In our rushed and overscheduled lives, being present with our children, both emotionally and physically, can be a challenge at times. Between after school activities, sports and the massive role of technology (cell phones, iPods, computers, etc.), face-to-face contact time between parents and children has shifted focus and for many families become a “thing of the past.” Regardless of how times have changed, the need for genuine human connection is great. This spans across the ages, beginning in infancy and continuing throughout our lives.
For young children, the importance of closeness, touch, eye contact and warm exchanges provide a foundation for how relationships look and feel. As children grow, becoming more mobile and interested in others around them, the need for connection and closeness is still at the core of their healthy development and growth.
Parents and professionals often feel as though they should take a “back seat” in their growing tween or teenagers lives, thinking that peers and electronics are at the forefront of what the young person values. While the shift in relationships does take place, there is still a capacity and a deep desire for relationships with parents. The young person may say, “I need my space” or “I want to make my own decisions.” But the growing tween or teen still appreciates when their parents and educators are present, sometimes just in the form of a listening ear or as a quiet counterpart on a car ride.
These similar sentiments are experienced by emerging toddlers who don’t communicate these things verbally, but in action demonstrate their search for autonomy. Let us remember that our children from birth through adulthood need us. Their words may communicate otherwise, but feeling loved and experiencing compassion and emotional presence are necessary to them.
Here are some ideas to demonstrate and practice being present:
- For young children, holding, singing, playing with them throughout the day or after work is critical. No toy or television show can replace being with you. Having a relaxed body and mind and tuning into their world through eye contact, touch and soft voices demonstrate to them that you are present.
- Creating the foundation for open communication begins in infancy and must continue while children are in school. Having parent-child time that isn’t focused on homework or school issues (which can be sources of stress), but just allows for fun, light conversation is valuable.Taking time after school or work for a short walk or a game of cards, just one-on-one if you can, provides that important “face time.” Turning off the television and other distractions and utilizing the together time for conversations are important. Beyond just the “how was your day” question, going deeper with them about how they feel about school, their friends, what they are learning is essential. You are demonstrating and teaching them the importance of cultivating a relationship.
- Tweens or teenagers probably don’t want to process feelings or talk about their day. Their short, one-word answers may turn you off and cause you to tune them out. Nevertheless, if you continue to show an interest in learning about their world, they eventually sense your care and need for connection and are sure to open up more to relate and respond. Even though it’s just a few minutes listening to their favorite song and having a conversation about music, these exchanges show an investment and a commitment to staying present in their lives.
More than material items, trips or after school activities, our children need the important adults in their life to show an investment in them. The payoff for this regular, ongoing ability to be present will yield the results of confident, empathic young people who grow to be emotionally and physically present adults.
Mona Ivey-Soto, Ph.D, MSW, MSEd, received her Ph.D. in Early Intervention from the University of Oregon. She prides herself in being a passionate educator, advocate and therapist for young children and families. Parenting Now! is a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening families through parenting support and education. Explore this website; visit us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram; or call 541-484-5316. The free Family Info Line is also available; call 211, extension 5, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.