by Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD
One of the best ways to bond with children is to share joy. When there’s laughter, smiles, silliness, games, or creative play, relationships are strengthened. Other bonding might occur through special one-on-one time, gentle cuddles, or simply spending time together. When we think of bonding with children, we often think about taking them to a baseball game, going fishing with them, or attending a parent-and-me music class together. We might think of reading books or making a snowman.
While these are great, there are some other unexpected windows for bonding. These are when children are most upset, hurting, acting out, or having a hard time. In these moments, they need parents to be nurturing, firm, and calm. They need them to provide security and love through firm boundaries and gentle understanding.
When They’re Sick
If you imagined the best bonding experience when your child was sick, you might take a day off work to spend time with him or her. You might create a “get well box” filled with children’s magazines that can only be read while sick. You might fill the box with special art projects, books your child has never read, Gatorade, or a snuggly stuffed animal.
You might make your child a homemade get-well card, play their favorite music or DVD, and relax into the sick-day with them. In the night, you hold them and reassure them if they are crying, vomiting, or coughing. After bringing them to the doctor, you take them out for a small slushy. Instead of feeling put out, you enjoy caring for them, showing up for them for them, and comforting them in their time of need. They feel closer to you too.
When They’re Acting Out
Another window to strengthen connections with children is when they are acting out or breaking the rules. You might sit beside them, provide space for them to calm down, or talk quietly to them with a few words. You stay calm and firm. You listen to their feelings without excusing their behavior. When it’s over, you reconnect and give them a hug. Your child’s trust that you will provide consistent boundaries to keep them safe is enhanced.
When They’re Tired
At times, all children have trouble sleeping. They wake up too early when a fire engine screams by their window, miss a nap for a holiday party, or sleep terribly because of a cough. A tired child is a different child. When exhausted, children often whine, cry easily, lose their tempers, or not cooperate. They are in a vulnerable state. By bringing compassion to a tired child, you show that you love them no matter what. By being patient, you prove that whatever mood they’re in, whatever short fuse they have that day, you will always support them.
Bonding during trying times, not just the good times, helps develop love, trust, and joy with children.
Copyright Erin Leyba, 2015. All rights reserved.