Do you ever wonder if you are cultivating connection within your family? Dusk was emerging into the late January afternoon as I strolled the sidewalk in one of Central Texas’ most quaint outdoor shopping villages. As the sun began to set, the warmth vanished, and the chilly air was a reminder it was still winter in Texas. White lights draped over the streets and began to sprinkle the shoppers with ambiance. I was basking in the glow of getting a day by myself and taking a break from a monotonous schedule. As I made my way to my dinner destination, I enjoyed people watching and noticed a commonality. Almost everyone was walking and looking at their phones at the same time. Whether they were alone or with a group of people most passersby were engrossed in their phones. I intentionally kept mine in my purse because my goal was to get away from the “noise” and constant information barreling at me. I have three kids, so all the apps for sports and school, numerous emails from teachers, and constant notifications and information being dumped into my inbox daily can be overwhelming. I look at my phone A LOT but was making a point to detox from it all.
I settled into my corner table, removed my mask, and ordered dinner alone. As I looked around the socially distanced restaurant, I noticed that almost every other table was occupied by couples except one where two young college-aged ladies were immersed in a lively conversation. These young friends were leaning in, talking, listening with anticipation, and responding with excitement. The young women were engaging, having fun, and enjoying one another’s company. In contrast, the other tables were occupied by couples where each person buried their nose into their phones. There was no conversation, no engagement, no communication. The people on their phones were not smiling. One lady even looked sad as her husband seemed distracted. It struck me.
First, I asked myself the question,
“Am I a teaching my children to communicate and connect?”
Then the second question,
“Am I teaching my children how to be intentional in these areas?”
My final question was,
“Am I a good example of this to my children?”.
One day my kids will most likely be in relationships. Will I have taught them how to be the person who puts their phone away to take time, enjoy life, and be intentional about connecting with the people?”
It was a productive introspective moment. My husband and I have rules about electronics and family time, but the last year of quarantine and additional snow days has forced rules to be broken and boundaries to fade as we have navigated the reality of a virtual existence. Grace is needed as we have just tried to maintain some sort of sanity. At the same, it allowed me to take a breath and to re-establish the ways we cultivate communication and connection.
- We try to sit down at the table dinner as much as we can. It is hard when we have activities, but we enforce it at least two to three times per week.
- Electronics are not allowed at mealtimes in our home or at restaurants.
- Ask questions. Everyone answers short questions about their day and is expected to listen to everyone else. Listening is an important part of communication.
- Manners are required at dinner time and enforced. No one does this perfectly, but we work to make the effort.
- Forced fun is sometimes necessary even it if is for a short time. The point is to condition the kids to expect and learn how to carve out time to connect with others.
- Sometimes everyone is cheerful and sometimes not. Behavioral Learning is a process that takes time. The point is that we establish patterns for our family to engage, communicate, and connect.
Limit Screen Time
Oh man! This has been a tough one.
- I struggle at enforcing these A LOT!
- We have daily limits for weekdays and weekends. Yes, we have given in a lot. My son has played so much on his gaming system that he earns money playing as an affiliate on a streaming app. My youngest daughter has watched so much T.V., she has decided to become an actress, director, and a screenplay writer. That alone demonstrates how our creative outlets have been impacted over the last year.
- Chores and homework must be done before screen time. I need to room for flexibility on this one.
- When we fail to enforce, we give ourselves a lot of grace and work to start again the next day. GRACE PLEASE!
Devotions/ Talk Time
- We are a family of faith, so devotions and prayer a part of our family time. The point is that we are getting together as a family, either at the dinner table or in the living room, to listen, communicate, and connect through questions, answers, and prayer.
- Letting young children play with manipulative s such as Lego’s or blocks are a great way for them to listen and participate while not forcing them to sit totally still which is unattainable.
- Choose lessons/topics that everyone can understand but gear the devotion/topics to keep the older children interested. The younger children will pick up on important points.
- Vacations or Outings where a family plays together are important for connection.
- Whether is it is a walk around the block, a neighborhood bike ride, camping, or an annual trip, taking time out to have fun is important.
- Activities bring us together, force us to communicate, and allow us to connect through experiences. This can teach our children to take opportunities and initiate time with others.
I am not good at this. I am typically so busy it is so much easier and quicker for me to hurry and make dinner on my own. However, cooking and baking together is a great way for your child to learn, communicate, and connect. When my youngest daughter was in preschool, she loved helping me make banana muffins. We did this often and it was so meaningful to her that at her Kindergarten graduation she announced she wanted to grow up and be a Baker.
Our attempts at together time do not go perfectly every time. In fact, they rarely go as planned. There have been many times where this complaining, fighting, enforcement, and even tears……and then there’s the kids!
However, teaching our children how to initiate connection and properly communicate is a fundamental part of their self esteem and how they will relate to others. It promotes love, happiness, laughter, good mental health and well-being. It a process that takes time but is totally worth it. I want my children to be like the two young women who leaned in, listened, and had fun being together. I also want to be like those two young women. I want to engage, make my family feel important, and hear what they have to say in a way that is meaningful and filled with joy.