By Jenny Baker
We’re that family. The ones who like running. We’ll run anywhere, the city, the forest or even on a treadmill. It’s something we’ve done since our college days and now our kids are joining the adventure and WE FREAKING LOVE IT. Luci, our 9-year-old, asked to run cross country last year and we didn’t just say yes, we jumped on that horse and rode it into the sunset, cheering the whole way. It wasn’t because we want Luci to love running as we do, it’s because of the opportunity a shared interest gives us to connect with her.
Connection with our kids (and any other human) means feeling known. It’s where our hopes, fears, and thoughts are heard and valued by another. I believe it to be THE most powerful factor in our ability to positively impact our kids and for me, it all comes down to the habits of time, talk, and touch.
Hard to forget, no.
Connection requires time. Whether that’s finding a shared activity like cross-country or snuggling in bed at night, I try to make sure I’m giving my kids time. There’s no task more important than building a relationship. As they get older, I want a trusting connection with them so conversations about ALL things (even the awkward sex stuff) happen. This requires daily investments. Connection trumps production…which sounds nice but can be exhausting. Finding activities we all enjoy gives us an already established space. Does your family get jazzed about cooking? Then do it together! Enjoy biking? Then plan to ride a few times a week. Laundry and yardwork can even be leveraged! Use already created habits as time to connect.
And while time is good, it can be lacking unless I add talk. If you’re like me at least one of your kids never. stops. talking. which can make this step feel ridiculous. But conversation is different than a kid’s daily musings and becomes a necessary part of connection. It can be easier to ask our kids for a daily report than talk about how these events made them think about or feel. These emotion and thought questions give my kids permission to share more deeply while giving me a glimpse of their heart and character. Feeling questions are the best conduit to meaningful connection. They break through reciting “right” answers and invite my kids to honest sharing...which, no matter how ridiculous, I’ll take any day over false “correctness.”
So time and talk are helpful but the real key that'll seal the deal on all things connection is touch. *Deep sigh for all the parents with babies who are touched out...you got this!* Last week, Luci came in from a fun afternoon of play and we immediately noticed a horrible smell following her...she freaking stunk. My sweet 9-year-old smelled like the captain of a fishing boat and sadly, her Daddy didn’t handle it well. Franklin literally held his arm out and like a football player, stiffed-armed her. Not his finest moment he later admitted. With physical rejection, her emotional wall went up, hard. She backed away, rolled her eyes and made a seething remark about how gross he often is. As she walked to the shower it was apparent the trust connection had been damaged.
Countless research has shown how deeply important physical touch is for a kid's development. It’s also shown how damaging withholding affection can be. Words carry weight but the physical assurance of love and care, creates feelings of safety. Meaningful connection happens when our kids believe their needs are met, physically, AND emotionally.
When Luci came back from the much-needed shower, her heart was still hardened towards Franklin. Everything he said was returned with a short and smart ass answer…until he walked over and gave her a tight bear hug. I could see her physically relax in his arms. Touch brought them back together and reminded her of his deep love. My kids need physical touch to foster meaningful trust.
Time, talk and touch aren’t magical words but are powerful tools. They can be done all together in a matter of minutes and have deep meaning and monumental impact. When I run with Luci, it’s all of those things wrapped into one delicious relational burrito. We laugh, cry, and gasp for air together. At the end of our time, we high-five and hug. Our hearts are for one another and she believes she’s loved without measure. In those moments she listens to me and I’ll never take for granted the gift of her soft heart. It’s a precious and sacred connection that deserves to be stewarded well.
Jenny Baker is a mountain mama of two who hauls her own trash to the dump and would rather play outside than clean her house.