HOW BUILDING CONNECTION CAN HELP CHILDREN FEEL LOVED, SAFE AND VALUED
Last Saturday, when bleak January fog hung in the air, I drove back from Bristol to Bournemouth. Stuck behind a slow moving bus I moaned about the English weather, Brexit and the price of petrol. At the bus stop, a 'poor soggy person' waited, in the rain. But the bus drove past them. They shouted at the bus driver, and flung their arms in desperation. Because they had missed their connection.
This got me thinking. It's frustrating to miss a bus. But it's devastating when you lose connection with those you love. For children, connection is vital. Connection with you, their parent, is their life line. Without it, they are stranded in the cold rain, miles from home. Connection, reassures your child that they are loved, safe and valued. Whatever you already do that helps your child to feel these things is priceless. The world is scary, and for a child, only connection makes it safe. The job of a parent is to keep that connection alive. The bad news is that connection does not just magically happen- sadly, just because you're a Mum or a Dad doesn't mean connection is a given. There are plenty of children who don't feel loved, safe and valued. Love takes work, connection requires effort.
The good news is that growing connection is the most enjoyable kind of work you'll ever do. When children do the things that annoy adults: make a mess, fight, don't get ready in time, lose things, argue- to name a few. Parents often fall into the trap of reasoning and explaining. "But Johnny, you need to eat broccoli, because broccoli helps keep your nervous system healthy and supports your body to break down food, so it can use the energy released as fuel." This means nothing to a child. It's easy to spend all day explaining why this or that is important. Rarely do explanations satisfy a children.
More often than not a child is scared or angry about something else. Maybe the girls at school wouldn't let her join in and said her hair-band was stupid and for babies. She feels angry and sad- at the same time- and is stuck in these difficult feelings. That's why she won't co-operate, why she refuses to put on her coat even though it's freezing outside. Explaining how she might get sick if she goes out without suitable clothing does nothing.
She needs to feel loved, safe and valued. Prepared parents see the bigger picture- and understand that there could be a thousand things making your child behave so defiantly. But those thousand things- unravel and work them selves out with connection. Because prevention is the best medicine we prepare in advance. We know that our child needs connection- and that we as parents will have to work to build it.
An excellent way to nurture connection in advance is to build 'Special Time' into your daily life. Special time is where you agree to play whatever your child wants for an agreed upon time. Anywhere from a few minutes, up to an hour. During this period you give full energy to your child- turn off your phone, put down the laundry, finish the dishes- you will only play with your child.
As you enter into the playful spirit of their world, they will relax. "Phew", they sigh. "Mummy is back. Daddy is back. I missed them." And when they feel this connection everything improves- bedtime, mealtimes, sharing, co-operating.
My youngest daughter is 18 on Monday. Last week we shared special time. I asked her what she wanted to do- she said- watch a movie and practice driving. So that's what we did. For those few hours I focused completely on her. She practiced reverse parking in the Elm Tree Pub carpark in Ringwood. I could relax because everything else was on hold- my emails, my phone- even when Freya came within inches of scratching the shiny super expensive Lexus. Over lunch we chatted. Because Freya lives with her Mum, and is a teenager, I don't see her everyday. So maybe it's easy for me to organise special time. But without it- our relationship would be in tatters.
Freya passed her driving test last Friday- and I need to have a conversation with her about money and car insurance. It's about £1500 for Freya. I haven't got that sort of spare cash- part of me feels ashamed that I can't just pay it for her. But I trust that because we're built a strong connection we will be able to discuss this challenge- blame and resentments arise easily. That's why connection is vital.