Connection with Your Child Can Change Everything
November 1, 2021
[Kyle]: Hello and welcome to episode five on The Art of Raising Humans podcast. I’m your host Kyle Wester.
[Sara]: And I’m Sara Wester.
[Kyle]: And today we wanted to talk about one of the basic foundations of parenting and, basically, just being human, and we want to discuss the power of connection. So, Sara, when you think about the power of connection, what comes to your mind?
[Sara]: Connection to me is the foundation of a relationship. As we were talking about before the podcast, I was thinking, just pause for a moment and put someone in your mind that you feel truly connected with.” It could be a good friend, it could be a spouse, a mother, a sibling, whatever, just think about how that relationship feels, how you feel so connected and heard and then, think about someone you don't feel connected to and it could be someone you should feel connected to. Again, a parent or someone in your life that you should feel connected to, but that connection just isn't there, and were today going to talk about that feeling of connection, how it is the foundation. How when we are wired, humans are wired for belonging, for being in relationship and connection is that foundational piece to relationship, it's what trust comes from, it's what if you listen to someone, if they can really be in your life, an influence in your life, it's because you feel connected and there's a trust there.
[Kyle]: Yeah, I know, I felt kind of bad when I was writing down the topics of these podcasts we wanted to cover and I was thinking, “wow, we did some great stuff in those first four podcasts, but we haven't talked about probably the basic thing, which is connection”, you know? And so, I thought we really needed to cover that this episode, because anytime a family comes and asks for help or needs some help with coaching or anything, any kind of problems they're having with their kid, the very first thing we talk about is connection. How are you connecting with your kid? I know-- I didn't really know what that looked like, I mean, I knew what it looked like dating, when I was dating you and I knew how to connect with you, but it was different connecting with the kid, even though it's the same, you know? I mean, can you speak to how it's kind of different and the same? How is it the same connecting to another adult, but also, how does it look different for a kid? I mean, how was it for you as you were figuring out how to connect with the kids as we had them?
[Sara]: Well, I had the fortunate opportunity to work with some kids prior to having kids and learning a lot about what that looked like. I always-- the word that comes to my mind for it is attunement. I think when you're connecting to any human, it's because you're really listening to them and you're really-- you're attuned to them. You're attuned to their feelings, their way of being and I think we've all had that in our life, where there was somebody, a relationship where you could just feel this flow between you and this trust between you and so, I think it's the same with a child and with someone you're dating or a best friend. There's this attunement that happens where you just know each other, you can say things to each other, even hard things to each other, but because of that level of connection, that level of attunement, those things are heard different. Instead of it breeding hostility or resentment or-- those things can actually bring closeness, and when you think about connecting them to a child, that's more-- to me, it's my responsibility. There's a part the child will play and as they get older, they play more of a role, but it's first my responsibility to attune to that baby, and that child, and that adolescent, that teenager, as they go on and that's-- I’m talking and talking, I want to give you a chance to say stuff, but I feel like it's my role first to attune to them, to build that relationship, to approach them in connection.
[Kyle]: I’m glad you brought that up, because as you were saying that about the babies, I remember thinking “I am pretty good at connecting with adults”, but I had this mindset that connecting with babies was different, it was so foreign and I saw you do it and it was so easy for you to connect with the babies and if you remember, I stunk at it, I wasn't very good at all. I almost had this kind of mindset that, I think is typical sometimes with a lot of dads and I’m sure there's some other dads who are much more amazing than I am, don't think like this, but it was almost like I had a mindset that, you're really good at this from like, zero to two, maybe even up to three and then once they can walk and talk and move around, I’ll connect with them then and, of course, the research shows something quite different, that it's very important not only for the mom to build that connection with all the wonderful ways moms do, but it's really important for the dad to get in there and to help with that and I unfortunately I look back and I think just because of a lack of confidence, a lack of skills, I didn't really insert myself into that more so with our second. I probably started a little earlier with him and then even earlier more so with our third, right? But it was because by our third I was like “hey, I need to be part of this connection process as early as possible”.
[Kyle]: And too often I felt left out, I felt incompetence. You know, it wasn't your side at all, but it's more like, I didn't know how to feed them, I didn't know how to hold them and as I got confident, as I started to do it with our middle, and then I was like “wait, this is actually kind of fun” and then what was neat about it is, through the connection, like you said, it not only built trust, but it built understanding. I felt like I could read their cues better, I feel like when they were upset I kind of understood why better, how to come up, because each kid's so different on how you maybe you comfort them when they're sad and so, I felt so much more empowered to be their dad because I connected to them much earlier.
