What happens when we take just a few moments several times a day to genuinely connect emotionally with our child? Will it make a difference in their cooperation during that day? Will it make a difference in how you feel at the end of the day? How can it effect the child’s sense of worth, or the resilience they have to the challenges they experience?
Sometimes our power struggles make it feel like it is the child vs. the parent. How would it feel if we shift these roles for the parent and child to feel like a team vs. the challenges of the world.
You can learn how to use 4 elements of connections to create genuine encounter moments, and create loving rituals that continually build strong emotional connections with your child. Becky Bailey likes to say “15 minutes can lead to 15% increase in cooperation”. It isn’t guaranteed to have immediate results, because all good processes take time to develop. What I can promise you is that over time this process will have far more positive effects than just increased cooperation.
Now consider how your child feels when you stop everything else, look into their eyes when they are talking, hold their hand, and give your full attention. Stop for a moment and think about the last time that happened between you and your child. Seriously, close your eyes and envision that scene and savor it. How did it make you feel? How did the rest of your day go together?
How many minutes a day do we make time to connect emotionally through these kind of moments?
There are 4 elements of our interactions that lead to a genuine moment in which we connect emotionally:
- Eye Contact – Your child is eager to be seen. “Watch me.” And they are looking at your eyes and your expression to see what you are feeling toward them. They feel most connected when they see in your eyes unconditional love and adoration for who they are. This reaches into their heart and soul to build a strong sense of self worth.
- Physical Touch – A gentle touch activates a chemical response in their body and brain that gets them ready to recieve information. For example: Hold their hand while they talk so they know you are truly listening. Hold your hand flat on their chest to connect with their core when you talk about emotions. Rub around their ear lobes gently as you talk to them activates pressure points to help them be alert and listen more carefully.
- Presence – With your attention solely focused on the child, you can more easily recognize and understand what they are trying to communicate with their words, their expressions, and their body language.
- Playful – I’m guessing you weren’t expecting this one, but when you think about it, you know that sparks the joyful smile and allows the warm feelings togrow and linger, and perhaps they may be less likely to want to break that connection. Adding the “fun factor” actively engages the brain in a different way, and ensures the positive emotions are a part of these neural pathways.
At which age is this best?
With a loving mind-set, it typically occurs naturally when interacting with a baby, especially when they coo and smile. It is a little more challenging to be playful when they are needing something, but you may notice when you intentionally add the playful factor they may be more patient.
As children get older, we begin to have different expectations. Yet, they still need to feel your effort to connect emotionally with them at every age… infancy, early childhood, preteen, teen, and even young adult. EVEN if they act like they don’t want it, and it may look a little different, but your persistence in meeting these needs for connection becomes the thread they hang onto when times are tough.
Indeed, imagine a world in which we all get to have interactions like these every day, even throughout our elderly years.
My World and Your World
Naturally, a child’s first thought is about their own needs. We are born with instincts that enable us to get what we need to survive. In the case, our “world” is referring to where are thoughts are generally engaged with our experiences.
Because of this self-centered nature of a child, which is inherent and necessary for their development, they are absorbed in their own world of thoughts and experiences. Time is an abstract concept they are not capable of understanding until their brains develop a bit. They are unaware of the passage of time and live purely in the moment.
As adults, we feel the urgency of the passage of time with a list of “to-dos” and time schedules to get it done. We percieve our own world with priorities that include our own needs, as well as others, and at a much faster pace than the child’s world. We cannot expect a child to naturally be in “Our” world perspective. We must visit their world for a moment, and appreciate their creation of that moment. If necessary, then we can ease their transition into our world.
Would you consider some of the struggles the two of you have in your relationship is due to the expectations we have for our children to think, respect, and act in time with our percieved world, without an adequate balance of respect for their world?
Let’s start with just THREE types of interactions where emotional connections can occur:
- when a child spontaneously initiates the interaction, inviting you into their world,
- when you initiate the interaction, and need to bring them into your world, (transitions)
- and when you intentionally create special opportunities for a shared world.
Your child invites you into their world, and you create a GEM.
“Mom, come look…” Your child may spontaneously initiate a conversation by calling out to you, or coming to you, or doing something to get your attention. This is the perfect opportunity for a GEM, a term I learned from Kathryn Kvols training, and is described in her book Redirecting Children’s Behavior (pg 26-27).
A GEM is a Genuine Encounter Moment, in which you respond to your child by giving them your “full focused attention and personal involvement”. You choose to stop what you are doing, move toward, or with your child to see, hear, experience and have a conversation about THEIR primary interest IN THAT MOMENT. By doing this, you slow down to their speed of wonderment, and enter in your child’s world to experience the wonder together. For example, you may be out together for a walk, and your child may see a butterfly and want you to stop and see it too.
