Friday, 10 May 2013 12:11

Connecting with Your Children

Written by  H. Kent Hughes, Psy.D.
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Do you feel the pressure and obligation to raise Godly children in a godless society?  We place our children in private schools.  We home school them.  We involve them in church youth groups.  We parent them with Christian values and do our best to train, protect, and guide them through the maze of childhood and adolescence.  All these decisions are an attempt to give them what they need to face this culture and take a stand for what is right.  I would like to suggest one other priority that will empower your children into a healthy adulthood. 

In Ephesians, Paul tells us not to exasperate our children.  In Colossians, he admonishes us not to embitter them or they will become discouraged.  We are warned against making our children “very angry” or creating a “bitter spirit.”  Many good and faithful parents master the discipline and miss the connection.  And that child will go into a self-protection mode that keeps people at a safe distance.  No amount of discipline or training will bring him back.  He needs connection!


What is Connection?

So what is connection?  Simply stated, connection with a parent is the certain knowledge of a parent’s unfailing accessibility and acceptance.  Psychology refers to this as attachment.  Your child needs to know beyond a shadow-of-a-doubt that they are valued, protected, and worthy of your love.  Then you have established an emotional and relational connection to withstand the tests of life.  For example, my eighteen-year-old son has really struggled over the past year.  Several decisions he made were unhealthy for him and squarely against our family’s belief system.  As the year progressed and several parent-child “conversations” took place, we began to realize he was continuing to battle with his personal beliefs.  Throughout this entire year, we have not yelled at him and he has not yelled at us.  Has he suffered some consequences?  Yes!  Did we condemn him for his decisions?  No!  And as recently as last week we were still talking with each other about values and decisions that did not match ours.  I have made a commitment to let nothing ever come between my love and acceptance of him.  Has that been challenged over this past year?  Sure it has!  But we have stayed the course relationally and kept our connection. 


Connection is the bond that communicates to the child what Phillip Yancey described about God in his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace: “There is nothing I can do to make God love me any more or any less.”  That is what we want for our children.  Though we will allow them to experience the consequences of their decisions, we want them to lay down at night knowing there is nothing they can do to make us love them any more or any less.  What can you do with your children to establish and maintain an emotional connection that will empower your child for their future?



Time is the first strategy.  To connect with your child you must spend time with them.  Let me suggest that quality time cannot occur without quantity.  You and I have one shot with each of our children.  There are no “do-overs.”  One childhood experience is all we have with that young heart and mind.  Spending time with your children communicates volumes about your values.  Follow anyone around for six months and you can accurately state what is most important to that person based on the amount of time invested in certain activities.  Your children live with you.  They know how valuable they are to you by the amount of time you spend with them.


How do you spend your discretionary time?  I am not talking about the time you must give to career and household responsibilities.  There are some things that have to be done.  I am referring to that time in your schedule when you can choose to be with your children. 


We have always enjoyed playing games at the Hughes’ home.  We started out with GO FISH and CANDYLAND.  Now we are playing table games like GUESSTURES or CARDS.  We spend hours playing ping pong now that we have a table.  Three years ago it was foosball.  I lift weights with all three of my boys.  If they are in the front yard playing soccer, guess what, dad crashes the party.  This is it!  This moment is all I have with them.  We eat as a family.  We go to ballgames as a family.  We go to movies as a family.  We have created a climate in our home that being together is a good thing.  And when your 18 year old still likes to do things with you, connection exists.  Whatever your lifestyle is like, make the time to be with your children beginning at an early age.  Create the habit of time together.  And husbands, don’t forget to carve out time for you and your wife.  Adults also need time together.



Touch is the second valuable tool.  Non-sexual, physical touch is so important.  It’s said that kids need, on average, 11 touches per day.  Noted Christian psychiatrist Grace Ketterman believes kids need at least 100 touches per day!  Non-sexual touching is linked to the release of oxytocin, a chemical also released during those tender moments of breast feeding.  Hugs, high fives, holding hands, rocking in the chair, etc. are all examples of non-sexual touch.  Without touch, connection cannot happen.  In our home, everyone is touched every day.  Even if you are having a bad day, you are touched.  My wife Teresa has taught me so much about the importance of touch. 


I am amazed at the number of families I work with that don’t hug each other.  These are stable, Christian homes void of physical affection.  If you truly want to connect with your child, practice non-sexual touch on a daily basis.  My wife was telling me at lunch today that while she and our 18 year old were visiting a college campus yesterday, he held her hand as they walked around the campus.  He put his arm around her as he opened doors for her.  I am not sure he is even aware of what he is doing because it is just what we do.  The connection is real and tangible. Now he is communicating back to us as a young adult.



The third tool for creating connection with your children is validation.  Every child is asking the question, “Am I worthy of your affection and time?”  Parents have the power to stamp “valid” on their child.  And this stamp will carry that child into adulthood.  Even God the Father validated Jesus.  After Jesus’ baptism, God descended from heaven and spoke these words, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)  Jesus experienced the same validation again at the Mount of Transfiguration.  These are powerful words of acceptance and affirmation. 


Imagine the heart of a child when they hear words like these coming from their parents.  That child will begin to open his heart to his parents and connect.  Praising your child when they accomplish a goal is good.  Communicating praise to your child for just being there goes deep into the heart.  I often tell my boys I am so proud to be their father just because of them, not for what they have done.  Of course we reward performance.  But they need to know that my love and acceptance of them is not dependent on how well they do in life.  So many children and adults have told me they worked so hard in life just so their parents would be proud of them.  In these people’s lives, there is a belief that they must earn their parents’ acceptance.  Connection does not occur in these families.


Spending time with your children is invaluable.  Touching them on a consistent basis will soften their hearts.  And validating them will empower their spirits.  When all three are combined with discipline and structure, you will connect with your child and create the emotional attachment necessary to propel them into a healthy adulthood.  Take the risk and connect with your children.  Your life will be enriched.


Kent Hughes has a private practice focusing on marital and family issues in Clarksville, Tennessee. 




Last modified on Friday, 10 May 2013 12:23
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