Sometimes I wish I had nothing more to do than just play with my sweet little one and soak in her presence. But the reality is, being a wife, mother, and professional — I have so many different responsibilities, and I’m sure you do too! Sometimes I find myself lost in the to-do list of each day. Laundry to do, floors to clean, food to cook. It can be easy to forget how much she needs my PRESENCE. The biggest and most important job is to remember to just BE.
With lots of activities going on for the grown-ups and kids alike, there tends to be lots of “side-by-side” time, but not always “face-to-face” time, where we really build connection.
One way we make sure to connect with our daughter is in our “special play time.” It’s important to check in, and enter the CHILD’S world. Here are some tips for making the most of your one-on-one time with your child:
5 Ways To Fill Your Child’s Connection Tank
□ Set a time. Be consistent with your play time, when you can be free from distractions and interruptions. Put away the cell phone, and turn off the TV. This is the time to focus on your child. Your undivided presence is so special to your child! It amazes me to see that my 11 month old can clearly distinguish when my focus is on her or on my thoughts of everything else I need to get done. It is worth every second away from my to-do list to watch her delight in “our” time.
□ Get on their level. Crouching down to enter their world speaks volumes to a child. Looking them in the eyes on their level can help your child focus on your interaction and help you see the world through their eyes. This says, “I’m here with you. You are important.”
□ Let them lead. Your child can choose the activity (within reason and safety of course) and you follow along. Kids live in an adult-led world—as it is important for us to teach them and keep them safe. But it is also important for them to have the time to teach us about who they are! This can be hard for adults, but it is important for your child to explore their own thoughts, feelings, and needs. Respond to what your child is doing, but don’t take over. Your willingness to let them lead an activity will provide an increased sense of connection and security for your child.
□ Let imagination run wild. What a challenge. With so many lessons to teach and problems to solve, it can be hard to put down the parenting agenda. But just as important is to stop and LEARN about your child. Their imaginations are so valuable. Sometimes, it’s okay for a potato to be a telephone. They are learning through creativity as much as they are learning the facts of life!
□ Special Time happens unconditionally. This is a big one. Sometimes it can be tempting to take away quality time as a punishment, since it is something enjoyable. But if you commit to a regular special time with your child, it’s not a reward or punishment for something that happened earlier in the day. Special time is an opportunity to build connection with your child. Often, when your child frustrates you the most, it’s the time they need to CONNECT the most.
Children naturally crave this connection with their caregivers because it creates a secure base for growth. Often they are calling out for your presence in ways that go overlooked, or in behavioral challenges that can be very frustrating. If we reframe the stigmatized cry for “attention” into recognizing the NEED for “connection,” we can help fill up their tank and build a stronger bond. Having your undivided attention fosters their independence, confidence, and emotional regulation both now and later.
How full is your child’s tank today?
Laura Van Camp, LMFT, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Registered Play Therapist at Spanish River Counseling Center in Boca Raton, FL. Laura is passionate about helping families grow by building strong relationships. Laura specializes in Play Therapy for children who struggle with behavioral concerns, anxiety, depression, social skills, transitioning families, bullying, trauma and abuse. The rest of the time, Laura enjoys as much quality time with her husband and daughter as she can get.
Laura Van Camp, LMFT, Registered Play Therapist
Spanish River Counseling Center