Developing deep and meaningful social relationships is a critical part of a happy childhood. We love our kids. We want our children to feel loved and valued as individuals and to understand the important place they have in our families and communities. And yet, it’s easy for our intentions to get lost in the endless shuffle of daily activities, logistics, and to-do-list-ing. Especially as kids get older and they develop their own identities (I’m looking at you tweens!) it becomes both more urgent and more important to actively cultivate these connections and larger sense of belonging. Here are 8 tips (without too much cheese or psychobabble) for forging these links.
- Share your interests and hobbies with your children. It’s easy for mom or dad to be just that person who takes care of the kids’ needs and cultivates their interests and passions. But part of creating a connection with our kids is letting them get to know us as people. Who were we before we became parents? What did we enjoy studying in school? Do we have favorite funny stories from when we were growing up? Favorite books we can read together? Are there sports we played as kids that we can now play with them? Favorite video games (vintage is cool now, right)? Not only is cultivating our own interests and hobbies good for our kids to see because it models the behavior, it gives them the opportunity to get to know us and develop deeper relationships as people as they grow into adulthood.
- Create family traditions. One of the reasons holidays feel especially magical is that we can anticipate and participate in holiday traditions and activities. Reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas” in our matching pajamas every Christmas Eve while we wait for Santa, or eating Grandma’s homemade apple pie (with just the right amount of spice!) on Thanksgiving each year — these moments engage our senses in an act of memory and reflection, while at the same time adding new layers of association every time we do them. Traditions invite us to be part of something special that identifies us as belonging to the group — the family, the community (think of the traditions of Passover, celebrated and passed down in Jewish families for more than three thousand years). But traditions don’t just have to be just for holidays. In addition to picking any favorite holidays or traditions you want to emphasize in your family each year, you can also choose or create non-holiday specific “traditions” for your family. Maybe your family celebrates the last day of school each year with a giant water balloon fight in your backyard. Or every 3rd Thursday of the month, you break out the fancy linens and have a kids-and-dolls tea party with your littles. It might be as simple as weekly family board game night or as complex as an annual roadtrip. These traditions don’t have to be onerous or costly, but focusing in a few details (particularly sensory ones) will help to craft the memory and make it special.
- Share stories and photographs from the past. Sharing stories and photographs from the past can help children feel like part of a longer family story. Pull out the old videos and photo albums. Make time to connect with grandparents and older relatives. What were their lives like as kids? How has the family or community changed? Did an ancestor (or a familiar place) participate in or witness an important historical moment? Family or community history can spark a personal connection to or interest in social studies and historical events studied in school. Today, DNA tests and services like Ancestry.com can give us clues about family history and connections that might otherwise have been unknown or lost.
- Develop a family motto or mission statement. What is your family’s “brand”? What are your most important shared values that you want to instill? The Lannisters might be sneaky and immoral, but they always pay their debts. Have fun with this. Take inspiration from literature and the aristocratic families of old — if you had a House sigil or family crest, what would it be? Learn about heraldry and how to create your own family crest here.
- Make time for family adventures. Pick a day each month and plan a local (or not-so-local) adventure. An adventure can be almost anything that breaks your routine – hiking somewhere new (if you love the outdoors); visiting a new coffee shop; checking out a small, out-of-the-way museum or historical site in the next town over. Invite extended family or friends to participate. Engaging in a new experience together can foster connection and shared memories.
- Plan one-on-one time with each child. You as a parent and your time are your child’s most valuable resources. Kids crave attention and connection, especially when they are young. One-on-one time can be difficult to come by, especially when you have a full family schedule with multiple kids. But that’s what makes it even more precious and important. It can help your child feel seen and heard, and create opportunities to strengthen your bond. Studies show that one-on-one time doesn’t have to be long, as long as it’s quality time. It could be as simple as taking a walk together, baking cookies, or playing a board game. “Yes Days” – where you say “yes” to your child’s (reasonable) special requests – are becoming popular with parents and kids. Consider combining one-on-one time with tips 1 or 2 — create a special tradition for you and your child, or use your one-on-one time to engage in a shared hobby or activity together. The options are endless! Where possible, I do recommend scheduling the time with each kid – as long as that appointment is ironclad on your calendar and won’t get bumped— so that you and your kid can feel the happiness of anticipating your time together.
- Volunteer in your community. Volunteering is a fantastic way to bond with your kids and to help them connect with the larger community and understand the importance of giving back. Pick a cause you feel passionate about and volunteer together as a family. Serving others can cultivate gratitude, understanding, community relationships, and a shared sense of purpose.
- Take and display family photos. Visuals are very powerful tools to help children see themselves, who they are, and how they belong in the world. Displaying family photos in your home shows your children that they are important, that they are part of your family unit, and gives them a specific visual memory of happy times together that serve as a reference and reminder. (It’s great for parents too — so the day when your teenager sheepishly comes home with a dented fender on your family car, you can look up at the wall and remember the eight-year-old with the adorable gap-toothed smile you love so much.) Seeing constant reminders of happy times together can fuel and cement those feelings of connection, belonging, love, and perspective. A Connection Session with your family, your kids, or even special friends is a perfect way to create fun and meaningful memories captured in gorgeous images filling your home with joy.
Creating a sense of connection and belonging within our families takes time and effort, but the rewards are immeasurable. Start early, when your kids are little, and make it an ongoing part of your family’s routines and priorities and you’ll see a huge payoff when you hit those tween and teen years.
- Do you want more magical memory-making tips and inspiration or to share your journey with other Arkansas moms and grandmas? Come and join us at Moms Making Magic: Family Activities & Community.