This can feel like a daunting task, especially if your child is young and you feel like you are constantly disciplining him, saying no, and simply too busy trying to keep him alive to make sure you are staying emotionally connected to him.
I recently sat down with author, podcaster, and speaker Lisa Qualls to discuss parent connectedness at every age and stage. As the mother of 12 children (Yes, you read that correctly.), eight biological and four adopted, Qualls knows a thing or two about parenting. As the co-author of The Connected Parent: Real-Life Strategies for Building Trust and Attachment, which she wrote with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, she was the perfect person to talk to about healthy attachments.
“Every healthy relationship is built on the foundation of trust and connection,” says Lisa. “I really try to keep the relationship and the connection at the heart of my interactions.” Lisa explains this can be done even when you are navigating your toddler’s terrible twos and threes. How? She offers three strategies.
1. Stick to the script.
Lisa has developed a method of disciplining or talking to your child in a straightforward way using scripts rather than long sentences and explanations. Scripts are short, only two to three words, and quickly communicate what you need your child to do. For example, if your child doesn’t want to get dressed for school, don’t launch into an explanation about the weather and how he needs to stay warm. Instead, use a script that simply says: “You need to listen and obey.”
Or, if your daughter hits her brother, don’t explain why your family doesn’t hit and how detrimental violence is. Instead, use a script such as, “No. We don’t do that.”
Don’t overcomplicate it. Stick to the script and your child will understand what’s needed of her without getting more frustrated than she already is.
2. Say yes as often as you can.
This one might sound impossible, but Lisa isn’t saying let your child do whatever he wants. She’s saying even when you need to say no, include a yes. For example, if your child asks if he can stay up late on a school night to watch a show, instead of immediately saying no, say, “You can stay up late on Friday night and watch a show, but not tonight.”
Saying yes makes your child feel more connected to you because a yes makes him feel heard and respected in a way that no can’t.
3. Provide choices.
When Lisa needs her child to do something, she will provide a choice in which the task will get done either way. For example, if she wants her daughter to pick up her toys, she’ll say, “It’s time to pick up your toys. You can pick up the toys and hand them to me and I’ll put them in the basket, or you can put them in the basket yourself. Which would you like to do?”
Either way, her daughter will pick up her toys, but her daughter will feel the autonomy of choice and less like she’s receiving a demand from Lisa. This makes a child feel respected and helps maintain parent connectedness while teaching a child to obey her parents.
Staying connected with your child is tough work. It’s much easier to check out, say no all the time, or discipline with little regard to ensuring your child feels respected in the process. But staying connected on an emotional level is crucial, not only for your relationship with your child but for all of her future relationships.
I highly recommend you listen to my full podcast episode with Lisa Qualls here and read her book The Connected Parent. Even if your child is older, it’s never too late to develop a healthy attachment with him that will teach him to develop healthy attachments with others.