5 Ways to Engage With your Kids

“My boys are so standoffish with me now. They’re too cool for Mom. Those days,” she gestured to my kids clinging to my legs and begging for me to hold them, “…Are gone.”

As my boys snuggled up close, one on each side, to have me read to them this morning, they clearly still enjoyed it when I put my arms around them and play with their hair. I remembered reality statements from my dear friend who has two boys just a little further along than mine.

I also reflected on recent weeks, when I’d be moving from doing school, cleaning, cooking, folding laundry- ALL DAY LONG. There were some days my oldest had asked for “holda” (his word for me holding him) at the beginning of the day, but somehow, the whole day went by and I never stopped to sit down and hold him. Every time he asked, I would tell him to wait just a little bit longer. Till I was tucking him in, and he reminded me we didn’t get holda all day.

I really have to reconsider what is important. Thinking about my friend, with boys just a stage older, I might just be postponing holda and one day turn around and never have it requested again. I don’t want to postpone it at all!

#1 Showing Up

I’m challenging myself to just show up for my kids and my husband. I want to let things go and be present for them- in real time.

I am not good at this. Last night, I continued doing dishes while my husband and I talked, shooting glances over my shoulder to make eye contact. Sure, I stopped, put everything down and looked him in the eyes- but it only lasted a few minutes for me before our kids needed something and the conversation was over.

This afternoon, when we had a few minutes to talk, I actually walked out of the room briefly while we talked to get hangers and then proceeded to hang up laundry while we talked.

So, the first way to engage deeply with your kids is this: Simply show up. Show up with your whole self (not hands doing dishes, feet mopping floor, face slightly turned)- but with your devoted attention.

#2 Stop! And Get on Their Level

Stop Doing and Get Close

Put down the dish rag, leave your phone on the counter, move to your child and get down on their level. Find a way to get close to them, quiet your thoughts about other things, and be still. I’m notorious for always having my hands working on something, even when I’m supposed to be watching TV with my husband or resting. It might be as hard as it is for me, but we really have to stop!

Be At Eye Level or Below

Try to be at eye level or below (so you aren’t looking down at them). I recently got advice from a mentor mom to offer discipline or feedback only when I’ve knelt down at eye level. I don’t know how I never thought of this before. But, when I tried it, my children were delighted. My youngest even giggled the first couple times I stooped down and looked them in the eye kindly before talking.

#3 Tell Them You Get Them: Show Them Empathy.

From skilled negotiators in high stakes meetings to parents confronted by the “time to put your toys away” meltdown of their kids, skilled, active listening is critical.

One key aspect of active listening is to simply restate what the person has said, commenting with empathy when possible. Oftentimes, children and adults just want to know that they have been heard and understood. They are more receptive when they feel someone is truly empathetic toward them.

With your kids, statements like:

  • It sounds like you really don’t want to leave yet. You really have missed your friend, and you don’t want to be apart again… But, you will see her again next Sunday, and it’s time to go to the doctor now. Give her one more good hug goodbye.
  • I hear that you don’t want to go to bed right now, because you are missing me. I miss you, too, when we are apart. It means a lot to me that you want to be with me… Sadly, for tonight, this has to be our last hug and kiss. I will see you in the morning, and I can hold you on the couch and read to you first thing.
  • I hear that you don’t want to do this right now. Could you please tell me why? (You might be surprised to find from their perspective the reason. And it might just help you plan even more times to connect with and understand your kids in ways you didn’t expect.)

With toddlers, it can even be helpful to repeat what they might be feeling with emotion. This helps a toddler know that you really get them.

  • You feel sad, sad, sad! You don’t want to take turns.
  • You feel mad, mad mad! Your brother wasn’t being fair.
  • You feel bad, bad, bad! Your tummy hurts.

When you connect with your kids through empathetic, active listening, it opens them up more to connection (even when they still have to obey you and do what they don’t want).

#4 Invite them to Connect More

Try asking open ended questions instead of closed ones. For example, instead of saying “How was your day?” say, “Tell me about your day.”

Invite them to open up to you. Ask them questions that indicate, “I want to know you more.”

Get really good at the key phrase: Tell me more.

Say things like:

  • Would you please tell me more about that? That makes me really curious!
  • I’m really interested in that! Would you tell me more what that was like?
  • I love seeing who you are becoming

And absolutely essential to this is:

When your kids open up- show up. Show you are listening with your undivided attention. Listen actively. Don’t be quick to give advice or side with someone else. Listen. Don’t put them down for what they are saying. Don’t brush it aside.

I can’t tell you how many kids stopped talking to their parents about meaningful things, because their parents didn’t seem to care when they did open up. Or did nothing when their kids asked for help.

And kids often open up at the most inopportune times. Just before bed seems to be one of the most common times. If you’re in a hurry to get them to bed, or if, like many teenagers, your kids seem to be more night-owls than you, you might have to change your own bedtime to be attentive at those times they are ready to open up.

#5 Communicate Gratitude

Be sure to tell them how thankful you are for them. Make sure this is separate from things they do or accomplish. Kids are so malleable and so want to please you. If they think they are accepted, loved, or treasured because of something they do or accomplish, they will keep trying to do that thing, accomplish more, etc. Make sure they hear regularly that you love them and are grateful for them and just want to be with them with no strings attached or effort required. Communicate things like:

  • “I’m so grateful to God that He put you in my life.”
  • “Thank you for being in my life.”
  • “You belong not because of what you do, but because you are you. There is nothing you can do to make yourself more accepted or to make yourself belong more. You just are accepted wholly, exactly as who you are.”

Engage Deeply, Embrace Wholly, Delight Lavishly

This blog is all about inspiring and challenging myself and others to:

  1. Engage Deeply with the Lord, with your spouse, your kids, your parents, your friends, your co-workers, your world. Talk about the things that are most important, the things that are essential to you being you and them being them- and with a sincerity and humility that makes you real.
  2. Embrace Wholly– Connect with those that are important to you. We so often feel alone when we disconnect ourselves from those we love- even if it is just part of ourselves. Bring your whole self to the table and encourage, strengthen, redirect, and build up those you love.
  3. Delight Lavishly– Celebrate the deeply consequential as well as the minutia of life. Really, really delight in them. Notice the little things the Lord does to say, “I love you, Child!” Go on, take a moment to actively celebrate them!

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