3 Strategies For Building A Real Connection With Your Kids That Will Actually Change YOUR Life And Marriage
There are a few things we’ve discovered in our marriage counseling practice that people wish they had growing up. If you are mindful of these six things we cover here, as you raise your kids to be future husbands and wives, you will discover your relationships will transform.
Some things you’ll want to avoid and some you’ll want to start doing so you can achieve your ultimate parenting goals…to raise happy, healthy, successful children, who make good choices, lives up to their full potential, and who are equipped to be a great spouse one day.
Some of these things you’ll know. Some you already do automatically…and some will take a extra effort on your part. After helping thousands of couples in our marriage counseling private practices this is what we’ve discovered makes couples the most successful.
It goes far beyond communication techniques and temporary strategies for healing broken trust. What we share here gets to the root of real intimacy.
DISCLAIMER: There is so much parent shaming out there these days….we are parents ourselves and frankly we’re sick of it all. This is NOT that.
This article is all about encouraging you and building you up so you can feel great about your skills and what you’ve already accomplished!
So let’s explore how you can make sure your kids grow into great spouses one day….if they so choose.
Deeper Than Attachment Parenting
We talk about attachment a lot in our office and in this blog. Today attachment theory has been distorted to mean a certain type of crunchy or hippy parent who wears their baby in a carrier, co-sleeps, and nurses their child until college age.
There is a lot of good research to support many of those practices. But we get caught up in tactics and strategies and can easily forget what purpose they serve.
The goal is to bond with your child…yes. It’s also to help the child feel that they are safe with you. They need to know that you won’t humiliate them or hurt them in any way.
We want to talk about laying the foundation for the child now so they can have a chance at security as an adult. There are many ways to achieve this goal.
But the main thing we’re going to emphasize here is how to make sure they don’t fall into the Avoidantly Attached or Anxiously Attached categories. The goal is Secure Attachment.
How This Looks As They Grow Up
Okay, you may be thinking how does this impact the type of spouse they become?
So let me ask you a couple of questions…do you find that you or your partner shut down when conflict comes up? Maybe one of you gets angry or defensive in conversations?
Do you ever feel that your feelings are dismissed or even belittled? Do you find yourself not saying what you think because you’re afraid of being hurt? Or maybe one or both of you gets angry or defensive?
Maybe that is not the issue. Maybe you sometimes wish there was more intimacy between you and your spouse. Maybe it feels like part of you or your partner is closed off. Like they hold back a little from intimacy.
The reason couples respond the way we do or feel a certain sort of disconnect is because we were taught those responses. Our lessons date back to infancy. We were taught that and now we’re teaching our children to do the same whether we mean to or not.
We don’t mean to downplay feelings or dismiss or hurt each other. It has nothing to do with being a bad person. We have been handed a set of skills and ways of relating that were handed to us by our parents, and our parents received it from their parents.
We must constantly ask ourselves….is this serving us? The way we feel and the way we’re making our partner feel is it serving us well? Are we happy? Do we want our kids to feel this way?
If the answer is no or it could be better then let’s look at some positive strategies for getting our needs met. Then I’ll use real life examples to describe how we can sometimes get stuck.
Strategy #1: Room To Feel
We’ve all been there. We’re walking through the grocery store and all of a sudden our child looses their mind. Out of nowhere they’re convulsing like they need a legitimate exorcism.
How we respond in moments like these are crucial. We have a sense that we need to be consistent with whatever we choose as the right course of action….the exact course of action isn’t really our focus here…we’re more focused on the spirit of the action you take at this point.
We know that we can’t give into our temptation to flog our child…and we may have a hard time abandoning our shopping cart.
But what do we do?
First, it’s important to be aware of how we’re feeling in that moment. It’s okay to feel how you’re feeling and to voice those feelings, “Mommy is struggling to be calm with you right now. I am very angry with your behavior.”
It’s good to voice how we’re feeling and model “good behavior” and emotional regulation. We are teaching them it’s okay to have feelings and talk about them. We help couples learn to do this with each other in our couples therapy sessions.
It’s important to also allow them to express their feelings…no matter how embarrassing or uncomfortable it is for us personally. It’s tempting to want to shut the feelings down in an effort to minimize embarrassment.
We shut them down by threatening them with a punishment or ultimatums. And there’s a place for consequences and discussing consequences….but we have to first ask, “what is my child feeling right now?” “Why is my child responding this way?” “Could they be tired, hungry, hurting, sad, or something else?”
When we don’t give them room to feel and express their feelings we’re teaching our children that it’s not okay to feel how they feel. Something is wrong with me if I feel the way I do because I am punished for my “bad” feelings. So “I must be bad”.
The problem with this is they grow up to do that with their partners and that comes across as dismissive. They re-create the environment they were used to as a child. It becomes their internal working model.
So what do we want to pass on generation to generation?
Strategy #2: Warm Responses
The first thing we want to do is provide warm responses.
Humans learn not to open up when the important people in our lives appear rejecting, inattentive, indifferent, angry, or cold. If our children feel we’re constantly snapping at them they learn to stop coming to us for comfort and connection.
I’ve heard one mother say, “I am not responsible for entertaining you”. She misunderstood her child’s need for connection and affection as them wanting to be entertained or “use” her. The kids would come and say, “I’m bored”…but they were really saying, “I’m lonely, I need to connect with you”.
Some little kids look to breast feeding as a way to connect emotionally with their mother. They haven’t yet learned how to connect differently so they turn to nursing since that’s all they’ve known. That is why it’s very important to gently wean our children.
Rocking, singing, and cuddling has worked really well for me.
Strategy #3: Matching And Mirroring
We don’t have to use a cruel tone for the message to be heard that “I’m not important” or “my feelings don’t matter”. It’s just the consistent feeling of rejection that matters.
A dear mom friend of mine and I were with our kids at the splash pad a few weeks back. There was a point where her son needed to use the restroom. He was very quiet about it and discreet.
Looking back I think maybe he wanted to keep the conversation between him and his mom confidential. But neither of us realized this in the moment. So my friend said “go find a tree” loud enough for me to hear.
He protested very quietly. His protest was really easy to miss because he stood behind her quietly pulling on the back of her shirt whispering. But then he must have told her why he couldn’t pick a tree because the next thing I heard was “Oh, you need to do a number two…talking to me she says, “he needs to do a number two.”
In the moment it seemed totally okay. I hadn’t spent much time with the boy but I saw his eyes get a little wide as he looked at me kind of embarrassed. He might have felt his mother violated his trust.
He had trouble asking for his need to be considered. But he had to do something because the humiliation of pooping his pants outweighed the pain of asking for his need to be met.
A scenario like this one is so common. We’ve all been there and done that. She wasn’t cruel. She is still a loving mother and she was a loving mother in the moment. But these little interactions make a big difference.
Next time it would have been better to match his tone of voice. If he’s whispering then whisper back to him. Get down to his level and talk to him in a confidential tone.
This would tell him, “I see you, you matter to me, your feelings matter to me, you can trust me, I am your safe person”.
With another kid it could be a totally different story. Some kids walk around talking about poop and farts and for a parent to say out loud, “you need to do a number two?” Would be no big thing…except for manners of course…because he is already doing that with you in the moment.
It’s important to match and mirror. Take cues from you little human. They’ll tell you how they want to be treated.
When they learn how to do this by experiencing it first hand, they will instantly be more likable to their friends, and when they get married they will be more responsive to their spouse. The funny thing is…you will too!