[Sara]: Yeah, I think that is very common, I think dads feel that probably more often than moms, but I think we all-- you have that baby and that's where I’m just so thankful for the opportunity to learn, as much as I learned then when I had the baby. There was still so much more to learn when you're holding that little tiny baby and you're just looking into their eyes and you're thinking “all right, I’m supposed to take you home now” and you think “okay, feed, clothes…” but there is so much more to it from the time-- even before they're born, you can start that connection process. Just the eye contact, the holding, the touching, we're gonna get to how to connect, but that starts very, very early and with that foundation, it just builds and builds and builds and there's going to be breaks in connection along their lifespan and in any relationship there's breaks, but if you have those, you know how to go back and repair that broken connection, repair that connection and keep moving forward.
[Kyle]: You said something that sounded-- doesn't sound weird to me now, but probably years ago it sounded weird. How do you connect with them before they're born? What are you talking about? [Laughter] Let's share that.
[Sara]: Well, I feel like that might be a lot to get into in this podcast.
[Kyle]: Just simply, just touch upon it, how would you have done that?
[Sara]: By-- It's my singing to my belly, my baby. Feeling my baby, those feelings that are in me as I’m doing those things, that builds the connection on my side before that baby's even born, but they now, they used to think babies they couldn't even see when they're in the womb, they're basically a blob, but they know that babies when they're born, they already know their mom's voice, they know some voices around them. They respond to music, they respond to light, they're already forming memories and those things all happen before they're even born. They know their mother's smell, they can hold-- there's videos you can find on YouTube where when a baby is first born, if you just hold them and the mother speaks and some other person speaks, the baby will turn towards the mother, it already knows the mother's voice and that's all foundation, that's all connection and that sense of “I know you, we are together, we are in a relationship” and that starts before they're born and you want to build that.
[Kyle]: You know, my dad brain, my male brain says “yeah, I can understand the connection because it's in you, it's part of you like, what you eat it, it gets”, but I remember with our oldest, connection to me looked like “hey, look, her foot is sticking out of your belly. This is crazy! look at this thing pushing!” [Laughter] And so, since I couldn't feel the baby in me, you know, all I could do was see these moments where you said “look, look this". It would be like, for me, especially with our oldest it was just like “that's weird, that's crazy” [Laughter]. Now, as we had more, I understood better what you're saying, I mean, obviously it's not an experience I’m ever going to have, you know? It's something that only you got to share with them, it's a neat connection that you have with them, but I definitely thought “I wish I would have inserted myself more in those moments”. Maybe some of the singing like you're talking about, being close, instead of just seeing it as something that's growing and then someday will come out and I’ll engage it at that point, you know?
[Kyle]: And I think also what it helped with, I mean, just talking about the brain science. It also helped wire my brain more towards them, more for them. The earlier I connected with them, the more I felt bonded to them and attached to them, right? And so, then it was it was less about my brain being absent from their brain and like, we were just two separate human beings with brains, instead as I got connected, especially with Ellie, earlier when she was waking in the middle of the night and beginning to soothe her and getting to hold her and rock her and sing over her. See how upset she was and learning how to calm her down, it was like, I was getting attuned with almost like the music of who she is like, the sound of what makes her, you know? Which is really, really cool.
[Sara]: Well, I think that's-- you said it when you said “wiring your brain to her”. So, regardless of the other person in the relationship, we make choices that wire our brains for that person, for that relationship and that it's not just the baby learning you or your child learning “that's beautiful, that's amazing, just blows my mind”, but it's me wiring my brain for this child, for this relationship and I don't care if they're 18 or 8 months old, you can choose that, you can choose to wire your brain and how you think about your child, the thoughts you have, the beliefs you have. Are you looking for the ways that they're wonderful and amazing and loving, are you looking for the ways they're messing up. That's wiring your brain for that relationship, that's wiring your brain for that connection and that is your choice and that's-- I think a really powerful thing we can do as parents, we can wire our brains for how we see this child, this human and it will impact to them, they'll respond to that.
