This month’s wise statement comes from children as young as three, as old as 19, and every age in between. This is not a one-time statement from my younger clients, it is a reoccurring cry for attention. The words are simple, but the implication is very telling: “My parents are always on their phones.”
I am not surprised by the 3-year-olds, however, the teenagers who say this break my heart. All day long they have to compete with screens to obtain the attention of their peers, teachers, and employers. These teens are yearning for a place where they belong; a place where people put down everything and run to the door to greet them. They may never say this to your face, but they truly want this from you.
So how do we provide a sense of belonging to our children? The answer is simple: shared experiences. In other words, do things together as often as you can.
Shared experiences are made up of four things that help a person feel like they belong. These four things are feeling seen, appreciated, liked, and loved. Let’s be honest, shared experiences do not happen when we are distracted by our phones, they happen when we are fully engaged in the moment.
Here is a list of ideas for shared experiences that will do more than just make memories…
1. Play LOTS of family games.
Games are important for a variety of reasons. They provide opportunities to practice and learn important life lessons (social skills, manners, academic skills, patience, good sportsmanship, etc). If your children need to learn a lesson, use a game to teach it instead of giving another boring lecture. According to Jeanne Segal, PhD, children learn best when they are playing and retain the lesson longer.
2. Use multiple senses.
Experiences that use more than one sense are easier to recall (Gottfried and Smith, 2004). For example, cook dinner with your family while listening to fabulous music. Another idea is to take a Sunday drive with the windows down while eating a special snack.
3. Tell your family’s stories over and over again.
Research has revealed that children who are informed about their family history have higher self-esteem, a better sense of their capacity to control what happens to them, and lower levels of anxiety.
4. Take time to listen.
This is especially crucial for parents of middle school children. When you take the time to listen without judging or blaming, children are more able to hear you and change their own behaviors (Bernstein, 2013). I cannot tell you how many times I have just listened to a child’s ludicrous rant only to watch them go on and correct their own thinking.
5. Do chores together.
Several peer reviewed studies showed that family chores are associated with childhood happiness. Chores help children realize they are able to make meaningful contributions to their families. Also, collaborative chores have been shown to improve sibling relationships. So…crank up the music and have your entire family clean the house.
6. Let the kids be in charge.
Giving your children an opportunity to plan something for the family will give them a chance to create, organize, and lead an outing for a group. This is the perfect way to let them know that they belong in your family. As you follow their plan, make sure to let them know that they are seen, appreciated, liked, and loved.