4 Simple Yet Powerful Ways to Connect with Your Younger Kids
We don’t have to take vacations to Disney World—or some other fancy place—and buy up the souvenirs in order to bond with our young kids. We don’t have to purchase pricey presents or purchase everything they want on every Target trip (or on most Target trips). We don’t have to spend every waking moment with them in order to feel closer.
You probably know this intellectually. But when you want the best for your kids, to make them smile, to make them happy, you forget. And you load up your shopping cart with random toys and trinkets, and buy big trips you can’t afford.
But connection happens in smaller ways, in everyday moments. While the big trip can build sweet memories, so can playing pretend with your 3-year-old. As Gretchen Rubin said, “what we do every day (or at least most days) matters more than what we do once in a while.” Below therapists shared these small—and still very much significant—strategies to help you and your kids sincerely bond.
Play together. Play is one of the most significant ways you can connect with young kids, according to Rebecca Ziff, LCSW, a psychotherapist who specializes in working with kids, teens and families. When you play with your kids, “you are communicating to them they are important, loved, and fun to be around.” Play is your child’s main method of self-expression, she said.
“Play is the ‘work’ of children—it is very meaningful and crucial in terms of physical, cognitive, and emotional development,” said Laura Athey-Lloyd, Psy.D, a psychologist who specializes in working with children and adults.
Ziff suggested setting special time aside every day to play with your child. Let them pick the activity, get down on their level (e.g., on the floor; side-by-side), and let them lead, she said. For instance, according to Athey-Lloyd, your 2-year-old might want to serve you food that he’s “cooked.” Your 5-year-old might want to use her dollhouse characters to tell an elaborate story. And your 8-year-old might want to play a board game.
Avoid telling your child how to play or following the rigid rules of a game or activity—like coloring. Let your child start, so you can observe. Then “mirror what they are doing,” Ziff said. Maybe your child is drawing dots inside the coloring book, so you do the same. Maybe they’re not even coloring but are dumping the crayons out and putting them back in, which you do, too.
Other ways to play together include: cooking, baking, making anything, walking (or skipping!), hula-hooping, dancing and reading. Doing these kinds of activities together is not only bonding, but it also boosts your child’s self-esteem, said Sean Grover, LCSW, a psychotherapist and author of the book When Kids Call the Shots: How to Seize Control from Your Darling Bully—and Enjoy Being a Parent Again.