In my work with families, a common thread that underlies most presenting problems parents raise is the issue of a certain distressed or detached connection with their child/children. Parents may identify their reason for seeking help as their teen’s disrespectful communication, his poor academic performance, or her stressing about social issues and sulking at home; and certainly, all of these issues must be addressed directly. But often underlying these and other issues is a sense that family members are not connecting in a vital, rich, and focused way.
Indeed we are all aware of the factors impeding close connection with even those about whom we care the most. While electronics have accorded many benefits to our culture and society, they have also fostered a sense of family disconnection as family members retreat to different corners of the home to focus on their respective internet lives. Meanwhile packed schedules with children’s activities, parents’ work schedules, extracurricular activities, chauffeuring and carpooling duties, and medical/dental/orthodontic appointments have left family members passing each other briefly throughout the day as they fan out to separate destinations.
A vital part of family connection involves truly being present for our teens and young children, validating their concerns and feelings, and communicating to them that we want to learn more and gain a deeper understanding about their concerns. This kind of truly present connection can only happen when all media is turned off, when there is eye contact with one another, and when no one feels pressed for time or rushed in their communication.
This type of deep connection enables our children to feel they truly matter to us, and that their worries, concerns, and feelings are important to us, and are worth the time to be understood more comprehensively. And, in turn, with this sense of truly mattering comes an enhanced sense of self-esteem and well-being
So again, while specific issues of rudeness or academic issues must be addressed head on with appropriate consequences, a roadmap to addressing them cannot help but be promoted by first strengthening the connection between parents and their children. (And indeed, this is the first step of solving family issues in therapy sessions.)
Some general rules for enhancing connection among family members include;
Make it a rule that no technology is allowed at the kitchen table. If family members are eating together, they must interact rather than ignore each other.
On family road trips ask that all media be put away during a portion of the drive so that family members can interact.
When your child comes to you with a gripe or complaint, make sure you give him or her your full attention. If it is an inconvenient time, you can always reply, “I will be ‘all ears’ in a little while after I get the dinner in the oven or after I pick up your brother from soccer practice,” for example.
Try not to ask your children rote, generic questions of interest about their day; but rather frame the question in a more probing way. For example, substitute, “How was your day?” with “I know you were concerned about your group presentation today. Could you tell me a little bit about how it went.”
Set aside a portion of the weekend to connect with family members -- for example, a Sunday morning breakfast and church, a dinner out, or a family walk.
Finally, if you continue to struggle with feeling a certain distance or detachment from your child/children, consider scheduling a few therapy session to help open up and strengthen your emotional connection with them.