August has arrived and the movement and the change in the air is palpable as the school year is about to start. The school year has been a cycle that has driven my family’s life since my husband and I were in school ourselves. Our family has always worked with students in one capacity or another, and it feels natural that our children are now entering the rhythm of the school year along with us. We are all gearing up, in one capacity or another, to start this new season, and it has brought out a lot of different thoughts and emotions for all of us.
When you ask a child how they feel about school starting, you tend to get a lot of the same responses:
“Sad that summer is over.”
“Looking forward to seeing my friends.”
Parents tend to give similar answers as well that range from thrilled to have their kids back in to school to anxious about how their children will do this school year. No matter what you and your children are feeling about this coming school year, there is one thing that is certain: everyone is walking into this school year with some degree of uncertainty about what the year is going to look like. This known uncertainty makes connecting as a family all the more important as everyone seeks stability in the midst of change.
So how do we create that connection?
Be Literal About It
Some of the best connection happens in actual connection. Virginia Satir, a pioneering therapist in family therapy, said “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” If you want to feel more connected with your children, try increasing the number of meaningful touches that you exchange during the day. This can include hugs, cuddles, kisses, a comforting hand on a shoulder, or even a pat on the back. Depending on both you and the age of your child, these touches will look different, but they have the potential to make a big difference in your relationship with your kids.
Be Face to Face
Another important way to connect to your kids is to be eye-to-eye with them. This means getting down on their level and engaging with them in a screen-free environment. Being completely present and engaged with our children provides a space for them to feel truly seen and heard. Aim for at least 15 minutes of one-on-one time with each child each day. If you don’t know what to do during that time, try reading a book together, playing a game, engaging in a new activity, or doing something physical together like going on a walk, or just ask your child what they would like to do.
Ask Open-Ended, Child-Specific Questions
When I was growing up, I dreaded hearing the generic after-school question: “So, how was your day?” As well-meaning as this question is, it can difficult for a child of any age to try to summarize the entire emotional and relational landscape of their day into a single answer. Instead, ask specific questions about what you are really curious about:
“Did you talk to your friend John today?”
“How did that math test go?”
“What was the funniest thing someone said to you today?”
“How did you show kindness to someone else today?”
These kinds of questions are often much easier for your children answer and can provide an opening for a conversation with your child.
Practice Saying No
Our culture places a high value on being busy, and being stressed out is often seen as a badge of honor. There are a lot of opportunities you can say yes to during the school year and so, so many of them are good. You might be able to sign your kids up for sports, music lessons, or your older kids may even get a job or take college prep courses. You might consider coaching a team, leading a Boy Scout or Girl Scout troop, or volunteer to be a classroom parent. While all of these can be good opportunities, there is absolutely such a thing as too much of a good thing. When your family’s schedule becomes so busy that you lose time to connect, both you and your children are losing something far too valuable and irreplaceable to not decide to out of something for the school year. It doesn’t take much for a family schedule to become overwhelming, so as more opportunities arise, take stock of your family’s values and resources. Then, practice saying no to the things that don’t make the top of the list.
In a season where everyone in your family is likely to become busier, disconnection and distance are likely to creep into your family relationships. Make sure that you are making and taking the time to create connections that will foster positive relationships with the people you love most.
In the joy and in the chaos,
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