[Sara]: They can pick up on that, even if it's this unsaid thing, we know it feels different to be in a room with someone who really believes in you or in a room with someone who is looking for you to mess up or really wants to believe in you, but just thinks “oh, you know, this person, they just keep messing up” and that's something we can own and we can do now, to help make that ability to make a connection more successful, more probable, more going in that direction.
[Kyle]: Well, it makes me think of-- even the power of when a kid walks in the room. I think something you know I’ve always tried to be intentional about. I haven't always done it well, but when they walk in a room, I want them to know I’m excited that they're in the room. I don't jump up and down and cheer their name, but they will see me smile. I want to connect with them, I want to touch them, I want to give them a high five, I want to ask them what's going on, right? And it just becomes a normal thing, because I felt like I liked that. If I walked into a room and you smiled when I walked in the room, I’d be like “okay, that's kind of cool, I like being married to you”, you know?
[Sara]: You don't even need to do a whole lot. You just light up a little, that’s all.
[Kyle]: I think so many times kids walk in a room and, at minimum, there's no recognition at all, like the room is no different and I just didn't want that for our kids. I wanted them when they walked into the room, that they knew they had value, that they knew they were seen and so, it's just been something that we've done and going back to what you're saying how it impacts me, is then I found myself; because we'll get into this another podcast. A problem I have is, I can yell, I can get mad, anger is an emotion I can access pretty quickly and I found when I was really highly connected to the kids, it just was harder to get so mad [Laughter] Because I was more for them, instead of being more for me, fighting for what I wanted and how things were inconvenient or bothering me at that time. Instead, if I was connected to them, I did seem to have more understanding. I was more able to see things from their point of view, because we spent time bonding, connecting, you know? Interacting with each other and so, I thought that was the most powerful impact for me.
[Sara]: Yeah, you can see their triggers, you can see people behave for a reason, whatever that be. If that behavior is loving, if that behavior is hurting someone else or hurting something else, that behavior has a motivation, has something behind it and when you're in tune with your child and you're in tune with someone, then you more quickly get to the place of knowing where that behavior is coming from and then, you can move on from there. You can learn, you can grow, you can help them and it makes guiding them in a direction a lot easier, when you can speak to that instead of just speaking to a behavior. You're speaking to their heart and they feel that, they know that, that's what connection and attunement brings.
[Kyle]: Yeah. So, what's some intentional ways you do to connect with the kids? I know sometimes we talk about we don't always do this religiously, you know, but we definitely, if there's a lot of conflict and a lack of cooperation, which that's really what we're wanting to see, right? We want to see us be able to work cooperatively, you know? I’m actually-- You know I’m big on this, I’m not big on raising obedient kids or complying kids, not because obedience is bad or even compliance is bad, it's just I think the word cooperation to me is just much more-- speaks much more to what I’m wanting with the kid, which is I want us to work together. I actually like the idea of us hand in hand, us co-creating something together and so, one way we do that, if we feel like there's been a lot of conflict, a lot of tension or like a lack of us, then we go spend some one-on-one time with them, right?
[Kyle]: So, we intentionally pick a time to go with each kid and we do stuff. It's not expensive stuff, we don't go out and go to like, Dave & Buster’s or other-- Not to say we never would do that, but we just don't make that a priority, it's more about maybe we're going to play a game together. I know lately Abby’s been saying she wants to play with certain figures that she has and she goes “that's what I want to do” and we do it. So, the kids will start planning certain things they want to do with us when they get that one-on-one time and I said we try to be pretty good about doing at least monthly, you know? But I would encourage families where there's a lot of conflict and when we've had more tense moments of trying to do it weekly. If you can get that weekly, that'd be phenomenal! If you could make a schedule where weekly we're spending about 30 minutes to an hour one-on-one with each kid, you will see and we have seen such a traumatic change in the dynamics in those moments. But what's some things that you would say, on top of that, the ways you can intentionally connect?
[Sara]: Well, along those lines, I even look for just little opportunities of connection. For example, today you took our older two kids and went and got lunch and it just left me and Ellie home and so, I thought-- She asked to watch a show and I thought “no, let's just--” She and I we call it a chat and “let's have a chat” and that's where we just sit down and I just get to the heart of how, you know, what's she loving right now. We had gone to the pumpkin patch, so we talked about that; it was just this moment. So, looking for those little moments, maybe you don't have an hour, but you can look for 10 minutes, you can look for 20 minutes, where I was fully focused on her. I had nothing else going on, my phone wasn't in my hand, I wasn't making any-- cooking lunch or something like that, I just sat with her and so, I think that eye contact, that full attention on someone, makes them feel just “wow, you are completely focused on me”. So, I think even the big moments, the little moments, looking for those times to just be fully present with them.
