A sense of connection looks different for all of us, and will change depending on who we are with, how we feel, and what we are doing.
But one thing that I think rings true for all of us, is how it makes us feel. When you feel connected to someone, or something, you feel safe, you feel content, you feel accepted, and you feel understood. And even when it is fleeting, it feels awesome!
Brené Brown defines connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
Moments of connection happen all the time, and can exist in a knowing glance, or a gentle touch. Or it can be something more deliberate like a long chat with a friend when all you do is talk, and all they do is listen.
For me, connection looks like this…
It’s the special thumbs up and wink I give my son at the playground as he builds the courage to forge a new friendship, or master the monkey bars.
It’s my friend, holding space for me, when I am worn out and feeling defeated. They don’t offer advice, or try to change the subject, or make me feel better. They just listen, they remain present, they don’t try to fix anything. They just let me feel what I need to feel.
It’s playing with my children, whether we are reading a book, playing a game on the iPad, watching a film together, or adventuring outside. Just enjoying being in each other’s company, being completely present, and forgetting the ‘work’ that is calling me.
It’s the glance my husband gives me across a crowded room at a family gathering to check if I’m doing ok. We don’t speak, but his eyes communicate that he is here if I need him.
It’s holding my child as they cry with fear or sadness or rage. Allowing them to express their truth without fear of shame or embarrassment.
It’s connecting with friends through social media. We share ideas and thoughts on topics that we are passionate about. Even through cyber space we have a connection, and it feels special.
And when I am alone, it’s walking barefoot, on our farm at night, looking up at the sea of stars. My arms are outstretched as the wind gently washes over my face. It makes me feel so alive. My feet sink into the dirt, connecting me to the earth and all its energy.
Yep, connection is food for the soul.
At its core, it keeps us present. It builds our strength. It shows us that we matter; that we are worthy. Yes, each and every one of us.
So, it’s no surprise that building a strong connection with our children is so important and so valuable. If our children can, as Brown suggests, feel seen, heard and valued; if they can give and receive without judgement; and if they can derive sustenance and strength from you….well that is powerful stuff.
That is fostering something special. It is building the foundations of a meaningful and respectful relationship. It is modelling the compassion, the kindness and the open heartedness that we want our children to share with the world. And most importantly, it is creating the scaffolding for your child to be happy, to be confident, and to feel that they matter, and that they deserve love and connection.
But it’s not always easy. Life is messy, and sometimes we are disconnected from our children, from our loved ones, from ourselves. You will know when you are disconnected. Maybe you haven’t had enough sleep, maybe resentment creeps in, maybe you feel afraid or angry, maybe you question your worth or compromise your values, maybe you are not being authentic.
Whatever it may be, you are not present, you snap, you yell, you shame (yourself or others), and you disconnect from those you love. They suffer, and you suffer.
When this happens in my life, sometimes more than it should, it is up to me to reconnect, with myself and with my family.
There are many ways for us to do this, and we may all do it differently. I wanted to share some things that help me to reconnect with my children. (And we can apply these strategies to all of our relationships.)
Sharing my stories
Never underestimate the power of your stories when your child is struggling with something or ‘being difficult’.
Especially your childhood stories of vulnerability, hurt, sadness, anger, fear.
These stories are important because they help to re-build your connection. They can shorten the distance between you and your child at a time when your reaction could easily create more distance between you. Sharing your own stories allow your children to see that you understand, that you aren’t so different, and that you have been there before.
Instead of shaming, yelling, punishing or mocking, try relating; share a story.
“I remember when I was a kid and I loved running races, but my sister would always beat me. I would feel so jealous and angry. It was really hard not to take my feelings out on her…”
“When I was little I sometimes found it really hard to share. I had two sisters and a brother to share with, and sometimes it felt like I never got anything for myself…”
“When I was 5 I lost my mum in the supermarket. I couldn’t find her anywhere and I got really scared. I was crying, and my heart was beating so fast, and I felt sick in my stomach…”
“I remember once I felt so mad at my little brother that I threw a toy across the room and it smashed a window. My mum was so angry. I felt terrible because I couldn’t control my anger…”
“My older sister used to get annoyed when I followed her around. But I just wanted to be with her. I thought she was so cool – she was like a super hero to me…”
Personal stories like these can help diffuse a situation, and will help your child feel acknowledged. It will also open up dialogue about all sorts of topics and situations. All of which helps you to reconnect, and is far more effective than shaming or punishing your child.
