While babies and toddlers certainly come with their own challenges, connecting with them is often pretty easy. For many, all it takes is a sweet snuggle, a good book, and a few songs before bedtime, and they’re smitten. As our kids grow though, and their worlds begin to expand (way) beyond us, it can be more difficult to feel as close and connected with them as we once did. If you’re struggling to connect with your big kid, you’re not alone.
As kids grow out of wanting to spend every minute with us, we need to make sure the minutes we have are filled with intentional connection. Read on for tips to connect with your elementary schooler.
Check your schedule
It can be exciting when our kids start to develop and explore new interests. Whether it’s sports, arts, or play dates with friends, this excitement makes it easy to get carried away. If you find yourself spending more time running to and from activities than you do at home, it’s hard to feel like you’re getting quality time with your child. As you look at the season ahead, think about how much time you’re comfortable with your kiddo spending on the go, and do your best to reserve several nights a week as “activity free”.
Utilize everyday moments
Even when you’re careful not to over schedule your child, life can still get busy. Luckily, you don’t need hours and hours of uninterrupted time to connect with your kiddo. As you move through your day doing all the regular things you do: cooking, grocery shopping, and carpooling, make a point to use those “regular” minutes intentionally.
Ask your kid to tag along as you pick up dinner ingredients and talk with them about their favorite foods or let them quiz you about your childhood as you speed to pick up their sibling from daycare.
Engage during downtime
For a lot of families, at-home downtime means the kids are playing or watching a movie, while the parents cook, clean, and try to get other household tasks done. While you can’t let the dishes go forever, you can usually press pause on chores for at least a little while each day. If your kiddo is watching a movie, grab a bowl of popcorn and a blanket and snuggle up, or, if they’re playing legos, sit down and challenge them to a rocket ship building contest. Do your best to stay off of your phone, quiet the running to-do list in your mind, and fully share the experience with them.
Teach them something new
Most kids can’t resist learning something new. While you might have to be strategic about what you teach (a one-on-one makeup class or a fly-fishing tutorial may be more popular than a lesson in laundry) your kiddo will likely be thrilled to pick up a new skill by your side. If you both have a shared interest that you’re not yet skilled in, consider taking a class and learning something new together.
Ask good questions (and really listen)
Sometimes, talking to elementary schoolers can feel like you’re talking to a wall. You ask what they did at camp or school all day and get hit with the dreaded “ooohhhh nothing.” This sort of answer is a sign you need to ask better questions. Instead of asking broad questions about their days and lives, ask specific questions that get them talking. Consider asking things like, “What’s your favorite food in the cafeteria?”, “Who did you play with at recess today?”, or “Tell me about the kids who sit at your table in class?”
Sometimes, getting silly is the best way to help a kid feel close to you. Sing and dance with them, play tag or hide-and-seek, or let your kid play hair stylist as you settle in for a makeover. If silliness doesn’t come naturally to you, buy a joke or riddle book and take turns reading them to each other over dinner or in the car. Sharing laughter is a bonding experience no matter how you get your giggles going.
Make focused time a priority
No matter what you’re doing with your child, nothing beats truly focused one-on-one attention. Even ten minutes per day can help keep your parent-child bond strong. As you work to connect throughout the day, build in some guaranteed focus time to ensure your child knows there is a part of the day they have your full attention, no matter what. Whether it’s a bedtime tuck-in, an after-school snuggle and snack, or the very first few minutes of the day, make sure your phone is away, the computer is closed, and you’re giving them your all.
While the sweetness of the baby and toddler years may be in the rearview mirror, you have a lot of good stuff to look forward to. As your child grows and develops, the way you connect will shift too. Making a point to give them a little extra love will go a long way towards keeping your bond strong as you move towards the tween years.