[Kyle]: Well, when you're saying that, I like those times too, that's why I like going on dates with you, is because we can spend that one-on-one time together and it's such a common thing that any marriage counsel would tell a couple. If they're having a lot of conflict between each other, if you and I are feeling disconnected, typically we know that because we're having a lot more like, “I’m just getting annoyed at little things”. There's constant misunderstandings between us and we'll go, “when was the last time we spent some time together? Oh, it's been a several weeks, we probably need to make that a priority” and then once we do, it's like “oh, I start seeing those same things differently”, you know? But that's what I liked a lot about Dr. Becky Bailey when she talks about connection and she talks about four integral parts of connection, that I always encourage parents to do and I know you and I try to do it intentionally. We're doing it because it was just so powerful like, it's one thing to spend time with somebody and connect with them, but I like how Becky Bailey talks about exponentially increasing the joy juice between each other through four things.
[Kyle]: So, you do it through touch, you do it through eye contact, you're present and you're playful and I remember when I saw that, I don't know if you thought about this, Sara, but when I saw that at the conference I thought “wait, when I’m really mad at Sara, I actually don't do any of those”. [Laughter] I actually don't want to make eye contact, I’m distracted by my phone more, I’m definitely not present, I’m not touching, I’m not reaching over and grabbing her hand or rubbing her back and I’m definitely not playful, I’m kind of just annoyed and irritated and I think “wait! That's the same thing I do with the kids too when I’m mad at them!”. I can feel my anger take those four things away and then, I think it's funny too, that kids love things like wrestling and rough housing. They love things like being tickled, they love things like cuddling, you know, these kind of ways-- especially when they're young, they love these ways of connection, because they don't even know it, but it exponentially increases the joy juice between you.
[Sara]: Yeah, yeah, I love those four things. When I remember you coming back and talking about those four things and that's exactly-- When we're present with someone, we're connected with someone, those things just flow, that's what's happening and that's-- I notice, even when our kids when-- I don't know if you ever, you just notice your child is edgy, they seem really irritated, they're picking on their brother or sister or they're just easily irritated or if-- And that's the first thing I think, is “whoa, let's dial this back”. I don't address the behavior or I don't-- If I’m saying “I need you to do this”, I just drop that for a second and I just quickly go back to those things and try to check in with my child. I’m thinking “something is going on, something is-- they're stressed about something, they didn't get enough sleep. Maybe they're just hungry, maybe is something small”, but that's the first thing I go to is, “whoa, we've got to dial, go over, get close to them hug them, you know, make eye contact, check in, see what's going on”.
[Sara]: Not in some big “wow, you're so irritated today”. Maybe, but just bring it back to connection our relationship and then, start moving towards that thing again that you needed done.
[Kyle]: Right and I think you're really good at that, I think you're great about-- especially at night time, you know? So, a lot of parents wonder why their kids open up at night, you know? And they start talking about all this stuff that happen, I think it's typically because the connection, you know? They have this uninterrupted time where you're focused on them and it's safe to face those with you and so, I think you're great about that. If you see that with any of the kids, I notice sometimes, I’ll be like “where's Sara? What's she doing? I thought we were going to watch a show tonight” [Laughter] And then you'll come back and say “I feel like I really needed to connect with Brennan more, Abby more” and I’ll be “okay, I guess that sounds like a good idea, I’m glad you did that” [Laughter] And you'll typically get some real gold out of those moments, right?
[Kyle]: We'll really learn a lot, not only will you learn it, but they'll learn it about them, you know?