Offer an apology
It is really powerful for a child when an adult can apologise for their mistakes. And it’s really quite a simple thing to do when you are coming from the view that your children are people and are deserving of respect.
We have all been tired, pushed to our limits and completely overwhelmed in our role as parents. It’s only natural to stuff up sometimes, non of us are perfect. But we can always apologise.
If you yelled in anger, apologise. If you grew impatient and threatened your child, apologise. If you were distracted and not listening, apologise. If you shamed your child for feeling a certain way, apologise. Even if you felt justified in your response to your child’s behaviour, apologise, because yelling, threatening, and shaming are not kind or loving ways to treat another person. And your child is a person.
You can’t foster connection when a person does not feel safe or respected. It is also important modelling for your child – we all stuff up, but we also take responsibility for our actions, and acknowledge when we have done wrong by someone.
Play and laughter
“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” Victor Borge
When we are truly playful we let go of our inhibitions. We become very present, and it is easy to reconnect with our children.
And our children love it when we are playful. I still remember family holidays as a child. My parents were present and playful with us. They left their worries about work behind, and just laughed and played and smiled. That happiness and joy and positivity echoed through our family and filled us all up, and created connection. I have very fond memories of those holidays.
A playful attitude is something you can adopt at anytime, anywhere, and can be a quick way to reconnect. For example, telling a joke, making up stories, putting on silly voices, creating a secret handshake or special gesture that’s just for you and your child. Anything that brings your child joy.
Share in joys and passions
This is pretty straightforward. Just spend some time with your child doing what they love or talking about what they are passionate about.
It feels awesome to be able to share your passion with someone else doesn’t it? To just talk and talk about what you love. To play your favourite game with someone close to you.
And to actually watch someone you love in this space is something special. Their face lights up, and they come alive. Their joy and enthusiasm is infectious. The energy they create as they talk about their passions fills your home and brings you closer together.
There will be times when stories or laughter or play will not bring about the connection that you need. Your child may be so upset, or angry or scared that these things wont help. It is during these times that it can be the hardest to muster up the strength and courage to try to reconnect.
But if you meet your child with anger or contempt during these times, they will feel shame, and you will create more disconnection. What your child really needs is for you to just be there with them, acknowledge their feelings. Hold space.
When we hold the space for our children there is no judgement, we are not trying to fix the problem or find a way out. We are present with our child right in that moment, holding their pain, their fears, their frustrations, their rage. Allowing them to feel whatever they need to in a completely safe place.
As an adult I have had others hold space for me, and I have also held space for others. It is truly a gift to give to anyone, because in our culture it is rare. We are given the message from society or our parents or our friends or our colleagues that our feelings are wrong or bad or not important. They are often dismissed, stifled, stuffed down, ignored. But they are our feelings, they are real, and they need to be expressed or they will affect our life and our relationships.
And while it may not be practical to completely surrender and hold space for your child every time they get overwhelmed, you can always acknowledge, validate and empathise with them.
Holding space for our young children isn’t always easy. You may feel very uncomfortable as it is confronting, but if you can just breathe and muster the courage to remain present, your children will feel seen, heard and valued. It is a precious gift to give and will foster your connection.
When I say self love I don’t mean making sure you eat the right foods, or exercise for 30 minutes a day, or adding another ‘should’ to your list. I just mean taking some time for you, so you can re-set. It doesn’t have to be much, and it doesn’t have to be for long. Just make it something that connects you back to you, and try to make it guilt free.
I am including this to hold myself accountable, because I find it hard to do.
It could be reading a chapter in your book, researching your favourite topic, a 5 minute meditation, connecting with friends in whatever way you like, going for a walk, listening to music, sitting in silence, going to the beach, taking a bath, savouring a bar of chocolate in peace, or even just stopping right now and closing your eyes and taking five deep, full breathes.
Remember that connection is when we feel seen, heard, and valued; when we give and receive without judgment; and when we derive sustenance and strength from a relationship. We all deserve this, and who better to start with than ourselves.