Feeling disconnected? Fun vacations and elaborate special occasions make great family memories, but they’re not what create a sense of closeness between parents and kids. Closeness comes from being involved and interested in your kid’s daily life. Be it schoolwork, hobbies, or friends (or dinosaur scenes).
Why is it important to get closer to your kids? Strong, consistent emotional connections boost mental health. And if you start early, the bonds will be long-lasting too. Here are seven easy ideas to get closer to your kids.
1. Share a hobby.
Whether it’s drawing cartoons or doing jigsaw puzzles, a quiet activity you can do together will bring you closer. Playing sports or video games is fun, but it doesn’t give you the same opportunity to talk or just work side by side. It doesn’t matter if you do it every night, once a week or once a month — as long as you make time (and a commitment) to enjoy it together regularly.
2. Set aside time to talk.
When your child comes to tell you something, give him your full attention. That means putting down the phone, turning off the laptop, or even turning off the stove so you can face him and really listen to what he’s saying. Set aside a few minutes every day to ask what he learned at school, how his playdate went, etc. And try not to interrupt. This is his time to talk, not yours!
3. Review homework.
Sitting down five nights a week to go over schoolwork shows how much you value your child’s education — and the effort she puts into it. Offer help if she needs it and give praise when she earns it. Most important, ask her to explain what she knows. She’ll feel great teaching you a thing or two.
4. Be open.
Communication is a two-way street, and your child benefits from hearing your thoughts as much as you do from hearing his. Keep an open dialogue on everything from politics to personal beliefs, being honest but age-appropriate in what you say.
5. Create rituals.
They can be serious or silly, but having reliable routines gives your child a sense of security and family identity. Whether it’s eating pancakes for dinner every Sunday or having pizza-and-movie night every other Friday, creating rituals shows how much you value spending time together. Later, you may hear your child saying to others, “Here’s what we do in my family.”
6. Play make-believe.
Playing is crucial to a child’s emotional and intellectual development. Sit down for a teddy-bear tea party or have a make-believe pirate sword fight in the living room. Taking part in your kids’ pretend play gives you a window into their feelings, fantasies and fears — and shows them you want to be part of their special world. Play therapists use this doorway to connect with children in a way that validates the child’s experience or reality.
7. Read together.
Studies show that children who grow up watching their parents read are better readers themselves. But reading to a young child — or reading the same book as your older one and then discussing it — is a way to explore the world and share ideas every day.
These are tips you can apply today, tomorrow and everyday. No fancy or expensive planning required. In order to reserve time for reading, homework or listening, our family has a “”no screen time on school nights” policy. Our kids are young enough that homework is not on the computer yet. So grab new books from the library, swap puzzles or board games with other families, and turn off the television/computer to focus on quality time with your kids. Make the time you do spend count, then let go of any guilt about taking time for yourself or your marriage. The connection you have with your children will tolerate and even benefit from time apart.