Starting School – Packing the Connection Vitamins

Man delights in child in play

What Next? by Madeleine S Winter, CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 INT

You probably have a list of things that you make sure you put into your child’s backpack every morning before school. Their lunch, a hat, sunscreen, their homework or “show and tell”. Those things are all important, and whatever happens – don’t forget them, or it might mean you have to go all the way back home again to get them!

There’s something else that children really need in their backpack, also. And now I am talking about their emotional backpack. They carry this to and from school, too. We don’t always see this backpack, but we often feel it – when it is too full of hard feelings, accumulated through the day, or not full enough of the important feelings – a sense of being loved and connected and cared about. When this happens, this backpack gets really heavy, starts bumping into things, won’t fit in the back of the car.

Children need a sense of connection in order to learn well. It seems like an obvious thing to say, but the more research about the human brain that is done, the clearer the evidence is. One of the things that builds a child’s resilience is a strong sense of connection with someone they know they can count on. This is what really gives children the capacity to handle all the challenges of the school day.

I don’t know about you, but I think I imagined that becoming a parent would mean lots of close, loving   time with my children. We do get some of that, but much less than I ever would have guessed. So many of my interactions as a parent are about the nuts and bolts of what has to get done – get up out of bed, eat your breakfast, clean your teeth, get dressed, put your pyjamas away, pack your bag, unpack your bag, get out your homework, eat your dinner…the list goes on and on.

Special Time is the best way I have found to give children some of the “connection vitamins” they need, along with their morning cereal, in order to get through their day well. It is a wonderful way to let a child to feel seen, heard and understood, and loved. There are all sorts of other benefits, as well. But this is perhaps the most important.

So how do you do it? Make a few minutes – 5, 10, 15 – whatever you can spare. Announce it: “This is Special Time. What would you like to do?” Put the timer on, and follow your child’s lead. In this time, shower them with your love, your approval, your enthusiasm and delight. Resist distractions: this is a time to really focus on your child. Don’t multitask, answer the phone or check your emails, and don’t refer to any difficulties, try to “teach” or give instruction or direction. Just do whatever they want to do. When the time is over, ask them what they liked about it, and make a date for the next Special Time. I promise lots of interesting things will happen (if nothing else, you will feel closer to them!).

There are so many ways that Special Time can work: as connection injection when you have been away or when things are tough, as a pressure relief valve when you find yourself in power struggles with your child, and as a way to build your child’s confidence and resilience.

You might find this article gives you more ideas about how Special Time works and how to do it.

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© 2020 by Madeleine Winter.

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