- Play helps attachment deepen. Running, hiding, chasing and laughing all contribute to a stronger sense of connection between you and your child.
- Physical contact is important, but make sure that all of you is available. Splitting your attention between your child and your Blackberry is not the same as being fully present with your child for at least a little time each day.
- Seek out your child’s company (when she isn’t demanding it) with an invitation to do something unexpected, like playing a game of checkers or heading to the park. When you generously seek one on one time with your youngster, she feels liked, cherished and nourished.
- • Initiate a project that reflects one of your child’s non-academic interests, like drawing, baking or making music. This lets her feel you are genuinely interested in who she is, and who she’s becoming.
- • Tell your child what—specifically—you like, love or admire about them. “No one tells a joke the way you do, sweetheart”, or “I love how patient you are with the neighbor’s little kids.” When a child feels seen by you for qualities that have nothing to do with accomplishments or achievements, it strengthens attachment.
- • Listen to your child, and acknowledge the message underneath his words. If he knows you understand his emotional ups and downs—and can hear what he’s going through without jumping in with lectures or advice-- it makes him feel close to you.
- Surprise your teenager with an unexpected “hookie” day, going somewhere neither of you have ever been before. Sharing new experiences is a wonderful way to fortify connection.
- Shift your conversations from lectures and advice-giving to asking your teen’s opinions and ideas about a newsworthy or controversial topic, giving them the sense that you are genuinely interested in what they think and believe.
- Show your teen that you are her ally, rather than adversary. If there’s a behavior or academic issue, approach it by coming alongside her, rather than at her with unwanted suggestions or demands. By feeling you’re on her side—even when things are rough—she’ll feel naturally connected to you, even if there’s conflict below the surface.
- Ask your nearly adult son or daughter how often they’d like to be in touch, and respect their wishes, keeping in mind that frequency will change—often rapidly—depending on what they’re going through at any given time.
- Stay connected with text messages or short emails with news from home that help your young adult feel close to you without feeling suffocated with long phone calls.
- Don’t take a young adult’s infrequent contact personally. Make sure he hears the warmth in your voice when you do talk, and knows that you’re there in the background if he needs an emotional lift, while trusting him to rely more on himself to get through life’s ups and downs.
Every child—regardless of their age—longs to have a healthy connection with their parent. It is never too late to work on developing a deep connection with your children. My mom and I have grown enormously closer in the last few years, and she is in her eighties! So don’t give up if things between you and your child feel distant or awkward. Take one step at a time toward fortifying attachment, and you will both be richly rewarded.
Go to www.earlymomentsmatter.org to learn about attachment and to get an award-winning toolkit that introduces ways in which parents and caregivers can help their children build secure attachments.