by Dr. Laura Markham, founder of AhaParenting.com and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings and her latest book, the Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids Workbook.
Scientists have found a way to predict which couples will end up divorcing: those who don’t ensure that they have at least 5 positive interactions for every negative one. According to John Gottman of the Gottman Institute, it is likely that maintaining this 5 to 1 ratio is effective insurance in every relationship, including between parents and children.
Life, with its infinite distractions and constant separations, has a way of eroding connection. All parents need to repeatedly reconnect with their children, just to repair the daily erosion created by life’s normal separations and distractions.
While our children are separated from us, they orient themselves around other things: their teacher, their peers, their computer.
As Gordon Neufeld, author of Hold On To Your Kids, says, when we recollect our children physically into our orbit, we must make sure we recollect them emotionally as well.
Effective parenting is almost impossible until the positive connection with your child has been re-established, so think of this as preventive maintenance, before there’s a problem. How?
1. Place a premium on relationships in your family.
If your expectation is that re-connecting after time apart is an important part of life, your children will share that expectation.
2. Acknowledge relationship and separation.
When you leave, say goodbye. When you return, say hello. When you first see your children in the morning, make a point of greeting each of them, preferably physically. This may seem obvious, but lots of families don’t do it.
Research shows that men who kiss their wives goodbye in the morning live longer, earn more, and are happier. While there is no data yet on how this applies to parents and kids, you can bet I kiss my kids, as well as my husband, goodbye!
3. When you physically reconnect, consciously refocus your attention.
Otherwise, it’s automatic for all of us to keep thinking about the meeting you just attended or what you need to pick up at the grocery store.
4. Until you’ve re-established the connection, keep distractions to a minimum.
If you can discipline yourself to turn off the news when your child gets in the car, you’re lots more likely to make a connection with him and hear about what happened at band practice. If she’s coming back from a sleepover, try to avoid having family friends over at the same time. Insist that she spend some time interacting with the family before she gets on the phone or computer to chat with her friends. When one of you arrives home, don’t answer the phone during your greeting, even if it was a routine separation. As automatic as it is to answer the phone, greeting each other and reconnecting is ultimately more important. That’s what answering machines are for.