We’ve all heard the argument over spending quality versus quantity time with kids.
I was reminded this week of the difference between “doing with” and “being with” by my youngest son. I had done a lot with him this particular evening but we hadn’t had any time together where we were just sitting and being. So, at bedtime he was shuffling his feet and delaying. I told him needed to go to bed. He asked his Dad if he could sit with him for a few minutes. Normally my husband tells him to go to bed as well, but he must have sensed there was a problem and he said he could sit with him. Whilst sitting and being together out came a story about how he got embarassed at school, then the tears came, and then the healing as they talked together about what happened.
Spending time with your child doesn’t always mean spending lots of time doing stuff with him or her. There is so much value in just being with your child, especially when he or she asks for it. And yes, kids do sometimes ask for it at the most inconvenient times, like when you are trying to get out the door or at bedtime. Especially bedtime.
We can be so task orientated about bedtime, or the pile of dishes waiting for us at the sink, or the overloaded washing basket, that we miss those moments when our children need us. Lisa Nichols from the Motivating The Teen Spirit programme in the USA says, “Not now, not now, not now, becomes not ever”. If you push your child away often enough they will learn not to come to you when they need somebody. I work with many parents where the chasm between the parent and child is so deep and so wide, it is going to take a mighty effort to close it. It’s best not to create that gap in the first place. Who do you want your child to go to for help when he’s been offered drugs at school or when her boyfriend is pressuring her for sex?
I often tell the story about a Dad who was a workaholic. He’d spend long hours at the office, and when he came home he was at the computer working. His son would come to him, and want to talk with him, and he would send him away saying he was busy with work and needed to concentrate on it. The little boy was very persistent though, and kept coming back to his Dad wanting to talk to him. The Dad would get angry with him and keep pushing him away. After attending a parenting group, the Dad stopped his work when his son came to him, and listened and talked to him. The Dad reflected, “all he needed was a few minutes of my time, and he went away happy”. As another parent said to me “I thought my kids were coming to me to annoy me, but I now know they need to connect with me”.
One of my former work colleagues was one of eight children. At the lunch table one day she was talking about her family. She said “I always thought I was the special one”, until one day when all of the siblings (now adults) were together talking and she realised that each of them thought they were the special one. Her Mum did not spend an hour each day with each of her children. The quality was in making each child feel special in the many small interactions between them throughout the day every day. To be able to do that is a gift.
And never underestimate the power of touch. Humans are social and emotional beings, they need touch. Infants who have all of their needs met but are not touched can develop a condition called “failure to thrive” and can die. You’ve probably seen these stories where a hug has meant the difference between life and death http://www.snopes.com/glurge/hug.asp and http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/38988444/ns/today-parenting_and_family/t/moms-hug-revives-baby-was-pronounced-dead/.
It’s very easy to hug and touch our little ones because they are usually climbing all over us for most of the day. I just love this little piece, written from a child’s perspective about how little ones just need to be held (a lot) http://honesttoddler.wordpress.com/2012/06/14/up/#more-254. One of my boys had such severe separation anxiety that he wanted to be held all day every day from about the age of six months to twelve months. If I put him down he screamed so loud the neighbours looked over the fence. And I held him as much as I could, I did, because meeting the need extinguishes the need (Brian Cade).
I worked with a family years ago who had a 14 month old child who was clingy, constantly crying, not walking, and not saying any words. The mother was rejecting the baby and frustrated with him. She asked me what the baby needed and I said “you” and explained to the mother and father what that meant. When I saw the family two weeks later the child was walking, happy to be separated from his Mum and playing for longer periods, constantly smiling, and starting to say words. What a transformation! The parents had met their child’s emotional needs and didn’t leave him distressed any longer.
“We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” Virginia Satir
As our kids get older they need hugs too. Make it a warm embrace that communicates how much you value them for who they are. I told one of my not-so-huggy boys about the above quote by Virginia Satir. He now comes to me for his quota of hugs each day. It’s a nice moment of connection for a kid who gets so busy in his head that he forgets about his physical needs.
Connecting is a state of mind rather than a technique. A lot of parents tell me that they now stop what they are doing to attend to their child, and it often only takes a few moments. One Mum told me if her 6 year-old asks for some help with something whilst she is doing housework she’ll now ask her daughter to help her finish the task Mum is doing so they can get onto what the child wants to do – a win/win – connection and completion.
“Eye contact, gentle touch, warmth in our voices, and sweet words are balm for a young child’s being. Connection is needed in generous amounts, day in and day out. This steady encouragement makes children feel good about themselves. It lets them know that it’s safe for them to love and learn. As they grow, feeling connected helps them build an inner confidence that holds strong even when they are challenged by difficult situations in the world around them.” Patty Wipfler