Bonding with your children can be a breeze in some moments. When parents and children are having fun, they can grow closer together over play and laughter, sharing contagious giggles and building new memories. But what about during difficult times?
Even during the rocky moments, it’s possible to connect with your children in ways that build trust, help them feel safe, and foster secure attachments.
It’s not always easy to prioritize making a meaningful connection, especially in emotional situations—but doing so can turn those interactions into chances to grow closer to your child. By seeing things from a child’s point of view, you can learn how to connect with your kids during both the happiest moments of parenting and the most challenging ones.
Connecting with Your Child On Their Level
Our grown-up, fully formed minds might sometimes forget what it’s like to think and act with a young brain, but trying to see things from a child’s perspective can help you connect with how your young child’s feelings and behavior.
As children, our brains and ability to handle emotions are still developing, and we aren’t likely to respond to situations as adults would. 1For example, both children and adults can have powerful feelings and respond emotionally to situations that excite or upset them—like finding out that an event they were greatly looking forward to was canceled, or that a friend can’t come over to spend time with them as planned. Both situations might cause some upsetting feelings.
But kids may not yet have the tools they need to feel safe in those emotions, to express themselves appropriately, or to cope with big feelings. With this in mind, try to approach connection from your child’s perspective, not your adult’s point of view. Rather than telling your child how they should feel or react to a situation, create space for them to share what’s going on in their head.
Even if your child’s reaction doesn’t seem logical from your adult point of view, having empathy and creating room for your child to share their perspective without judgment will allow you to connect on their level—rather than create distance between their world and yours.
Making Space For Connection
When learning how to communicate with children, understanding a child’s perspective and thoughtfully responding to big emotions is not always a simple process in the moment. But thinking about the goals of connection and communication can help you keep the big picture in mind.
Consider these family bonding objectives to guide your moments of connection:2
- Create a safe space for big emotions – We sometimes tend to rush through uncomfortable times with children, asking them to stop crying or put their emotions to the side. Instead, you can build connections by creating space for your child to express their feelings safely. This means communicating that their feelings are welcome (and not something to be quashed) and that you want to work through them together. Doing so may help encourage the development of some of the most important social skills for kids.
Show that you see things from their point of view – When your child reacts to a situation, try to understand the root cause of their emotions. Kids are more likely to trust us and listen when they see that we understand their feelings and give them our undivided attention, even if the reasons for their actions don’t make sense to us adults. Try mirroring your child’s emotions by repeating back their actions and how they may be feeling to show that you’re present during the conversation. 3For example, if your child is angry at something, you might say, “I saw that you threw your toy when your friend didn’t want to play. You must have felt very angry about that.”
- Give them tools to help later on – Being present and engaging with your child when big feelings come up may already help them feel heard and understood in a meaningful way. But by talking to them and connecting with kids about their feelings and experiences, you’re also showing them how to work through these feelings so that they can better soothe and calm themselves when you’re not there.
- Build a relationship of trust – By making connection the most important aspect of any interaction, you’re showing your child that they can trust you with their feelings. You’re showing them that their emotions are accepted, and not something to be ashamed of—and that you’re there to help problem-solve, rather than punish.
Connecting with a child’s inner workings—aka, what makes them feel or think certain ways—means making an effort to understand them on a deep level. Observing their actions, listening to their thoughts, and allowing them to express their feelings can help you to fully enter their world.2
That said, seeing the world through your kid’s eyes can be an effective bonding strategy in all moments between caregiver and child, not just during the hard times.
Connecting Through Play
If the world were run by children, everyone would spend all their time on playtime without an ounce of work being done. In other words, life would be one long parade of fun.
Actually, that doesn’t sound like such a bad existence, does it?
To a child, play is a critical part of discovery that is inseparable from the rest of life. The act of rolling a ball across the floor and the process of learning how round objects move on flat surfaces are one and the same.
Children are always learning, just as they are always connecting. Activity and play present an important opportunity to learn and grow together while helping kids to understand key knowledge about the world around them.
Here are two family bonding activities you can try to create meaningful opportunities and develop a strong connection with your child through play.
Stories to Bring Us Together
Stories are often kids’ first form of entertainment—from their first board books to the bedtime stories we make up to soothe them off to sleep. We whisper them in their ears before they can even crawl or shake a rattle.
Stories have long been a key part of the relationships between caregivers and children. Their ability to entertain and educate makes them a key tool for interaction. They also shape our relationships with our kids in impactful ways:
- Our cultures are defined in the stories we tell our children. They spread messages about our values and history
- Sharing stories through books can inspire meaningful conversations with your child about life and relationships, while also laying the foundation for children beginning to read.
- We’re careful about the stories we allow children to see in television and movies because we know the power and value that they can have over developing minds.
Kids love our stories as well. When we open up to them and share tales from our lives (especially if they’re from when we were kids ourselves), they can grow to trust and understand us more. Developing this kind of positive attachment makes us a secure base for our children which they can rely upon as they develop their confidence.4
The Caregiver’s Role in Play
When the clock strikes playtime, we can tend to view it as our time to watch over and protect our kids from afar. But being present and engaged in a child’s activities means more than just peering down from them from the watchtower (or office chair).
When your child invites you to play with them, recognize it as an opportunity to step right into their world. Ask them what they would do in the various imaginary scenarios that you invent—and share what they see and learn during their playtime.
You might be amazed at how much your child uses their imagination to interact with and interpret the world around them. For example, they may invent a scenario with toys to reenact a situation that happened in real life. These playtime possibilities create even more opportunities for connection and understanding.
When possible, attempt to shelve the smartphone, close the computer, and turn off the TV to give your child full attention. Doing so will let them know you’re fully there and mindful of them.5
Support Moments of Connection with Slumberkins
Connecting with kids is a process, and it’s understandable if that process isn’t always smooth. But by making consistent efforts to connect with your child, you create the space for more connection over time and can learn to develop healthy parenting skills over time. You’re building a bridge between your world and theirs—one they’ll know they can cross any time they need to.
But if you’re still wondering how to connect with kids and need a little boost to build connections, Slumberkins is here to help.
Otter Plush is a kindhearted snuggler friend that helps kids and parents learn to form connections. Building bonds can be a long and rocky process for children learning to socialize, but with a cuddly companion by their side, it doesn’t have to be scary.
Otter’s Heart Family is a story we can share with our children about the safety and security that those closest to them provide. It promotes the kind of belonging and healthy attachments that are key to a child’s development. And as children mature and their circle widens, Otter’s Community Grows can help explain the new feelings that come with increased social interaction.
When it comes to creating connections, Slumberkins is here to support you and your child.
- Meinke, Hannah. "Understanding the Stages of Emotional Development in Children." Rasmussen University. 30 December, 2019. https://www.rasmussen.edu/degrees/education/blog/stages-of-emotional-development/
- "The Power of Showing Up." Dr. Dan Siegel. https://drdansiegel.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/POSU-Refrigerator-Sheet.pdf
- "Our Approach." Slumberkins. https://slumberkins.com/pages/our-approach?
- "Helping Children Feel Safe and Secure." Slumberkins. 9 July, 2020. https://slumberkins.com/blogs/slumberkins-blog/helping-children-feel-safe-secure?
- "Engaging in Your Child’s Play WIthout Interrupting." Janet Lansbury. https://www.janetlansbury.com/2020/07/engaging-in-your-childs-play-without-interrupting/
- "Don’t Waste an Opportunity to Connect With Your Kids." Janet Lansbury. https://www.janetlansbury.com/
- "You said WHAT about time outs?!" Daniel Siegel. https://drdansiegel.com