Connection might just be the most powerful tool in your parenting toolbox! After all, what could be more important than connection? Not only does it feel good for all involved, when we are connected with our kids they are more likely to listen, co-operate and open up to us. Such is the power of family connection! This series of posts shares simple tips, suggestions and ideas for families with the potential to make the most of your family time to CONNECT. Enjoy!
There are way too many gimmicks and gadgets these days when it comes to parenting. I’m afraid that even though there may be good intentions, makers of these “solutions” often don’t see the unintended consequences of what they are trying to promote through their product or service. Parents who are struggling with the day-to-day challenges of raising young children can easily fall prey to those offering products that promise to solve their parenting challenges. I recently learned about an app that parents can use to get their child to eat. This app requires that your child stays engaged with the app during their meal and encourages your child to eat by offering them rewards as they continue to take each bite. Yes, really!
If you read my posts on the dangers of using Threats and Bribes or Sticker Charts it is very clear that this “solution” is just another quick fix that will ultimately backfire. Kids don’t need rewards or apps to teach them to eat and enjoy a meal with their family; what they really need most is for their parents to model healthy eating habits.
If you want your child to eat and engage in family meals there are many things you can do. Here are my top three suggestions for encouraging healthy eating habits:
1. Be Realistic! It is important to be mindful of how long your child is actually capable of sitting at a dinner table. For most young children, 10-15 minutes is their max. Be sure to only call your child to the table once the meal is served, otherwise it limits the time they are able to focus on the meal presented.
Your job is to serve healthy foods, and your child’s job is to eat it! Forcing kids to eat food they don’t like creates resentment and increases their dislike of that food. It should be sufficient for them to say that they simply don’t wish to eat it. Children typically eat and grow physically at the pace that is right for their own body. They also have a keener sense of smell, taste & texture than adults do. If you allow your child to spit out food they don’t like they are actually more likely to try it again. Normally it takes about 20 introductions before children accept or swallow a new food. If your child does not eat a lot or a wide variety of foods, please know that being a unpredictable or picky eater is the norm.
2. Give Your Child Control: Sharing power and control with your child will actually invite their cooperation and encourage them to eat the healthy foods you have prepared for them. Offer limited choices and let your child make selections, like what goes on their plate, the size of their serving, the color of the plate, what they have to drink, how they get to the dinner table, etc. In offering a limited choice be sure to set the limit and provide only two choices that are acceptable to you. Do not offer choices you are not willing to follow through on or are not available. If your child does not choose, then choose for them in a calm voice and move on. Offering limited choices not only allows you to share control with your kids so that they want to cooperate, but it also teaches them to make decisions and when you do have a demand, they are more willing to comply. For more examples and some additional ideas on sharing control be sure to read my Three Proven Childproof Parenting Tools to Inviting Cooperation article.
3. Role Model and Stay Calm: Teaching through your own actions is your most powerful tool for influencing your child’s eating habits. Your child will learn good eating habits by watching and imitating. Making an effort to eat together and eating the same foods will encourage your child to try the foods you are eating. When your child is resisting and struggling with eating foods they don’t particularly care for, it is important that you remain calm, casual and matter of fact without emotion (don’t pass along your anxiety). If you start to feel frustrated with your child and your emotions begin to escalate, take a moment to self-soothe, take a deep breath, or take a break and try again.
Apps are not acceptable substitutes for parents and will not teach your child how to make healthy food choices for themselves. You are all your child needs to be a good eater! Don’t let anybody tell you different.
For more on this topic, check out From Eating to Excreting: How to Avoid Power Struggles.
About Melissa: Melissa Benaroya, LICSW, is a Seattle-based parent coach, speaker and author in the Seattle area (MelissaBenaroya.com). She created the Childproof Parenting online course and is the co-founder of GROW Parenting and Mommy Matters. Melissa provides parents with the tools and support they need to raise healthy children and find more joy in parenting. Check out Melissa’s blog for more great tips on common parenting issues and Facebook for the latest news in parent education!
It had been a long, boring day and by 3.30 both of my children were having arguments and getting emotional about the smallest upsets. We were venturing into melt-down territory.
