This past weekend, my family disconnected from technology and reconnected with each other. Two days at a state park was just what our little crew needed to rest and strengthen our relationships. It wasn’t all bliss. We still dealt with attitudes, misbehavior, and boundless energy, but I noticed that by being intentional and spending time with our two young ones (without the constant distraction of screen time), we felt our relationship being strengthened.
Spending time and talking to your kids is a great way to strengthen your relationship, but it’s even more effective when you actually talk to them about strengthening your relationship. Here are four strategies we use to boost our communication with our daughters:
1. Uncovering Feelings: Let’s find out why you are reacting this way.
My almost-7-year-old is tremendous at communicating her feelings, once I prod her. When she flies off the handle at something I asked her to do or not to do, I can further assert my authority over her, or I can say, “Why are you angry,” or “How did I make you feel?”
She is more than capable of explaining in an emotionally intelligent way, like, “When you told me to ____ it made me feel ____ because I wanted to try to do it myself.”
I’m always amazed at how well and rationally she’s able to pinpoint her feelings. I have much work to do in this area.
2. Offering Reality Checks: Here’s the “why” behind the “what.”
When I’m around other parents or kids, I quickly see that mine aren’t the only ones who act entitled. I don’t care what I do for her, she always wants more: 15 more minutes on the playground, one more toy, one more time, just another snack. She gets it honestly; it’s a daily struggle to be content with what I am given.
This past weekend my husband and I offered a little reality check to our older daughter. Each time she mentioned she wanted something, we said, “That’s a great idea! You should save your money for that.” This, of course, frustrated her to no end, so in a quieter moment I explained that we work for everything we have: clothes, roof, car, food — our time spent working is for our family to have things we need and enjoy. Although this explanation did not satisfy or cure her desire for more, it does give her a perspective to think about.
3. Giving Affection: You and I are connected. You are loved.
We made a little video for Father’s Day in which I interviewed our oldest about her dad. When I asked, “How do you know your Dad loves you?” She answered, “Because he gives me hugs and kisses.” To a child there is no more tangible expression of love than physical affection. Give it freely and often.
I think of 1 John 3:1 (NIV), which talks about how our heavenly Father “lavishes” love on us, the children of God. When we model “lavish” love upon our kids, we give them a direct spiritual parallel to how much God loves us. We’re not perfect (as kids or parents), but love covers a multitude of mistakes (1 Peter 4:8). And that brings me to…
4. Asking for Forgiveness: I’m sorry, and I love you more than anything.
‘Fessing up as parents when we mess up is a great way to strengthen your relationship with your kids. When my daughter explains why I made her angry, I usually see how I could have handled a situation differently, and I say I’m sorry for that specific action, and reinforce how much I love her.
When she messes up, she usually says something like, “You must think I’m the worst daughter ever!” or my favorite (not), “You hate me!” I gently remind her that there’s nothing she could ever do that will make me love her less. This soft answer has a way to melt her anger and anxiety. It’s like my secret weapon (along with, “Do you need a hug?”).
But it’s not a gimmick. It’s truth because it describes God’s love for us: “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow–not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below–indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38, NLT).
Forgiveness is paramount because I simply don’t have the energy to respond perfectly in every situation. I grow tired, my nerves get raw, I get selfish. I feel like I’m doing this parenting thing “wrong” 93 percent of the time. In those instances I realize I need to strengthen my own relationship with God, and to draw on the strength He longs to give me, to love these sweet babies well and to see them grow up wholly capable of loving, living and forgiving.
Cara Davis is a content consultant and co-founder of the soon-to-launch church’d.com. The former editorial director for Relevant Media Group, her writing has appeared in The Huffington Post and CNN, and she’s been quoted in USA Today and The New York Times. She lives with her husband and two girls in East Nashville where she has co-founded a nonprofit called Community PTO to support the success of local community schools.