Families today can struggle to stay connected in a fast-paced world that often sends us all spinning away from each other in different directions. Not eating dinner together may not seem like a big deal on any given night, but when moments of disconnection become increasingly habitual over time, families can and often do find themselves feeling completely disconnected in painful ways.
On the flip side, fostering family connection in small ways can have a snowball effect in creating strong and enduring family relationships. Here are six simple steps to help your family stay connected in a disconnected world:
- Be Calm and Intentional. A calm environment is an important foundation for fostering positive family connections. That’s easier said than done in times of chaos and stress. But there are many ways to be calm and intentional in approaching family connections. One idea is to start each morning with a meditation or prayer of gratitude for your family members. Take time to think of them individually, pondering ideas of how you would like to connect with each of them. Then, carry those intentions into your interactions with them that day.
- Make Eye Contact. Even if it is for only a few moments at a time, regularly making eye contact with family members can create positive family connections. This can be as simple as kneeling down to look your child in the eyes when telling them you love them or giving your teenager your full visual attention when they are asking you for something. Making eye contact is a simple yet powerful way to connect with your family.
- Offer Friendly Touch. Touch is the most concrete form of any connection, so it makes sense that friendly touch would help families connect with each other. Beyond common sense, social science has shown that there are positive physical, emotional, and even chemical reactions to friendly touch. From holding a baby for the first time, to holding hands with your spouse, tickling young children, or wrestling with older ones, friendly touch is vital to family connections.
- Listen, Don’t Lecture. In my own parenting, I have found one of the most powerful ways I can emotionally connect with my children is by listening to them, while by contrast lecturing them can easily destroy our connection. This does not mean we cannot ever teach or kindly guide our children to better behavior. It does mean, however, that if we want to have strong family connections, we need to listen more and let our children’s input help guide our teaching of them. When I do this, I always find that I connect with my children on a much deeper level than if I simply tell them what to do.
- Set Family Times. Dinner time is prime example of a set family time. After all, we all need to eat, and so many benefits come from sharing meals together as a family—including academic, health, emotional, and social benefits. Bedtime routines with young children also have a powerful effect on parent-child connections. Setting aside one night a week to have a family activity is another way to stay connected as a family. This can be a simple as a weekly game or movie night. And, of course, all families love annual holiday traditions. Having set family times daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly—to do whatever you like to do as a family—creates times of connection the whole family can look forward to.
- Say “Let’s” More Often. Let’s face it: most families spend most of their time away from each other—most parents work separately, either away from or at home; and most children spend their days in school or daycare. We no longer work, learn, eat, and play together as many families used to. However, we can creatively and intentionally use our family time to work, play, eat, read, exercise—or whatever else we do—together. Rather than telling your children to “do the dishes” or “walk the dog,” try saying “Let’s do the dishes,” or “Let’s walk the dog.” Saying “let’s” more often can create stronger family connections.
Creating a culture of family connection does not come naturally. Learning to connect with those we love takes skill and practice. The good news is that families who want more connection can choose to create it by making a few simple changes. By regularly investing in small and simple connections with our families, we can create deeper bonds of trust that will help us through any of the fiercer storms of disconnection that we, as a family, might face.