Lately, I've been really reflecting about what families can do to create more nurturing experiences. With my recent experiences with the work of Hedy Schleifer and Crossing the Bridge, I have some ideas that might help you start thinking about the simple things you can do to create more love, connection, and nurturing in your family. Hint: It doesn't have to take a lot of time!
We all love it when someone notices us and expresses something they like or admire about us. But how often do we tell our children that we like or admire something about them? I'm not talking here about thanking them for picking up their toys, but thanking them for being in our lives- for the qualities that make them who they are- rather than about what they do to make our lives easier. Yes, thank them for what they do. But appreciate who they are deep down inside.
I'm reminded of the movie, The Help, where the older woman caring for the little girl looks into her eyes and says, "You is kind. You is smart. You is important." I've been telling my 8 year-old this (using the correct grammar at his insistence) and he lights up every time I say it. As a side note, our partners benefit from hearing this kind of thing, too. (Thanks, Hedy Schleifer for this wonderful idea!)
Make eye contact
I remember nursing my oldest son as a baby and looking into his eyes. I looked forward to what I thought would be a really intimate experience of gazing into each others eyes. Reality was actually surprisingly fun. As I'd look down at the babe in my arms, I'd watch the edges of his eyes begin to crease and his eye brows raise while his mouth would begin to turn up into a grin. Almost unavoidably, we would both end up laughing as we looked into each others eyes. Usually, the nipple would fall out of his mouth and milk would dribble down his face, which made it even funnier.
Long after our children are little and we are left with fuzzy, warm memories about playing peek a boo, our children still need us to see them deeply. Look into the eyes of your child to see the person who is before you in this moment. They say the eyes are the window to the soul. Be in this moment with your child and gaze into her eyes. You may find yourself grinning or laughing with each other. Or maybe you'll see something you have never noticed before. Take a look for yourself and see.
Add more physical touch and PLAY
My 8 year old's favorite time of the day is "snuggle time." We often curl up together with a good book or a story told. I think I look forward to our snuggles just as much as he does.
As our children grow, we often think they don't need as much physical touch. For many parents, once a child is walking, the amount of touch goes down considerably. Research has shown that we all need lots of physical touch- hugs, time snuggled together, playing, rough housing together. If you're looking for some creative ways to increase physical touch in playful ways, check out Playful Parenting by Lawrence J Cohen.
Stop what you're doing and give 100% attention
A few years ago, I was speaking at a LLL Conference about the importance of time focused on our children to a group of parents, most of whom had been wearing their babies nearly constantly. One mother stood up and said, "But we're together all the time! She's always on my arms or in this sling. We even co-sleep at night. How can we be together more than we already are?" I acknowledged that she and her baby were always together, but then I asked if she had times during the day when she stopped doing everything else and just spent time with her daughter. A silent hush filled the room as everyone took that in. There's a big difference between being together in the same physical space and being connected when you aren't doing anything besides being together.
I'm not saying we need to stop doing everything else and let our house go into ruins so we can focus exclusively on our child. I'm just saying that we need to have times during our day when we stop doing everything else and allow ourselves to really "be" together.
Listen and repeat back what you hear/ feel
As parents, we tend to interpret what our children say and do. It is really only natural, especially when they can't yet tell us what is happening with them. Many parents try really hard to fix our children's disappointments or difficult feelings, moving into hero mode. Next time your child is upset, try to just reflect back what he's saying or what you're seeing. Remember that our job isn't to solve our children's dilemmas, but to be there with them while they work it out.
Each of these simple acts can release oxytocin into our systems, which is like a burst of love for both parent and child. The best part is that when we make the effort to connect using any of these simple ways to nurture our relationships, both the giver and the receiver benefit! Oxytocin is important at every age and you can never get too much!
We can truly embrace our relationships and connect with one another daily through these simple acts of nurturing. It is often the small decisions over time that lead to connection, rather than one momentous moment of parenting splendor. Try to take one of these ideas that really resonates with you and try it for a minute or focus on it for a week and see what happens. I'd love to hear how that feels and how your child responds! Let me know by responding in the comments below.