Updated: Jun 28, 2020
If you have been looking at parenting sites or reading parenting books you have probably heard of "connection". It seems that everyone is talking about "connection is key" and "connect before you correct" but what does that even mean?
When professionals use words like "connection", the word seems to take on a deeper meaning and people seem to be confused. The word is thrown around as if it is a universal term of parenting that should be understood. The truth is connection is really quite simple, it is that feeling that you have with those special people in your life where you feel you are safe to be you and they love you not matter what. Connection is made up of those moments when you laugh so hard together that it feels like nobody else is around. When you can be upset and know that you won't be rejected. It is when you feel heard, understood and valued. No wonder it is so important.
According to Daniel Siegel (2001), relationships that are connecting support the development of social, emotional and cognitive functioning. Research has also found that children who have a parent-child connection throughout childhood are healthier, have better relationships and are less likely to be involved in crime or teenage pregnancies. When we understand that being connected is having someone who understands you and will be with you regardless of what is happening, it is easy to see why this research makes sense. If you feel safe, valued, trusted and heard, then you are more likely to make better choices. Children will grow to make decisions not out of fear of punishment, but with the values that they receive from the parent who they are connected. As they feel more confident in themselves, they are also more likely to do what they feel is right rather than be swayed by peers.
The problem is that we can take connection for granted. The bonds you have in your relationships are not permanent. Disconnection happens when we don't keep working on our relationships, or when something hurtful happens to break the trust. Keeping connection doesn't mean that we have to make huge gestures, it is built on small moments throughout the day. But it is easy to be so busy throughout the day providing the basics that we can forget the importance of these moments of connection.
Empathy is so important in building connection. How can you help your child feel heard if you aren't willing to see things from their point of view? When we recognise how they are feeling, even if it makes no sense to us that they feel that way, we allow them the freedom to experience emotions and know that you will be okay with whatever it is. It may be that your 2 year old is upset because they have the wrong coloured cup, or your 11 year old's hair "isn't working". Letting them experience the emotion, helping them feel understood and being able to move through it safely is a powerful way to connect with your child. You are their safe place.
Touch is often overlooked but it is the physical manifestation of that connection. It doesn't have to be long cuddles (although these are good too), it can just be having your hand on their arm or a tussle of the hair. When we touch we are in their personal space which creates intimacy. We know that touch is important during infancy for a child to develop cognitively and physically, but this need doesn't change throughout the lifespan. Studies have shown that lack of nurturing touch is associated with childhood difficulties such as anxiety, depression and behavioural problems (Whiddon and Montgomery, 2011). Obviously, don't cross boundaries, if a child doesn't like to be tickled or touched in a certain way then be respectful, unwelcome touch doesn't bring connection and is actually very damaging.
Play, art, singing, dancing, sport, reading whatever is fun for your child then dive right in. When we spend time with our kids doing what they find fun, we are sending the message that their interests are important too. The most important thing to remember is that we need to give our children our full attention and really be present with them. Follow their lead and join them in their play. Let them direct you and have some control, it is all part of trust and them feeling valued enough for you to trust them. Ask them where the car should go or what the "cat" does next, be in their world. When you go to the park don't just sit on the side. Go on the swing next to them, chase them, have fun.
Don't stop having fun as your kids get older, just change the play. They probably won't want to play dolls but they may laugh at you trying to do some of their dance moves. Play their video game, listen to their music, whatever it is enjoy each other. The silly moments are magic when it comes to connection.
It may seem strange to say that correction can bring connection but this is a very important form of connection. Connection doesn't mean that you give your child everything they want to keep them happy, connection is being real with each other and despite mistakes and raw feelings, still being loved. It is through correction that your child can see that even though you may be angry or disappointed in their behaviour, your love for them will not change. There is no greater security than knowing that despite our faults we are loved and accepted. It is for this reason that connected parenting does not use punitive forms of discipline when when a child needs correction. Instead you explain to each other how you feel, and solve the problem together.
Fun Connection Ideas
We need to remember that connection can be so many little moments throughout the day. It doesn't have to take up chunks of your time or involve deep conversations. Here a few fun and simple connection activities:
Tickling (if they enjoy it)
dancing, the sillier the better
going for a walk
play eye spy in the car as you drive
reading books together
play sport together
play board games or card games
get creative, painting or craft
pull faces at each other
let them do your hair
have some one on one time
paint your fingernails together
watch a movie together
have a "date" together
have "in" jokes
Chances are you are already doing a lot of these things. You are connecting with your child. But it does help to be intentional and aware of their need for us to meet them where they are so that they can grow to feel valued loved and confident in who they are.