I had several deadlines to wrap up before close of business and I was frantically trying to pack for a camping trip. However amidst all the sibling chaos I hadn’t managed to get much done. I found myself getting tenser and more ticked off every time they complained about each other. I was irritated and on the verge of being a snappy mama! It took this intense moment for me to realise that it was not my children’s fault I was stressed. I had to stop and re-evaluate the situation.
They needed me. In my busyness, I hadn’t actually sat down to connect with them at all.
Connect With Your Children Through Play
Children behave and function better when they feel connected and loved. In a child’s eyes, playtime with a parent or loved one is a very special and cherished time. Children just love when adults leave their grown up duties to come and spend quality time with them, when you follow their lead and interact in a playful way at their level. What better platform for building a strong emotional bond then through play.
When you connect through play you offer your child time to de-stress, cease power struggles and to feel a greater sense of control. This restores the balance and connection between you. Even after a rough day, involving yourself in play can provide a much needed opportunity to re-connect.
In order to restore the balance between my arguing children and control my own frustration I needed to stop everything, for just 15 minutes. I switched off from work mode and offered them my attention in a playful way, “You guys don’t seem to be having much fun at the moment, why don’t we get some blue water and see if we can make a lake in the sand pit?” I tried to say it in my most enthusiastic, playful mama voice. They both jumped and yelled, “Yes!”
Children Learn Through Play
Playtime can also be utilised as an intentional time to develop emotional awareness. Just by involving yourself in their play and following their lead you are showing your child that you are interested in their current interests, feelings and concerns. After all “Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning” (Fred Rogers) and through play children learn about their world, their place in it, and their emotions.
No devices or distractions and my full attention was all it took for my children to calm down, connect and initiate conversation about all the chaos that had been happening prior to our play intervention. They had time to re-centre, they had all my attention and love, they felt safe because I was at their level playing with them and able to guide their conversation. We talked about how they had been feeling and what they could do about it. It didn’t take much and they started talking respectfully to each other and reflecting on the day.
If you are at their level being involved, following their lead, listening to them and playing; then you will have a fabulous opportunity to pay attention to their play themes, open communication and their emotional awareness.
Exploring Emotions During Play Time
Emotional awareness a concept parents often don’t explore until it surfaces in an extreme form; during power struggles, extreme outbursts, tantrums, aggression or during times of heightened stress. As I did on this day, parents often forget that emotional awareness and the ability to control emotions is an abstract notion that children are still learning. It is something they need help with.
It can be difficult to “teach” as emotional awareness is mostly learnt through experience and observation. Being emotionally aware is an important step in the development of empathy and emotional intelligence. Parents can start exploring emotional awareness with children from a young age simply by labelling and discussing feelings during play.
9 Ways to Explore Emotional Awareness Through Play
1. Playful Intervention: Similar to my scenario above, when you notice your child or children struggling with big emotions you can intervene in a playful way. Once they feel safe, loved and calm they are in a better mindset to talk about solutions. When they are connected with you, power struggles decrease and they are more coherently able to reflect on how they experience big emotions.
2. Pretend Play: Use pretend play to explore feelings. You can initiate imaginary situations that would evoke strong emotions. For example, in a dinosaur pretend play scene recently my little girl was pretending not to let another dinosaur join in “go away we were here first” she growled. So I had my dinosaur figurine reply “Oh no, look at triceratops’ face! He looks lonely and left out. I think he could do with some help building his camp fire.” She got the lonely dinosaur and built a pile of sticks, so I replied “triceratops feels like part of our team now. That made him happy”.
3. Label Emotions: Shift the focus towards feelings during play time. When reading books or colouring-in together you can discuss how you think a a character feels or how your child would feel if they were in their shoes. You can identify and label emotions exhibited by the characters, or in their facial expressions. This can also apply to imaginary play scenes. In the example above you could extend the play by further discussing why Triceratops felt lonely, how the child would feel if they were the one being left out, and what they could do if they were in that situation or felt that way.
