I woke up this morning with a question in my mind: What do the children need? My children, your children, everyone’s children, everywhere. It’s a big question, but I realized the answer is so simple. It came to me in an instant before I really even had my eyes open. But, if you want the answer to be a magic pill that you can go online and order today, you should stop reading, find a different blog. Because the answer is too simple for that. All it requires is you. It’s our presence that they need; our undivided attention for a little bit each day. Not while we’re making dinner or reading email or driving somewhere. Not while we’re focused on some important-to-us aspect of adult life. But really tuning in and listening and sitting with them.
For this we have to slow down, stop talking, just be. When I take time to do this after school it’s interesting to see what happens. If it’s been a few days since I last sat down I might be mobbed by small people wanting hugs, cuddling, a chance to chat about school or books, or for me to read to them – even though they read perfectly well on their own. If I’ve been remembering to take the time to just be with them lately, they might gather in the same room or not, read a book on their own, sit nearby and do homework, or plop into another chair to talk. I figure that on these days, their cup of well being, their internal reserves, are pretty much full and they’re not feeling the need as much, but they still like the reassurance that I’m there.
One afternoon a friend stopped by to visit. We sat down in the living room as the kids were getting snacks and finding stuff to do. Without any kind of choreography or direction, each child, one by one – including the teenager – came by and sat briefly in my lap or on the arm of my chair, chatted for a few minutes, and then went on their way. It was so fascinating to see their need to physically and verbally check in before moving on to an activity. Building in time to re-connect after time apart can be really important for your child. If it’s been hours since they’ve seen you, it’s likely they need some time with you.
One of my clients found that she could positively guide the afternoon by having “couch time” with her kids at the end of the school day. They play games, give each other foot rubs, talk about the day, and just commune. She didn’t think she could do it at first because there was so much on the to-do list: dinner to be made, gardens to be tended, laundry to be finished. But what she found was that everyone needed this time so much and that when the kids felt loved and tended, then she could get more done later on – and everyone was happy to boot. Another client who likes to leave post-it note reminders on the kitchen cupboards wrote one that simply said: SIT ON THE COUCH. It’s her reminder to take a break, stop doing, just be and let her boys gather round.
I also aim to build in connection time before bed. At our house each of the younger kids gets read to individually at night. There’s always a chapter book going and I read for a while and then we chat about whatever’s on their minds. It’s a good time to check on their emotional barometer and engage in some physical affection. Sometimes in those quiet moments a question or topic that’s been niggling at them will come up and we’ll have some time to discuss it. If it’s something distressing I have them wrap it up and hang onto it to talk about the next day since getting worked up about a topic when you’re tired and ready for bed hasn’t panned out well for us in the past. But overall, that nighttime snuggle and reading time has been the best sleeping medicine I could ever give them. When they begin to drift off knowing that someone loves them, cares for them, is listening to their concerns, is making the night safe for them, it’s easy to make their way to Dreamland.
One of my favorite memories from childhood is the day my mom felt goofy. I don’t remember how it started, but my brother and I were doing sit-ups in the family room and laughing really hard. My mom came in and decided to join us in our hilarity. It made us laugh even harder as we watched her try to do sit-ups too. It seemed like we were there a very long time, laying on the floor laughing so hard our stomachs hurt, then trying to do sit ups and cracking up again. I remember thinking that I didn’t want that moment to end. Someone got the camera to record the day when mom joined in our silliness. The photos don’t do justice to the joyfulness that day – out-of-focus giant grins, squinchy eyes, and messy hair. When I think of how much fun that was it makes me want to get on the floor immediately with my kids. Some days I don’t remember to take the time. I walk by them on some important adult business while they’re on the floor giggling. I need to join in more often so that they have memories of the days (more than one, I hope) when their mom felt goofy and got down to horse around with them.
That magic doesn’t require purchasing new software or finding another great after-school activity. It requires nothing beyond you taking a few minutes to be present, stop doing adult things, and hang with your kids.