Updated: Sep 22, 2022
No universal guidebook to parenting tells you how exactly you should raise your child. Often parents develop styles over time, referencing things they've experienced as they grew up and continuing it on with their children.
This can work out great or not so great depending on their (parent's) individual experiences. For example, if you grew up in a household where resting or relaxing was considered "lazy" then it makes sense that you would feel ashamed or guilty when you feel tired, want to take a break, or need time for yourself. Sometimes we may repeat these experiences with our own children.
What does connecting with your child have to do with parenting?
Connecting with your child is an approach to parenting that places a deep emphasis on being partners with your child. Making building a connection with your child a priority makes parents become aware of their own behaviours which they model to their children, welcome emotional expression, and fully accept a child as a capable being. Building a connection calls on you to make reflections on the amount of compassion with which you treat yourself and your child.
We know that children learn by modeling behaviour from their parents, we know that each child is independent of us and we want them to feel loved and seen. This is where empathy, understanding, and respect come into the picture.
Being able to actively listen to your child is a powerful tool for building a strong relationship with your child. A relationship where they can come to you in times of true need and open up to you. Simple things like kneeling and getting down to their eye level, making eye contact, and reaching out to touch their arm or hold their hand when they're upset not only communicate that they have your full attention but that you also empathise and understand their situation.
Make it your priority to know what your children are hoping for, what they're afraid of, and what they feel anxious about. Listen and ask some questions, even if they change the subject, be gentle and demonstrate that you care. When you do these things, you show a great amount of respect to your child.
How does connection improve behaviour?
When we talk about child development, we often talk about how important the child's environment is and what they need to grow into healthy adults. If you've grown up in an environment where negative emotions like sadness, pain, or anger have been met with dismissal by your parents, or adults around you, you subconsciously form a connection between expressing negative emotions and that being not great for your environment. You begin repressing your feelings or stop paying attention to how you really feel about a situation. This then becomes a way of life for you.
As you get older and start forming intimate relationships, your partners may complain that you don't express how you feel about them. Or you may notice that you have a heightened awareness of other people's emotional states and often think about how they would react rather than where you stand with things. You may people-please or even push people away.
When your child feels secure in their relationship with you they are increasingly able to self-regulate their emotions. Children learn the most through their environment and their experiences. They repeat the things you say, and most importantly, they tend to "copy" your behaviour. Practice naming your emotions as they happen around your child. For example, if something has made you angry, start by identifying the feeling. Then do a breathing technique to calm yourself down. When you have settled down, talk about the incident, express what made you angry, and now that you're in a calmer state of mind, point out how you will go about responding to the situation.
You've now set an excellent example and framework for managing one's emotions. It shows your child that it is possible to experience a whole host of emotions and deal with them in an appropriate manner instead of letting a feeling take over and be a driving factor in your response to a situation.
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