[Kyle]: And so, that's where I wanted to add upon this, is that connection is as much for us, you know? Like, sometimes when I’m talking to parents and you are too, parents will find it really hard to do this connection stuff, because maybe there's so much conflict all throughout the day, you know? Like things are so negative at home, it's hard for them to even find a sweet moment like we're talking about. So, a lot of times what I’ll encourage them to do and I’ve done this myself is, just at night when they're sleeping, go look at their cute little faces, you know? That can be connection, it can be just walking in and when most kids when they're asleep, they look really, really sweet and cute. So, you just go in and you just stare at them and spend a few minutes, just filling your tank full of gratitude, that you get to parent this kid. I’ve even had times when maybe I’m struggling with the connection, I’ve done it just in the car. I’ve purposely thought about my child, thought about the fun moments we've had, thought about the positive interactions we've had and I filled up the connection that way, because I’m needing to remind myself that this is a gift. I’ve been given a gift, this is an opportunity that I want to take advantage of, I really want to own and so, lots of times I’m being too short-sighted and so, just thinking about the kid, remembering those moments, that's something any parent can do.
[Kyle]: I mean, after drop off at school, they could stop and think “oh, just so glad I get to parent that kid”. So, is there any other little moment like that maybe you do, that's separate from the kids or anything that pops in your mind?
[Sara]: Oh yeah, I’ve heard you say before “make a list of what you love about your child” and I like that. I think sometimes we need to have those five things, either written down or do we just know them in our head, but those are the five you go back to. “This is my child; this is what I love about this human here” and I do it a lot when I-- if they're playing or they're just doing something they love and they're just being them and I just will watch them for a few minutes and just soak that in.
[Sara]: And I think, when we do that, it changes us, right? So, the next time I’m interacting with my child, they'll feel that a little bit. They'll feel that shift in you because you're not as on edge and they can sense that. When you come with that warmth or your face is kind of lit up at seeing them, they look up from what they're doing, they see you just looking at them with that, it will soften them. Then we get into mirror, neurons and stuff like that, but we won't go down that road today, but it builds that connection. So, those are a couple moments that I do that I love.
[Kyle]: I did want to add that, yeah. Something that we ask the parents to do is to write down five things that they just love about their child. Dive unique things and I encourage them to take on the challenge of daily, for 30 days in a row looking at those five every morning and just spend a minute and just soak it in, meditate upon those five things and just feel yourself be more grateful to be this parent and then, notice how it changes those interactions, but on that note, I was thinking too. One thing I forgot to add on this as I was taking the notes was, even the connection between you and I, in every night getting into the habit of connecting together about the kids. Instead of like coming together and just “oh, good, they're asleep, thank goodness we can watch a show”. Instead, it's like “let's come together, how was it today with the kids?”, right? And then, sometimes it was about us encouraging each other, sometimes it was about us disagreeing on how something was handled, but the intent was, I want the kids whether they know it or not, whether they're sleeping, because they don't see these times we’re together, they will feel it, that you and I are together, that we are connected on what it means to love and parent these kids. That too often in marriages, the because of the time and the pressure and all the moving around and dropping kids off everywhere, they aren't connecting anymore and pretty soon the tension in the marriage increases and the conflicts get bigger because they're not connecting anymore as a couple.
[Kyle]: And I think you and I determined early on we were going to intentionally, actually use that stuff from the kids as ways to connect, to get closer, because this this stuff with the kids is growing us and changing us and I have found I have grown more in love with you and know you even better than I ever would have without these kids, and that's the point, that these kids were supposed to be an outcome of us coming together and wanting to take the love we had and increase and give it to the world, right? And so, through the conflicts and all the conversations, I have grown as a person. You got to witness it and I got to witness your growth as well through.
[Sara]: Yeah, having children it's going to change us one way or another; let's decide how it's going to change us. It's going to impact our relationship; it's going to impact everything about us. So, we are growing, we're just like, we're raising humans, we are still developing as humans and we can decide how that's going to go, be intentional about it.
[Kyle]: So, I hope this podcast today gives you some ideas about how to connect closer as a couple, more deeply with your kids, because it's a vital part. Without the connection you're going to find it very difficult. I found it very difficult personally, to really see myself as for my kids, rather than against them and to really understand and especially going in the teenage years, to be able to communicate with them. We really want to be highly connected so I understand their language. So many of the kids I talk to that are teenagers say “my parents don't understand me” and almost every time it's because they are not connecting with their kids, okay? So, we want to remind you to please go and rate the podcast, we'd love your comments. We'd love anything that will help this podcast reach more families, we'd love you to share it; all those ways are really helpful to us. I also want to remind you on our website www.parentinglegacy.com. We have courses available, so we have two different courses that that we put together, one is called “How to stop power struggles and resolve conflict” and the other one is “All about understanding your teenager better”.