Connection is the best preventative for emotional isolation, for you later in your life (your ‘golden years’) – and for your child’s lifetime mental health.
[With permission by L.R. Knost, because we want you and your family to thrive now and for generations to come.]
From kicking and rolling and stretching to being lulled to sleep by the rhythmic cadence of a mama’s heartbeat, little ones spend the first months of their existence wrapped in a warm, dark, gently swaying cocoon, a life-giving embrace, the ultimate hug, readying themselves for their grand entrance to the world.
Then, in those first moments of life beyond the womb, when the muffled sounds of the outside world become clear and the muted lights become glaringly bright, a warm chest with the scent of life-sustaining milk and the sweet sound of a familiar heartbeat welcome the little one to the comfort and safety of a mama’s arms.
In the days, weeks, and months following, little fingers and toes are counted and kissed again and again and again. Soft cheeks are snuzzled and a fuzzy little head is nuzzled, and two thousand kisses a day seems a reasonable number to a mama’s heart overflowing with tenderness for this tiny new member of the family.
Next comes the rolling and sitting and crawling and walking, and soon the two thousand kisses dwindle to brief morning cuddles before a toddler is off to explore the world, healing kisses on boo-boos, and goodnight snuggles with a bedtime book.
Time passes and the little one grows in independence, getting up and dressed and ready on their own, grabbing their own band-aid for a scrape, and reading themselves to sleep. Gone are the snuzzles and nuzzles of infancy, and the two thousand kisses a day are simply sweet memories.
Growing independence, though, doesn’t have to mean growing separation.
Humans were created to be relational beings.
We may outgrow our dependency, but we never outgrow the need for community, interaction, appreciation, reassurance, and support.
Infants, children, and adults alike all share this life-long need for connection.
While over time that need will also be met through friendships, business engagements, social interactions, and the like, family relationships are the steady and sure bedrock of secure connection and belonging that ground us and assure us that our needs will not go unmet even in the darkest of times.
Way Beyond Attachment Parenting
Attachment parenting is often misconstrued to be simply about breastfeeding, babywearing, cosleeping, etc.
But, while those are possible choices for creating and maintaining a secure parent/child connection in the early years, they are just a small sampling of the relationship-building choices that parents can make throughout their children’s lives.
As little ones outgrow the ‘two thousand kisses a day’ stage, parents can begin consciously creating ‘two thousand connection points a day’ to replace those tender expressions of love with age-appropriate expressions of appreciation and approval, love and support.
From responding empathetically to a preschooler’s concerns, to paying attention to a seven-year-old when they tell their endless stories, to listening ‘between the lines’ to the angst of a teen, maintaining a secure parent/child connection beyond infancy is simply about meeting emotional needs consistently, intentionally, and relationally.
Two Thousand Connection Points
Creating two thousand connection points a day isn’t about quality time, and it isn’t even about the quantity of time spent with our children.
It is, instead, about being there in the small moments, the moments that matter to our children, and consciously meeting with them right where they are.
It is about…
- Simply smiling and letting our eyes light up with welcome when our children walk in the room
- Maintaining eye contact when our children talk to us instead of letting our eyes constantly stray back to our laptop/iPhone
- Expressing our affection physically in whatever way our children are comfortable with, whether it’s a wrestling match or a hug
- Giving our children our undivided, wholehearted attention when they share their latest treasure or sing a never-ending song they make up as they go or just want to sit and be close for awhile
- Listening to what our children need to say without the threat of immediate/unreasonable repercussion (being a safe place to them)
- Welcoming our children into our daily lives, whether we are discussing politics or cooking dinner or fixing the toilet
- Validating their hurt, frustration, or embarrassment instead of minimizing or dismissing their feelings
- Helping them to process those emotions by listening and reflecting back what we hear
- Guiding them toward understanding of their own feelings equipping them with appropriate coping mechanisms for the future
- Sharing our own hurts, disappointments, and mistakes in age-appropriate terms so they’ll know it’s okay to be human
- Voicing our sincere appreciation for their effort or when you see them working hard at something
- Honoring our children’s need to avoid embarrassment by offering guidance privately and respectfully, even if their behavior issue is public and/or disrespectful
- Sharing their interests even if the life-cycle of a snail wouldn’t be our first choice of dinner conversation
- Supporting them even if/when their choices may lead to disappointment or failure
- Being kindly and completely honest about our own disappointment or hurt when their behavior negatively affects us so they’ll know they can trust us to be truthful, even in the hard things
- Helping them whenever and wherever they express a need for assistance so they’ll know they never have to go life alone
These connection points are all about maintaining and enriching a strong parent/child relationship through all of the ages and stages of childhood so that, through a foundation of trust and mutual respect, parenting takes the form of guiding instead of punishing, encouraging natural growth instead of forcing independence, and creating a strong, intimate, interwoven family fabric that will stand the test of time.
(The topic of discipline for disobedience is outside the scope of this post).
The connection/relationship is much of the reason children willingly follow our rules. Kids who feel strongly connected to their parents WANT to cooperate, if they can. They’ll still act like kids, which means their emotions will sometimes overwhelm their still-growing, developing prefrontal cortex. But when they trust us to understand, to be on their side, they’re motivated to follow our lead when they can.
Researchers remind us that we need five positive interactions to every negative interaction to keep any relationship healthy.
Most of us go through life half-present. But your child has only about 900 weeks of childhood with you before he or she can leave your home. They’ll be gone before you know it.
“Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” ~Jim Elliot
Award-winning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood, Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Parenting Through the Ages and Stages and children’s picture book Petey’s Listening Ears.