Teaching Kids & Teens How to Connect with Others – Outside Their Digital World

Teaching Kids How to Connect - Outside Their Digital World

We live in a digital world, and though the digital age and the world of social media has brought great opportunities, it has also meant fewer opportunities to connect face to face. We email, text, shop, book holidays, fall in love, and maintain friendships online. It’s where our world is headed, and although in many ways this has opened our world up phenomenally, it’s more important than ever to be deliberate in teaching our kids the importance of the other type of connection – the one that doesn’t happen through wi-fi.

Kids will learn by watching and picking up what’s around them. They’ll experiment with how to do things and will learn by trial and error. Same as we did. The more deliberate we can be in teaching them social skills and nurturing their capacity to connect, the more their experimentation will be safe and enriching for them.

We can’t make their friendships for them, but we can give them vital skills so they can do this for themselves. All children start out as being self-centred. It’s important for their development and figuring where they fit in to the world. We started out that way too. Eventually though, they have to move this awareness to outside of themselves and notice the world and the people around them. 

As with any behaviour the healthiest way of being allows for freedom of movement and flexibility between the extremes. We don’t always want our children to connect – not all relationships and friendships will be good for them and it’s important that they are able to recognise and act on this. At the same time though, they need to be able to extend warmly and openly into the world when it is good for them. Healthy living is knowing the difference, and then knowing how to respond. Here are some ways to guide them along.

  1. Tolerate Difference? Nah. Enjoy it.

    It’s easy to connect with like-minded people, but sometimes the people who have the greatest capacity to open us up have vastly different experiences and world views to the ones we know. It not just about ‘tolerating’ differences, it’s also about finding ways to connect with them and enjoy them. Let them see you appreciating and connecting with the differences in others. Show them that there are plenty of great things that exist outside of what they know for sure. 

  2. Interested people are interesting people.

    Showing interest forges connections and can lead to wonderfully unexpected things. Invite their curiosity about the new kid in class, the kids on their team, the one in the corner at the party. Plant little seeds for them, ‘I wonder what the new girl used to do at lunchtime at her old school.’ ‘I wonder why the goalie likes being the goalie.’ Someone who shows interest will always be more interesting than the person who demands it. 

  3. Shhhh. Let them speak.

    Give them space to explore their minds and to feel what it’s like to be fully attended to. It’s so easy to listen to them ‘almost’ fully. Sometimes when they speak, let them be the only thing you notice.  Having someone fully engaged while your mind wanders is a beautiful thing to feel. Show them how it feels, to show them how it’s done. 

  4. Let them see you take a stand.

    Part of engaging with the world fully means knowing when not to. Let them see you resist situations or people sometimes and when you are able to, be clear about the reason. It’s an important lesson that they don’t have to connect with everyone or like everyone, but if they are going to pull away, they need to do it respectfully and not for the sake of it or just because the person is different. Part of connecting also means connecting with themselves, particularly their own intuition and the part of them that bristles when something isn’t right. 

  5. Making the right connections.

    Sometimes they won’t know why something feels bad, and that’s okay – we adults are no different. These bad feelings are important and will keep them safe, but they can also get in the way of potentially nourishing connections. It’s important to make sure the bad feelings are connected to the immediate situation, and not to a previous memory or experience. If they can’t articulate the why, help them to expand the what. ‘I can see something doesn’t feel right for you. Can you talk to me a little more about that? What feels bad? What do you think of (when this situation or person comes up)? What do you feel physically? What does it remind you of?’ This will validate their position and help them to understand more about what they’re feeling. It will also help to separate whether it is a genuine no-go, or whether the situation or person is stirring feelings or memories of something else that has nothing to do with the immediate situation. If their response seems to be triggered by a past event encourage them to notice what is different about this one. It’s a good opportunity to teach them how memories and previous experiences can intrude on the present, and why it is important to check things out.

  6. Gently ease their mind open.

    Encourage their opinions, even if they are different to your own. Hear them out and give them a place to speak and experiment with difference and diversity. Show them how to open up to other people and other opinions by opening up to theirs.

  7. Let them see beauty in all its versions.

    When we see or experience beauty, in any form, we connect with it – whether it’s in nature, music, art and importantly, people. Beautiful was never meant to mean perfect. Beauty is flawed, different, fascinating, unconventional, quirky, interesting, spirited, non-conforming, rough, ragged. These things are in all of us, but we differ in combinations and quantities. Set their lens to a diverse definition of ‘beautiful’ by pointing it out when you see it – the strengths in people and the different ways people look, do, relate, be. It will expand their willingness to connect and make their connections richer and more diverse. Children will borrow our lens. What we see, they will see too. 

  8. Make praise feel normal – giving and receiving.

    Be quick to praise them, and let them see you praising others. Encourage them to do the same, perhaps by having a dinner table ritual where once or twice a week everyone says something they appreciate about each other. Don’t overdo it though. Give praise when it’s deserved, but don’t throw it around like confetti when it hasn’t really been earned. Praise stops meaning something when it’s given without meaning.

  9. Encourage the detail.

    Encourage them to remember names and special things about people – favourite things, the things they don’t like, the funny things they do. Information can fuel a connection – the more you find out about someone, the easier it is to connect. 

  10. Boost their emotional vocabulary.

    The greater their capacity to recognise and name their emotions, the greater their capacity to recognise it and see it in others and respond accordingly. Notice what they or others might be feeling and name what you see, but give them room to disagree with your observations. ‘You seem frustrated.’ ‘That person looks very determined.’ Do this in real life, and when you’re reading books together or watching a movie.

  11. Build empathy.

    Expand their awareness of other people and what those others might be feeling by encouraging them to look from a different point of view. This will help them to be more responsive to situations and people. When they tell you about something that has happened, coach them with how to respond without forcing them, and encourage a different point of view… ‘What do you think she was feeling when that happened?’ ‘What do you think would have been a nice thing to happen next?’ ‘How would you feel if that happened to you?’ ‘If that was you, what could someone say to help you feel better?’ 

  12. They are important, but so is everyone else.

    We want our kids to know how amazing they are and how important they are to us, but without fostering the view that they are more important, more deserving or more entitled than anyone else. Arrogance is the enemy of connection. Nurture their open, warm hearts and their capacity to connect and be seen, by encouraging them to see the strengths and the goodness in others as well as themselves.

Being able to connect with people is something that might come easier to some than others, but the skills can always be learned. For that, it takes deliberate teaching and we, as parents, grandparents, carers, teachers, are in a powerful position to do that. Relationships are such an important part of life and that being able to initiate and maintain healthy ones is a vital life skill. All children have different ways of learning, but the ones they will learn the most from are the adults around them. As those adults, we are the ones who get to watch these small humans grow into amazing adults. Our role isn’t only from the sidelines – we have the privileged and vital role of guiding and nurturing them along the way.

[irp posts=”6202″ name=”How to Nurture Empathy in Children”]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow Hey Sigmund on Instagram

Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
⁣
But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
⁣
When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
⁣
But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
⁣
What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
⁣
In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
⁣
#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

Pin It on Pinterest