How and Why to Emotionally Connect with Your Kids
Making a heart connection with a child is a special part of parenting. One reason connecting emotionally is so important is that the heart is a person’s spiritual center; that’s why God chooses to live there. It’s also where parents can impact their kids spiritually. When you connect with your children on an emotional level, they’re more willing to listen to spiritual truth and less resistant to your leadership.
Also, it’s through relationship that values and convictions are passed on to kids. So, having an close relationship with your child is a strategic part of parenting. When we ask children to whom they talk when they’re upset, answers vary greatly. Children and teens talk to their friends, their parents, other family members, youth leaders, or teachers. And some children don’t feel comfortable talking about their problems with anyone.
Where to Start?
If a child has a problem with anger episodes, oppositional attitudes, or disrespect, it’s tempting to take on these challenges head on. They’re dangerous for a child and parents recognize this and sometimes go into attack mode to address the challenges. We often recommend firmness as part of the solution but it’s usually best to start by emphasizing relationship. We call it emotionally connecting with a child and here are two specific ways to make it work.
First, look for ways to use relationship to connect with your child. You might simply listen or you might read a book or play a game. You might work on a task together or give a compliment or words of affirmation. Find a way to emotionally connect with your child. You’ll often know that you were successful because you’ll see that smile or the eyes brighten up.
Next, celebrate the connection with a comment. This comment targets the beliefs a child has inside the heart. Some children believe that their parents are opponents or adversaries. You want your child to believe that you are on his or her side and that you have a good working relationship. You might say, “We enjoy playing this game together,” or, “We can get a lot done when we work as a team.” You might even say, “We share a special connection don’t we?” Notice the word “we” in those comments. Your words can often lead children to a greater awareness of the positive nature of your relationship.
Here’s what happened to Belinda. “I have a ten-year-old daughter who is adopted. We homeschool her and have a lot of tension in our relationship every day. Even when I try my best to be pleasant and encouraging, she resists and creates friction that makes the days difficult. One evening I said to her, “One of the things we enjoy doing together is that read-aloud. Each chapter brings new parts of the story and it’s hard to put the book down. I can hardly wait to read it with you again tomorrow.” Her daughter agreed.
The next day as Belinda started to read the book her daughter put her head down on Mom’s lap. Belinda was shocked. “She’s never done that before.” Belinda realized that her comment celebrating their connection had an effect that was drawing them together.
An Important Tool
In 1 Peter 1:22, Peter tells believers how to have closer relationships, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.” That’s a helpful command for parents, too. Sometimes moms and dads tend to want to keep things moving forward with the day organized and on track. Parents must continually evaluate their choices and decide what’s most important in family life.
Connecting emotionally is just one tool in parenting. It doesn’t solve all problems by itself, but it does tend to open the heart so that other tools, including firmness, are more readily accepted. Relationship opens the heart. Firmness builds character. The two used together can bring about significant change in the way children process life.
As you make those tough trade-offs in your schedule, be careful not to minimize the value of time spent on relationship with your kids. Connecting emotionally takes time, but the reward of closer relationships is great.
To learn more about emotionally connecting with kids, consider the book Parenting is Heart Work by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN, BSN.