“GEMs work best when you are at the child’s level, looking directly into her eyes, touching her, and trying to feel what she is feeling. GEMs are not times for lectures, advice, or lessons. They are times for heart to heart, not head to head, communication.”
You will notice that quote includes most of the above elements of connection as part of the interaction. It may be your nature to expand on this with a “lesson’, giving additional facts about the butterfly.
To be honest, THAT is so totally MY first instict as a teacher. But I now realize the importance of fully appreciating this experience in their world before adding more information from my world, which they may not be ready for.
START with giving words to the FEELING and the EXPERIENCE you believe the child is having in that moment, and validate their interest by appreciating them sharing this with you. Then you can add a playful connection, and follow their lead if they are interested in learning more, or if they are ready to move on.
“I see the butterfly. Wow, it is so colorful, pretty and lightly fluttering in the wind. You are watching it land on a flower and take off again. Thank you for showing me such a beautiful sight. (watch and listen, then perhaps…) Would you like to fly like a butterfly? Here we go… up up and away.” Ta-dah… the Playful element is added.
GEMs can happen anytime, anywhere, and is not planned, nor does it have to take long. Of course, it is not humanly possible to do this EVERY time your child initiates an interaction. WOWZA, we may never get to anything else with some children.
Simply keep it in mind, and one of these times soon, when your child wants your attention, make time for a GEM. I KNOW the hardest parts are stopping what you are doing, AND getting your child to let you get back to what you were doing. But once you start, you will see the beauty and connection in that moment, and the look on your child’s face will be worth it. And through their eyes, you can reconnect with the little wonderous things in life. Soon, you will get into a rhythm so it can happen quickly, easily, and naturally several times a day. If this is new to your interactions, you may soon see a marked improvement in your relationship, and less of a struggle.
You initiate the interaction and need them to transition.
You FIRST create a GEM.
“Tara, it’s time for dinner.” seems like a positive right?? You have taken the time to prepare the food, and your child is engaged in something that interests them while waiting. Ten minutes ago, they may have been begging to eat, so you may believe they’ll be happy to get up and get ready to eat. But no, now they don’t want to stop what they are doing.
This is the perfect opportunity to go to your child to connect emotionally in their world, with a GEM just long enough to recognize, validate, and appreciate what they are currently interested in. You might relate it to something silly you made once… just to hear them laugh and make that PLAYFUL connection.
Touch their hand that is holding their creation, look in their eyes so they know you mean it when you say you are so impressed that they are working so hard on it.
Then you might ask if they’d like to leave it here where it is safe, or bring it to the table as a centerpiece during dinner (as long as they don’t play with it at the table).
You may be interested in my full article on “Tempering Transitions with Tunes“, in which these ideas are further explored using music in a variety of ways.
Taking a few moments to get into their world before inviting them into yours may save you a lot of time and stress in the process of transitions.
You intentionally create special opportunities for a shared world that can be initiated by either of you to reconnect.
Was there a song your mom or grandma sang to you that made you feel so special. For many in the USA, it is “You are My Sunshine”. For me, it was my mom singing, “I love you, a bushel and a peck…” It still makes me smile and feel loved. When she sang it to me, she held me and danced, or she sat on the side of my bed rubbing my back and singing it as she woke me up in the morning, or when I was sick.
These are extra special interactions that you repeat over and over again with all of these elements of connections which, in time, creates memories that last a lifetime, and maybe throughout generations.
Simple songs, like lullabies and sweet rhymes are a perfect foundation for these types of emotional connections.
Becky Bailey details these kinds of interactions in her book called “I Love You Rituals”. These interactions are a central key to her strategies for Conscious Discipline, for all ages.
You are sure to be moved when you see the video, which highlights the use of an adapted version of “Twinkle Little Star” in these interactions that are CLEARLY creating emotional connections, with so many different ages.
I wrote that original article in 2011, just after Becky Bailey provided training for us at a Kindermusik conference. I bought and read the book cover to cover, and I embarked on a mission to fill the lives of families with loving rituals through Kindermusik.
Seriously, Kindermusik makes it EASY to have a variety of ways to connect emotionally with your child and family throughout your days together, and in a way that makes memories and connections that can last a lifetime.
Music for Celebrating Seasons
- One Saturday each month
- Register for one or more
9:30 – Babies up to 20 months
10:30 – Mixed ages: 1 – 5 years
This could be your first Kindermusik experience to enjoy together, or… This could become an anticipated monthly family ritual.