How to Connect With a Disconnected Child

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 ust the other day, while dining at the restaurant and waiting for the waitress to come back with the check, I noticed  a family of four sitting across  my table and waiting for their meal. They were just a couple of feet apart from each other. Yet, all four of them were busy checking their phones. What may seem like just “killing time” as a technology distraction until their meals arrived was really a lost opportunity for making family connection.

1. Do Not Allow Any Electronic Devices At The Dinner Table

Dinner is a time for spending quality family time together, while not only enjoying a meal, but also everyone’s company. It is a time to catch up on the day’s events and allow each person to express their joys, concerns, frustrations, excitement, and whatever else is going on in their lives.

Keep it simple during meal time and have a designated area for any electronic devices. In addition to being a distraction away from quality family time, it is also very unsanitary to have phones and other devices around the area you eat. Research has shown that cell phones are much dirtier than most people realize. Scientists at the University of Arizona have found that cell phones carry 10 times more bacteria than most toilet seats. Studies have found serious pathogens on cell phones, including Streptococcus, MRSA, and E. coli.1 Considering the fact that many people travel to the bathroom with their phones increases the exposure to having all of these microbes on the phone.

2. Listen To Understand Not To Reprimand

It is easy to have that knee jerk reaction with a child and want to impart your two cents of wisdom when they open their mouths. However, The Golden Rule to remember with kids is that they want to feel understood and that they are being heard. When we allow children  to speak their minds freely without fear of judgment, they feel valued and empowered and are more willing to share with you what is really on their minds.

One tip to keep the conversation going is that instead of replying right away to your child, take a moment to ask them a question or repeat back what they said to you. Acknowledging that your child’s words matter to you and that you are interested in what they have to say will go along way, especially as their issues become more serious and of higher stakes as they get older.

3. Do Family Activities That Require Everyone To Be Present

I see it every day with the students I teach at school. The kids are outside on the blacktop with their earbuds and headphones on, scrolling through their phones and texting their friends. Their level of awareness to their surrounding environment and each other is minimal and has taken a backseat for their need to “stay connected.” How ironic!

Maybe this is a sign of the times that shows how much technology has infiltrated into our waking moments. However, this does not have to be the be-all and end-all for how things become with you and your child.

My advice: Make it a priority to do a family activity as often as possible throughout the week that involves little to no technology. Designate a specific time to take a walk together, have a catch, play a board game, or do something creative that doesn’t involve electronic device usage. Keep it fun and interactive and let your child come up with a game that gets the whole family involved. I personally love Bananagrams – the anagram game that drives all family bananas – in a good and fun way!

4. Set The Household Guidelines For Technology Use

As a parent, you are the head of your household and the one in charge of making the rules. Like it or not, technology is an integral part of our society nowadays. I can tell you that overly restricting your child access to technology can send a message that technology is something to fear or that it is a bad thing that may have the reverse effect to what you are trying to accomplish. Instead, teach your child moderation by setting a limit on technology use and uphold your rules. The sooner you set limits and enforce them regularly, the easier it will be for your children to develop healthy habits toward using technology, in general.

As it is important to monitor the length of time a child uses technology, it is equally (if not more) important to teach children about appropriate use of technology. From an early age, discuss the importance of being respectful toward others and their privacy. Communicate how their actions leave a digital permanence that can follow them as they get older. Encourage them to speak up and stand against cyberbullying, as its effect on a child’s psyche and mental health can be quite profound and long-lasting.

In my new book, The Ultimate Guide to Raising Teens and Tweens, I provide parents with the tools and strategies to effectively communicate with their children and make a deep connection for a lifetime and how to prevent and best address the problems that affect teens and tweens.

For a complete guide to help you and your family’s overall well-being, from all things healthy home to eating, moving, sleeping, and thinking well strategies, grab a free copy of my 25-page WHOLE LOTTA LIVING GUIDE here.

To Making That Connection!

Sources:

1 Kõljalg, Siiri, et al. “High Level Bacterial Contamination of Secondary School Students’ Mobile Phones.” Germs, Asociația Pentru Creşterea Vizibilității Cercetării Ştiințifice (ACVCS), 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5466825/.

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