After learning about yet another school shooting, so many people are left stunned, feeling powerless. People are thinking: What can I do? I have a job, kids, responsibilities. I don’t have time to do something that will “actually” make a difference…
You, in fact, can do the thing that will make the biggest difference:
What does that mean? Its really simple. My take on fostering connection is to help others feel the sense of being connected, or belonging. Help others to feel wanted, needed, included.
That sounds like a big time commitment. Actually, it isn't. It can be done in 15 minutes a day, and a couple of hours per month. Let me explain how.
Foster connection with your children
Give them 15. First, start at home. If you’re reading this, you’re likely someone who cares for others, someone who is already a pretty good parent. Even being a good parent, we all have to check ourselves occasionally. And I do this, too.
In the last few days, have you spent time with your child(ren) that is one on one, screen free, and completely focused on them? Often we become so focused on all of our to do’s, that we forget the most important things.
Just 15 minutes a day of undivided attention can do wonders for kids. Ask them about their day, about their fears and their dreams, about their hopes for the future.
Morning resets. Another tip that I don’t hear or read often: Treat mornings like a reset.
When you first see your child in the morning, greet them in the most loving, patient way that you possibly can.
If you’re not a morning person, or if you’re still miffed about how s/he behaved yesterday, fake it. It still works amazingly.
Even if your child is older and can tell you are being “intentionally cheerful” (i.e. faking it), you are putting in the effort, and your child knows this.
Will you mess up? Probably. Correct course and keep trying anyway. You may be surprised how quickly it becomes a morning habit, without even thinking about it.
Give them some control. Allow your child(ren) some age-appropriate control over things in their lives. Even if you know how to do it better, they will not learn nor feel the satisfaction of practicing and mastering something if you consistently step in.
What can you let them do on their own?
What can you ask them to figure out?
Remember, children are people. No one likes to live controlled absolutely. There are so many things in their lives that are out of their hands. Let them practice being adults before they get there.
Foster connection with young people in your community
Not every child is blessed with a good parent or two. There are some kids hanging on by a thread. How can you help them?
Give them time. Find something that you can do with them, that’s fun and interesting for you and for them.
Besides my work, I volunteer teaching art in my children’s classrooms. I spend just a couple of hours a month in each class.
In the little time I spend there, the kids get to know me quickly. Often, I try to pay a little extra attention to the children who seem to need it more: to those who ask me the most questions, and to those who ask the least questions.
Presence matters. I remember one young boy I’ll call Ben (not his actual name). While I don’t know for sure, he struck me as a child experiencing behavioral and maybe emotional issues. When I would start our art lesson, chatting about the theme and explaining the project, he always had his hand raised.
When the kids were working on their art pieces, I made a point each time to stop at his desk to admire and comment on his work, asking him to tell me about it. Simple enough. Just letting him know I see him, he matters, and what he does matters.
He was so proud each time. He would let me know he misses me, as often little kids do, but it was surprising to hear it from him. And each time, the amount of effort he put into each project improved.
Tell others. I share what I do only to point out how easy it can be, and that a small time commitment can really make a difference. There are so many places to get involved. I say pick one and setup a visit to see how it feels. After you get the hang of it, recruit friends. Tell them what its like.
Become a safety net
Kids desperately need positive connection with adults who are happy to see them and give them even a few moments of undivided attention.
Become a safety net for your children, and start sewing one for other children. You have no idea who much of a difference you could be for one child, hanging by a thread.