More parents and kids are plugged in to electronic communication, gaming, and other digital entertainment than ever before. Bonnie Harris, an expert in early childhood education and director of Connective Parenting, has spent decades working with parents and kids to establish and strengthen family bonds. Here are her tips for parents to help them stay connected to their kids in today's distraction-heavy society.
1. Create unplugged zones
Establish unplugged zones and times of the day. Make sure the rules are established together and are agreed by all those with smartphones, digital music players, computers and game devices. Specific phone-free zones might be in the car, meal time, playtime and the bedroom.
2. Don’t set tech rules
Other than the agreed unplugged zones, don’t set other tech rules. Set the structure and then allow for self-regulation. Make sure you balance that out with family time. Using technology is not a bad thing as proficiency in the tech world is the starting-point of your children’s future.
3. Unplug your children
Put value on just hanging around and being bored. Creativity doesn’t arise when a child is over-scheduled and adult-directed.
4. More creativity
Stay away from talking toys and look for those that encourage invention. When your child wants to buy something, ask what it is they want to do and how they can make that happen.
5. Just ‘be’ more
Don’t try to teach your children lessons all the time. Children learn best from modelling and in those precious moments when they feel connected to parents which happens when you’re all ‘just being’.
6. Practice mindfulness
This doesn’t mean you have to take up meditation. Simply focus on what you’re doing – which includes what your child is saying to you right now without jumping to conclusions.
7. Pay attention
Your child is always trying to tell you something, but doesn’t always have the maturity to say it in a way you can easily understand. Often, their words and actions need interpreting. If you are tempted to react, remember not to take their words literally.
8. Hit the pause button
Don’t react to teach your child a lesson. Stop, breathe, wait, think. Then come back to it when you’re both calm.
9. Learn to say no
Parenting is the toughest job there is. Especially for working parents, prioritise the needs of your family and yourself to stay focussed. You don’t have to agree to do something for everyone else who asks.
10. Care for yourself
You can be present when you wish you were somewhere else. Fuel yourself first, and then fuel your child. Find ways and times to do something for you so you feel better – and you’re a better parent.
11. Accept the child you have
Don’t wish your child did or said something else. Pay attention to who they are, and what they’re attempting to say, rather than wishing they were different.
12. Accept how you feel, as well as how your child feels
Despite what you may have learned as you grew-up, emotions are okay. Even when you’re down. Emotions are a call to action and can teach valuable things if you’re ready for it.