow the kid’s lead. Once you find a game, stick to it as long as the child does. Sometimes, little kids will play one game for hours. If this happens, stick it out. Don’t start to act tired, even if you feel tired. Instead, ask if they want to switch games.
- Be flexible. If the child wants to quit one minute, than wants to play the game again the next minute, just smile and nod.
Lifehack offers these additional suggestions in this article by Lianne Martha Maiquez Laroya:
- Relax – Loosen up, and enjoy whatever the activity is.
- Respect children – Just like adults, kids know that when people are giving them respect by listening to what they are saying and valuing it.
- Act funny – Children love to be with people who have fun with them. While this may come easily to some parents, those that struggle with it may want to try making funny noises or faces, playing hide and seek or surprising them with something unexpected and fun.
- Be patient – Every kid is different and we need to be patient, learn to interact with them in their preferred manner and let them set the pace of the play.
- Loosen up the rules sometimes – Try not to discipline your child all the time. Kids need a break now and then from some rules. They love to be mischievous, roam around, run and play and will absolutely love you if you give some space by loosening up on the rules.
- Praise your child – Too often we forget to give positive feedback, and from the kid’s point of view, they only receive corrections and negative feedback. Kids love it when adults appreciate things like the way they look, their manners, a carefully chosen outfit, or kind actions – don’t hesitate to tell them.
- Take them seriously – When kids try to tell you something or want you to show something, take it very seriously. Kids appreciate when you pay attention to their thoughts, opinions and things they like.
- Act like a kid yourself – There are few things that kids love more than when a beloved adult connects at their level and engages in their play and fun.
- Surprise them with gifts – I’m not referring to buying your kids things. The most valuable gifts are acts of service like cooking their favorite dinner, sharing a rock you collected in a far-off place, or once in awhile doing one of their chores for them.
iIMOM offers additional ways to bond with your child by slowing down and being together including: fishing, reading, cooking together, taking a walk, and having a monthly standing date between child and parent(s).
As a mom of twins, I really love and appreciate the last suggestion. My husband and I have learned the importance and value of individually spending alone time with each one of our boys. I concur with the iMOM team that “each of your kids needs a little one-on-one time with you to connect.” I also agree with iMOM that when spending time alone it’s important to make it all about that child and having fun. Choose a separate time to talk about issues or behavior or school, etc.
I also had to accept that my boys connect and communicate best when they are engaged in an activity they enjoy, in contrast with many females, who enjoy just sitting and connecting by talking. I have learned that we engage in the most meaningful discussions when we are busy with something else – whether at the dinner table, in the car, playing a board game or doing chores in the back yard. My husband has also developed specific activities he does with each child alone – spending creative time in the workshop/art studio with one, and taking the other on fishing trips.
I also love iMOM’s suggestion that hanging out with your kids in your room before bed is a beautiful opportunity for connecting. Reflecting on my own family’s informal tradition of gathering every night in my bedroom before bed, there are few daily moments as valuable than this.
We have a set time at night that technology has to go to sleep and this is usually what prompts my sons to migrate upstairs to our room. Sometimes one or both will pop by for a couples minutes knowing they will find our two dogs and my husband and I reading or watching TV. Sometimes it’s a quick “good night. I love you” and sometimes they’ll hang out for a bit talking, playing with the dogs and even snuggling (they are going to be super embarrassed when they read this!).
My bedroom is spacious and has a king bed and an obscenely large TV. My husband and I made the conscious choice not to have a TV on our main floor and our bedroom doubles as our family TV room. I know that having a TV in the bedroom is controversial to some, but it’s been a great benefit to our family. Our big bed accommodates the four of us and our two dogs. Whether we watch a short comedy show, a film or a documentary we always share thoughts afterward. Snuggling and chatting or watching a show is a great way to be together in the evening and share ideas or share in entertainment.
There are lots of other great ideas on the internet to address this topic. I encourage you to check them out.
Before I sign off, I will add 3 more suggestions that my experience has demonstrated to foster a healthy and happy relationship and develop meaningful connections and shared fun.
- Pick your fights
Stephanie Dolgoff explains some important boundaries in a parenting.com article. Parents do need to have clear boundaries about values and safety, and they have to be clear with their children in defining what the expectations of each are. When a child crosses the line, it’s important for parents to step in. “At minimum, you have to keep your kid from hurting himself or those around him, however you define “hurt.”
Kids also have to make choices within the boundaries of their families values and beliefs. Some examples include treating one another with respect, exercising gratitude, and being respectful of people’s differences and choices.
Thanks to the invaluable parenting coaching I received from parenting educator Teresa Bouchard, I decided when my kids were babies that I was going to be very careful about choosing my fights. Teresa encouraged me to filter my kids choices through the two tests set out above. This allowed me to let go of a lot of unnecessary contention points early on. I never told my kids how to dress, how to cut their hair, what they should like, or how to think. Instilling a strong foundation with values and giving them the freedom to explore the world and get to know themselves with minimal limitations, means that when I do have to set a boundary with my kids or say “no” to something, and explain why, my boys usually accept it. We avoided a pattern of conflict and the power struggle that comes from being over controlling. This parenting style has fostered a relationship of respect between my boys, my husband, and I.
- Explore the world with your kids
As Rabi Steven Carr Reuben points out:
There is simply no substitute for travel. It’s an enormous teaching opportunity for your children in a myriad of ways. Not only is traveling with your kids the best possible way for parents and children to bond with each other, it inevitably provides a host of teachable moments that you couldn’t possibly have predicted or prepared for in advance.https://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-steven-carr-reuben-phd/family-vacation_b_1717150.html
He goes on to list these benefits:
- The first important value that travel provides for your children is that it teaches them how important they are to you. Inevitably, when you take your kids with you on a trip, it is a simple yet direct way of communicating their importance in your life.
- Another important value that travel with your children teaches is the value of learning how to get along with diverse kinds of people.
All these experiences are opportunities for us as parents to teach our children first-hand about the differences that exit in the world and to teach them not to fear differences, but to celebrate, expect and cherish them as something that adds color and depth and beauty to our lives.
Seeing how other people live and learning to appreciate the blessings and gifts of our own lives is one of the most valuable lessons that foreign travel can provide.
We had the privilege of travelling in Kenya and Tanzania in 2016 with close friends. The trip was a huge investment in time, money and in being prepared emotionally for the experience. I would do the experience my family shared a disservice by even trying to express it in summary fashion. Perhaps I’ll write about it in the future. Suffice it to say that I can’t imagine a more powerful experience and a better investment in our family.
But you don’t need to travel to the other side of the planet to get this experience as a family. We have shared equally as meaningful times together camping in the mountains not too far from our hometown.
The benefit isn’t the result of a destination but from the shared experience and adventure.
- Foster family friendships
This naturally leads me to my last point. Many of our family adventures and many average weekends include our family friends. I moved to the other side of our country when my husband and I married and left my friends and family. My husband and I have developed very close friendships with some amazing families and they have really become more than just friends, they are really our local chosen family.
Our kids have grown up together and shared many experiences resulting in very strong connections. These relationships sometimes overlap with friendships at school or in activities but are often independent. The children of these families have maintained these strong, deep connections through adolescence. Regardless of the inevitable highs and lows with peers and friends at school and elsewhere, the kids have always had a core group of friends that they can rely on, who understand and accept one another. The same is true for the acceptance and support that parents share in navigating raising kids together.