The holidays have officially arrived! With more opportunities to safely spend time with family and friends near and far, we can remind ourselves of the true purpose of these celebrations: connection. For some, the holidays are about carrying out traditions which often come with lots of activities. But, how do we keep our children engaged and connect with them amid a pandemic? Now more than ever, it's critical to build stronger bonds with each other. There have been a growing number of distractions that have gotten in the way of parents and children connecting. One in particular comes to mind that I think most of us can agree with…social media. There are practical ideas that parents can use to have more bonding time with their children that can foster a genuine connection.
School activities, new interests, and growing a social life have been at the top of many children’s agendas, particularly after a year of being socially isolated. It comes with no surprise that many children may want to be with their friends in their spare time, but ultimately parents are still very much needed to provide guidance and support, especially when life can seem so uncertain. Naturally, as children grow more independent and request their privacy it can seem hard to find ways to spend quality time with them that doesn’t feel forced or isn’t met with resistance. Small and easy tasks can be a great start. Here are some tips on ways we can connect with our children during the holiday season:
Cooking has long been a go-to activity for bonding because it allows you to engage in a mindful experience with someone and calls for creativity in a delicious format. With the holidays, the likelihood of needing some extra hands around the kitchen can be both beneficial and fun. There’s something special about sharing a recipe and getting your hands messy in the kitchen, and for children this can feel less like a chore and more like a fun experiment that not only tastes delicious but is fun in the process. It also doubles as a learning and sensory technique to increase fine motor and coping skills. You can have your children create a dinner recipe from scratch or put their own creative spin on a family favorite. The options are boundless…and who knows? You may just find you’ve been raising the next Bobby Flay this whole time!
I once saw on The Kardashians (I know! I know!) the sisters go around the table and follow a tradition their late father used to do with them at dinner where each person would say their peak and pit of the day. This stuck with me because I loved how powerful this simple routine can be with families when sharing your personal experiences with those closest to you. It cultivates a practice of gratitude by encouraging ourselves to see a positive highlight while also acknowledging a challenge or struggle. It also allows us to engage in a vulnerability practice which is essential in authentically connecting with our children.
This will largely depend on your children’s love language. I do suggest you inquire to assess their comfort level particularly, with physical touch. Showing your children affection even in the smallest of ways can go a long way. It provides an opportunity for them to feel secure and loved. This can be telling your children how much you love them or what you appreciate about them, a kiss, a genuine smile or even a warm hug. In the wise words of the late Princess Diana, an extraordinary humanitarian, child advocate, and most importantly a mother, “Hugs can do great amounts of good – especially for children.”
Penciling in time for our loved ones may seem bizarre but just as we schedule time for work events, playdates or parent-teacher conferences, making time for an activity or just to spend some uninterrupted face-to-face time with your children should be prioritized. Allocate your time efficiently and plan out activities everyone can enjoy ahead of time. These can include arts and crafts, backyard picnics, family game nights, movie nights, or taking evening strolls around the block. I have found that having a shared family calendar app and/or fridge calendar accessible for the whole gang can help keep us accountable, but also gives us something to look forward to on a weekly basis. It also creates balance in our busy schedules and promotes consistency.
Have you ever started talking to someone and noticed they’ve yet to look up from their phones or electronic device in several minutes but are giving you the confirmative headshake or “mmhmm?” Annoying to say the least. Imagine your child comes home eager to share a moment from their day only to be met with silence or the, “not now kiddo I’m busy.” Not that we can’t express when we are preoccupied, but it's important, especially for children to have time where they feel they are being fully heard. This can be on the drive home, over dinner, or when we’re preparing for bedtime: the purpose is to stay present and, in the moment, to ensure we’re giving our undivided attention to the person who needs it. Practicing this at home can help demonstrate to our children how engaged we can be and in turn teach them to do the same. This will come in handy later down the road when we want to have more intense conversations, and in general is a good habit to teach.
This may be my favorite practice for connection. It gives us the chance to define who we are and what we value. Rituals allow us to align our behaviors by creating shared experiences that forge a sense of belonging. They motivate us and encourage self-expression while creating a family identity. Whether it’s creating elaborate bedtime stories together, having a show and tell or family talent show, making homemade goodies for friends or family, doing a family journal, giving back through a weekly community service activity, or doing family interviews to add to your family time capsule, there are numerous fun ways we can cultivate connections with each other. Creating a weekly ritual provides comfort for our children, particularly in unfamiliar circumstances like this pandemic. It also provides opportunities to promote family values like kindness and responsibility. Incorporating weekly rituals with your children is an excellent way to connect with them, not only through the holidays, but year-round.
The holiday season is a perfect time to start new traditions and routines with our children. While family is defined differently for everyone, one thing that is consistent across the masses is that no matter who you demarcate as your family, they are important to you. It gives us a chance to lean into the areas of ourselves and relationships we have been missing. Finding balance is crucial especially with busy schedules, but you will likely find that despite the homework and social events they have, your children do want to spend time together and connect with you.
It’s easy to get caught up in work and the daily grind, but as these years seem to pass us by so quickly, it’s important to savor these moments with our children and create opportunities for meaningful connection wherever we can. As the saying goes, the days are long but the years are short.