As we move through the years of parenting and homeschooling, maintaining our connection with our children is essential. Nurturing this connection is the most important thing we can do as parents. We sometimes hear parents lamenting that they feel they’ve lost the connection with their child and are not sure how to get it back. Sometimes, especially when transitioning from school to homeschooling, we want to deepen the connection but aren’t sure where to start.
How can we as parents invite and strengthen a healthy connection with our children at all stages of development? Here are a dozen suggestions to foster a strong connection with your child:
- Listen to your child with the attention and focus you would give another adult. Be fully present – make eye contact; stop multitasking; concentrate on what they are trying to say. Show with your body language that their words and thoughts are your priority in that moment. If they have a hard time getting words out, let them take the time they need, without giving up on the conversation. Attention is a big part of connection.
- Let your child take the lead It may mean things will be slower, messier, or less efficient. Give your child the gift of your patience and the opportunity to spread their wings and feel your trust in them. As their confidence grows, so will their effectiveness. Believe in them and they will believe in themselves.
- Have fun together. What brings you both joy, makes you both smile, leaves you both feeling great afterward? Find shared interests and spend time doing them together. If you have a hard time finding common ground, start by sharing things that one of you enjoys and hopes the other might like. Ask your child for ideas, and be open-minded about trying them out. You might be surprised by the things you enjoy together!
- Support your child in their passions (even or especially when you don’t share them) and invite them to honor yours. Each person in the family is a unique individual, and passions may vary widely among family members. Even if you’re not interested in something for its own sake, learn to appreciate how it is important to your child. In this same way, give them some insight into the passions you have so that they can gain an appreciation for differences in relationships, not just similarities.
- Create opportunities for conversation. Car rides can be great for this when children are old enough to ride up front. Working quietly side by side at dishes or yardwork, or a leisurely walk outside, can also set the stage for talking and listening. Allow for quiet and potentially long pauses as you wait for each other to fill the space with thoughts and feelings. If nothing is forthcoming, ask an open-ended question and listen to your child’s response without interrupting or overriding their viewpoint.
- Be humble. When you make a mistake, recognize it and own it. Show your child the side of yourself that is a lifelong learner. Embrace the opportunity to show them ways to make things right when you’ve erred. Apologize gently and thoroughly, and allow them to see that nobody is perfect, not even the most capable, experienced, confident people. By inviting our children to connect with the less-than-perfect side of ourselves and see us recover from a setback, we reassure them about their own vulnerabilities and their capacity for recovery.
- Be accountable. Hold yourself to the same standards that you expect your child to meet. Hang up your coat and put your shoes away. Clear and rinse your dishes after a meal. When everyone in the family shares and participates in the work of the household, it is clear that everyone’s contribution is valuable. Working together for the good of the group is a bonding experience and helps to keep family members connected with each other.
- Allow your child to disagree with you. Children need to feel secure in having their own opinion, and they may need to experience this over and over as they grow. You may need to help them learn to express their differences appropriately, and practicing this with them helps them grow into young adults who can remain connected and secure even through difficult conversations.
- Make time for one-on-one. Spend individually devoted time with each of your children, no matter how many you have. If you have many, particularly small ones, this may be quite challenging. Think creatively. Perhaps an older child can ride along with you to an appointment, or one child at a time can walk with you to the mailbox and back each day. Or plan a simple “date” to read a favorite book in a comfortable chair together without interruptions from other family members. Any length of undivided attention lets them know they are important as an individual. That time is precious to a child, and it’s most effective when there are no other pressures or distractions. It is in these moments that a child will be able to open up their heart and connect with you in a way they ordinarily cannot.
- Learn your child’s Love Language and find ways to use it regularly. Does your child need physical touch or words of affirmation? Do they thrive on one-on-one time or have a deep-rooted need to receive gifts? Are they most affirmed when someone does something helpful or thoughtful for them? Discovering the nature of your child’s need and how they best “hear” love from others can help you facilitate connection most effectively.
- Encourage developmentally-appropriate independence. Every time your child heads off on their own, they will feel the pull to return to you, thus strengthening your connection with each other. Sometimes a little time apart, especially in the case of older children and young adults, helps both child and parent find new perspective to appreciate the other’s strengths and contributions.
- Be a thoughtful role model. We model how we wish our children to connect with us, whether we are aware of it or not. If we are present, respectful, supportive, and open-minded in our interactions with our children, they will reflect those things back to us as well.
Staying connected with children throughout their childhood and into adulthood takes commitment, patience, and an open mind. It is worth the effort and will go a long way in making your family’s homeschooling experience enjoyable for everyone involved.
Amanda Witman is a homeschooling mother of four who enjoys learning new things, having family adventures, making music, tending her garden, nurturing community, and connecting with other homeschoolers. She manages social media at Oak Meadow.