Our bond with our kids is one of the most important things we can create. And we know that kids have a much stronger need for connection than we do (check out this article to find out why).
What this means, is that kids will continue needing more and more connection, even after WE have had enough. We reach our limit before they do. Our “tank” gets filled up much earlier than theirs does.
Sometimes, it feels like we’ve spent hours with our kids – and yet, they still want more!
I often speak with parents who are experiencing behavioural challenges with their children. And the recommendation from doctors and other specialists is “just spend more one-on-one time with them”.
Because sometimes, it’s just not possible to spend more time with our kids. After all, we’re busy too. We have our own lives to lead. And, responsibilities to manage.
As much as we’d like to stay at the park all day, or play Legos all afternoon.
“More time” isn’t always a helpful recommendation. Because we don’t always have more time.
So, what is the solution?
The very first thing to remember is that parents are the experts on their own kids. So while I can offer specific guidelines around connecting with children – ultimately, parents are the ones who need to make the decisions, based on their knowledge of their child.
Connection with children depends on two things – their personality and temperament, and their age and developmental level.
Each child is unique in his or her preferences and disposition. Some kids like being outside, others prefer indoors. Some kids are naturally cautious, while others throw caution to the wind. Some kids are more prone to sensory stimulation. Some kids need personal space. And so on.
Kids are also unique in how they recognise and express connection and love. For some, they feel connection when they’re being hugged or cuddled. Others feel connection through praise and encouraging words. (Check out the Five Love Languages for Children by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell, which is a great resource to learn about the different ways children show and receive love).
In a nutshell: there are five Love Languages. Physical Touch, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, and Receiving of Gifts. Most of us have one or two dominant Languages, which is essentially the currency we use to recognise and show love to others.
A child with “Words of Affirmation” as a dominant Language will tend to voice his affection or give compliments to others. And, will derive the most pleasure from receiving praise or compliments from others. This child will also be highly sensitive to criticism and tone of voice (e.g. speaking angrily will have a profoundly unpleasant impact on the child).
By knowing the dominant Love Languages of our child, we can communicate, connect, and bond, in the ways that are most meaningful to him or her.
Now, our kids won’t necessarily know what their dominant Languages are – although as parents, we often have an inkling.
- Physical Touch – enjoys hugs, holding hands, play-wrestling, tickle-fights
- Quality Time – enjoys undivided attention
- Words of Affirmation – enjoys praise and compliments
- Acts of Service – enjoys thoughtful acts from others, such as receiving help with a difficult task.
- Receiving of Gifts – enjoys meaningful gifts, rewards, and trinkets
When we “speak” our child’s dominant Language, it makes the connection process far more efficient.
A child with Physical Touch as a dominant Language might not even notice the gifts we bring for her, or the words of praise that we use – but she will notice the encouraging hand on her shoulder, or supportive pat on the back.
It’s valuable for parents to spend some time observing the way their child shows affection, as it’s a strong indicator of his or her primary Love Language.
Bonding with our kids also has a developmental aspect, and this is sometimes overlooked when we connect with them.
For babies and infants, physical touch is comforting – and necessary for healthy neurological development. This is why, in the early months and years, it is so important that we spend time holding and cuddling our babies. Physical touch also has therapeutic effects, and skin-to-skin contact is often recommended for unwell babies.
Gaze is another important aspect of bonding, and our undivided attention on our babies (Quality Time) also supports their neurological development.
In my opinion, all babies and infants require Physical Touch and Quality Time for connection, even if they don’t end up becoming the child’s dominant Languages.
Infants also respond to Words of Affirmation. While they may not understand the language that we use, they certainly respond to our tone of voice. And, it may follow that the babies who are most sensitive to tone of voice will grow up to become children who have Words of Affirmation as a dominant Language.
As our babies grow into toddlers, Physical Touch remains an important aspect of connection. Only now, this may take the form of rough-housing or tickle-fights. Play becomes increasingly important to toddlers, and this form of Quality Time is an excellent way to bond. Child-directed play is particularly enjoyable for kids, as they have the opportunity to take charge of the play activity (safely, of course). As their language skills develop, kids become more receptive to Words of Affirmation, such as compliments and praise for efforts and accomplishments. Kids respond best to comments that are simple and specific. For example, rather than a generic “good job with that”, we can say “well done for picking up the blocks”.
Toddlerhood is the stage when parents often report behaviour challenges. And I mentioned earlier in this article, parents are often told to “just spend more one-on-one time with them” – which isn’t always possible! And this is where an awareness of the other four Love Languages become really helpful. Even if a child has a strong preference for Quality Time, all activities are not created equal.
A child with the dominant Languages of Quality Time and Physical Touch may enjoy more “physical” one-on-one activities, such as sitting in the parent’s lap reading a story.
Or, a child with the dominant Languages of Quality Time and Receiving of Gifts might enjoy coming on an errand, with the final stop being at the art store for some new craft supplies.
When we’re aware of our child’s other dominant Languages, we can be deliberate in how we choose to connect . We can maximise the impact of our time with our kids, by choosing activities according to their dominant Languages – activities that will hold the most meaning for them.
As kids move into the kinder and early primary years, Physical Touch takes a different form. Kids may be more inclined to participate in physical play, and they may prefer high-fives, or a pat on the back, rather than a hug. Quality Time continues to be important, although at this age it may mean taking an interest in their activities, or watching their ballet classes and soccer matches. Our Words of Affirmation can become more sophisticated, particularly as our children develop complex language skills. At this age, our children may also start showing their preferences for Acts of Service as a dominant Language.
In late primary and adolescent years, peers become increasingly important to our kids. However, our kids still need to connect with us, which tends to be through activities and showing an interest in their lives. It’s useful to give our tweens and teens our undivided attention when they need it (i.e. being an empathetic ear), although I acknowledge that some kids are less forthcoming than others in sharing their lives with us! The best thing we can do is remain open and available to them, when they need it, and to be as non-judgemental as we can (which includes avoiding unsolicited advice). Quality Time and Acts of Service may take the form of sharing their interests and becoming involved in their activities, when invited.
As you’ve been reading this article, you may have an inkling as to your child’s (and your own) dominant Languages. Or, if your child is over the age of five, you can take this free online quiz. This quiz will help to identify your child’s dominant Languages, so that you can connect and bond in the most effective way possible.
So, whenever we need to connect with our kids MORE than we are already, take advantage of the Love Languages. Incorporate events and activities into your day that you know are going to be the most meaningful for your child. Take some time to brainstorm a few ideas now, and keep them handy. The time will come when you’re looking for a highly meaningful way to connect with your child, and it will be much easier for you if you already have a list of ideas, individually tailored to your child. As their interests and activities change, so will your list. And if you’re stumped, and you’re looking for inspiration – just observe your child.