4. Role Play: Role play provides a fabulous opportunity to explore appropriate ways to express emotions. For instance, if your child wants to play shop keeper you can assume different characters and emotions – for example, getting upset that you purchased the wrong thing and returning it, being happy that something was on special, getting frustrated when you can’t find the right grocery – and model to your child how you calm down and find assistance. Hand puppets are a great tool to role play how to manage emotions. Children are captivated by puppets and you can see how we use them to teach social skills here.
5. Emotional Intelligence Listening Game: This twist on the classic game of Simon Says explores reading and imitating emotional visual cues and body language.
6. Make Emotions: You can introduce emotions into play just by making a silly face and asking “how do I feel?” or by playing peekaboo and making different faces. Or play with play dough and make an emotional face in the dough, or paint together and create an emotion on a face. It is easy to explore emotions playfully in every day moments. If we have French toast or pies, I will even use the sauce bottle to draw a facial expression onto their food.
7. Read Books: Books provide a great way to connect with your children and a perfect opportunity to introduce or discuss new concepts. Here are 15 fantastic books for developing emotional awareness.
8. Listen: While connecting through play and really listening to your child’s play themes you might be able to identify reoccurring scenarios or themes initiated during play. This might be something that they are interested to learn more about or better understand, it might be something they have observed or experienced, or it might simply be play that is suitable for use as a teachable moment.
9. Explore the 5 Core Emotions: Watch the movie Inside Out with your children and discuss the characters representing the 5 core emotions. These emotions are linked to colours, so you can also “colour emotions” by using the correlating colours and asking your child to draw what they feel. Drawing is a great tool for children to use to express themselves, their thoughts and feelings.
By exploring emotional awareness in a positive manner while your child is feeling connected and loved, you reinforce that emotions are normal and you can enhances the bond between parent and child. Exploring emotions with children from a young age is one way you can help them become more emotionally intelligent.
For more from Play-Based Learning, check out this Emotional Intelligence with the 5 Core Emotions Activity.
About Renee: Renee is passionate about providing Positive Parenting and Purposeful Play activities for children. Her goal is to combine play based learning with positive parenting. Visit Renee and you will find fun and practical activities that demonstrate how play-based learning can encourage optimal developmental in children. You can find her encouraging parents and educators to connect with children through play via her blog, Facebook or Pinterest.
There’s mounting evidence that time in the outdoors is good for your kids, but did you know that it also builds family bonds and creates deep connections?
When families are outdoors they work together to achieve moments of discovery and investigation.
Here are 10 ways families can connect in the outdoors
1. Visit a nature centre. Enjoy the natural surrounds, walk long the nature trails and enjoy the centre. Many of these places have free holidays activities for kids and families too!
2. Go for a forest picnic. If you are going to a nature centre or national park, why not pack a picnic? It allows you to eat together and chat about the natural landscape around you.
3. Enjoy your backyard. You don’t have to leave home for your family to connect in the outdoors. Explore your backyard for bugs, do some gardening together or collects leaves and make some gorgeous nature crafts.
4. Take regular family camping trips. Family trips are always exciting but they test you as a family – which isn’t a bad thing. You need to work together to build your home for the next few days. Once that’s complete there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy each other’s company. Sing songs around the camp fire, toast marshmallows, play board games and meet other campers together. Making this a regular tradition is another way to build special memories and form lasting connections.
5. Visit a zoo. There’s so much to explore at the zoo. It’s a place for a family to connect over curious questions about native and exotic wildlife. Check out these insider tips on how to get the most out of your visit to the zoo.
6. Take walks together. Walk your local neighbourhood and learn more about where you live. Walk the nature trails that you’ve been meaning to explore for a while. Look up at the tree canopy; look down for moss and tiny little mushrooms. If you’re quiet, you may see some local wildlife too.
7. Visit the beach. The beach is a treasure trove of opportunities to connect as a family. Try the usual activities like swimming, building sandcastles and collecting shells but here are 20 more beach activities for the whole family!
8. Fossick for stones and gems. Try something a little different and fossick for stones and gems. Find out if there’s a place near you and explore together. You and your family will have so much fun.
9. High ropes courses. If you have an older child or teen, an excellent way for a family to build resilience is to challenge, motivate and help each other through a high ropes course. It’s important to stay positive and encourage one another if someone gets stuck. It’s a challenge but it’s one that builds lasting relationships and trust.
