Baseball practices, dance recitals, board meetings, work deadlines, social media notifications, calendars ding to remind us of the next thing coming up and you realize just how busy you are and that life is flying by fast! How do we find time to stop, slow down and find connection with our partner and children?
Research shows that we are made for connection and to not live in isolation, and while you may tell yourself that you are “always” with your kids or spouse, are you really using that time to connect and be with each other or are you simply sharing space? If you are spending time together, but not feeling the benefits of together time such as reduced anxiety, increased social enjoyment and strengthening family bonds, it may be time to be more intentional about how this time is spent. This may sound like a daunting task, but please know you can start small and that every small step is a step in the right direction. You can see big results from small changes and that can help motivate to keep making changes toward connection! So where should we begin?
- Explore your current routine for family rituals or traditions that you can strengthen into bonding time. For example, do you have a morning ritual around waking up or how you wat breakfast? Do you find time to do a check in with each other after school and work each day? Maybe you have a song that you sometimes sing at bedtime. These can become family habits and make you and your kids feel more connected.
- Stop screen time! Limiting screen time when together as a family can have a big impact in creating feelings of connectedness. Taking the time to prioritize the people in front of you, rather than the people emailing, texting or on Instagram says in a tangible way that the person you are with matters, their time and stories matter. Likewise, this is a good lesson for your kids in how to not spend all of their time staring at a screen either. It is good to find balance in screen time and intentionally choosing non-screen time together can reap great benefits.
- Focus on feelings in your conversations with your kids and partner. We know that we often “check in” with questions such as “how was your day?”, but how can we go deeper? First, model your own feelings for your children. We go above and beyond when children are little to teach them colors, numbers and letters but we don’t often emphasize the learning of feelings language. It isn’t too late! If you had a great day, explain how happy you are and what actions or thoughts helped increase this happiness. Likewise, if you had a rough day and are feeling sad or angry, it is okay to tell your children that as well. They learn from seeing your facial expressions, body language and triggers for your feelings. It is okay to share these, even if they are some of the contributors to your current mood. Second, ask them about their feelings as you check in about their day and work to go deeper than “good” or “bad.” You can ask things like “What was the best part of your day?” or “I wonder if anything got on your nerves at school today?” These open-ended questions provide opportunity for your children (or yourself) to be able to process their day and it shows a deeper level of care as you connect in this way. It will also increase the likelihood that your child will come to you first if and when they have a rough day in the future.
- Prioritize proximity. Be close to one another. If you are thinking that it sounds impossible to be able to spend additional time together, maybe do your work at the kitchen table with your kids while they do their homework. If you have a child in a sport, whenever possible have the whole family attend and sit together on the bleachers. Be intentional to hold hands, give a hug or even creating a family handshake which gives children a sense of identify while also providing positive touch which is relationship building. Kids, and adults alike, don’t always ask for touch when they need it but we know there is a calming effect to hugs and relational closeness. Touch has been shown to improve emotional health, reduce stress and help children feel more secure. It is also important to be intentional about eye contact with one another which builds connection and helps us feel heard. If you have smaller children, getting down on their level and making direct eye contact can be effective in helping your child feel heard and having them hear you. Likewise, this is a benefit to not having screens in our faces during meals or family activities.
- Create attachment rituals if you don’t have them already. We talked earlier about looking for family rituals or traditions that you are already using in your home. If you don’t have anything that comes to mind, or you want to continue with this creativity, it is a great idea to explore as a family ways to increase connected time. This could be phone-free Friday when you spend time together doing non-screen activities or pizza night once a week. This could be an enjoyable way to wind down together in the evening or a way to check in about one another’s day such as high point/low point for each family member. These strategies can be small and take just a few minutes or longer like an evening spent together with the goal of finding a way to bring one another together and build relationships.
The message that I hope you hear is that time with your family is valuable and even the most mundane task can be adjusted to create and increase connection. Our mindset about how we approach our tasks with our family can positively or negatively impact our time and the outcomes; you have so much power and that is wonderful! It may feel overwhelming to try to start all of these this week, but look for one way that you can work to increase connection, be mindful to check in or provide praise for ways that you are already finding family time. The changes you will see may help motivate you to take on new tasks as well. You can do it! We are made to connect and it feels great when it can happen.