10. Visit your local park and playground. If you need an easy day out that’s not going to cost a lot and is easy to get to, then explore your local park. Play on the swings together, check out the ducks and swans that live in the ponds, try the park exercise equipment or just play a game of cricket. There’s more you can do at your local park than you expect!
Being present with your child in the outdoors will build lifelong memories that lead to lifelong family connections.
For more great ideas for outdoor fun, check out these 50 Fun Ways to Play in the Rain.
About Penny: Visit Penny at Mother Natured for lots of nature, outdoor and wildlife activities for your children and the whole family. You can also connect with Penny on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.
I’m excited to be participating in this thoughtful series on connecting with your children by Childhood 101. As a craft blogger, when Christie asked me if I wanted to take part I initially tried to think of a specific project which would foster a connection through crafting. However, the more I thought about it the more I have come to realise that the project itself isn’t really that important, it’s the time that you spend together doing something you both enjoy which fosters a connection.
Perhaps it has been my passion and interest which has rubbed off on my girls, or perhaps they would have been attracted to creative activities anyway but I can honestly say that the time we have spent together over the years making things has been a wonderful way to connect with both of them. At the ages of seven and eight they love crafting and I have enjoyed seeing them improve their skills and creative thinking with the hobby and interest we share.
Not everybody loves crafts like we do, maybe your shared interest is gardening, cooking, reading or walking. They are all great ways to form a connection with kids too. However if crafting is something that you, or you and your children enjoy (or you think you might like to try here are a few guidelines I follow which makes crafting with kids easy and fun.
Kids will get side tracked, and that’s OK
If you set out what you think is an exciting art project and they decide to paint their feet instead that’s OK, or if you have a particular theme in mind and they are more interested in their own random ideas that’s OK too. Remember that you are enjoying spending time together, and nobody is going to be enjoying that time if you are arguing over the way you should be doing things. I always remind myself that when kids explore their own ideas they are developing their imagination and creativity. They are learning something, so going off on their own tangent is a good thing.
Kids will want to take the drivers seat
It’s fun to let kids be the creative director of their own projects. My girls often come up with ideas but still ask for help and support achieving what they want to make. It’s always exciting to see what they come up with and at times I am surprised and inspired by their creativity. One such project is this flying fairy car initiated and executed almost entirely by my daughter when she was still in pre-school. She loved going to the store to select a box to her liking and painting and decorating it all by herself, all with a vision in her mind of what she was going to create.
Kids will make mess
I know that it is easier said than done, but try not to get too too up tight about the crayons on the floor, the paint smears on the table and glue and glitter in the hair. Your kids are totally absorbed in the creative process and that’s the way it should be. Enjoy the time you are spending together and remember that mess can be easily cleaned up later. Mix and Mess backyard science is a fun, experimental project which makes a very satisfying mess that can be simply hosed away at the end.
The simpler the better
Some of the most enjoyable projects are the easily achievable ones. The ones with room for creative license and a low difficulty level, like this no-fuss activity of drawing outdoors with nature and chalk. You don’t need fancy materials, you can make lots of things from recyclables destined for the bin or sticks and stones that you find in the garden. Although we have a huge collection of craft materials at our place the items which get the most use are the basics. Paper, textas, glue, brushes, paint, sewing materials and yarn are the main things we use.
Don’t be afraid to work together
Collaborative projects are lots of fun and a great way to connect through crafting. If you’ve not tried making a project together with your kids, you should! This Paper Roll Tree is a fantastic collaborative project and can be enjoyed by children of all ages.
Make things for each other
I love it when my kids make special things for me. I’ve received lots of sweet little cards, bracelets, paper rings and handbags and they never fail to make me smile. A fun idea is to design colouring pages for each other with patterns and pictures, this is something I do for my girls regularly and they design pages for me to colour in return.
I hope that I have given you a few useful pointers to enjoy some quality time crafting with your kids. Remember it is the time you spend together that counts, not the amazing finished craft you end up with!
Looking for a fun, crafty project to try? Check out Kate’s Craft Stick Butterflies