Quarantine Parenting Challenge #1: Make a Connection

Updated: May 26


Now this is what you call eye-contact.

If you're anything like me, you may be finding a lot of reasons to nag your children these days. Quarantine presents so many opportunities to argue over homework, chores or screen time, and too few opportunities to actually connect.


The problem with that, of course, is that the less connected we feel to our kids, the less likely they are to cooperate with us (in the short run) and share their lives with us (in the long run).


Plenty of us have gone out of our way to come up with "fun things" to do with our children. (Good on us!) Maybe some of those things have actually turned out fun. (Great!) Maybe they ended up being no fun at all. (Hey, we freaking tried!)


But the truth is: There is an easier, better way to bond with our kids than by manufacturing fun. It's a technique as simple as it is effective, and if you use it three times today — or tomorrow, or whenever you read this post — you will very likely find yourself feeling closer to your child than you have in a long while.


In ParentShift, we call this technique the GEM, an acronym for Genuine Endearing Moment.


The less connected we feel to our kids, the less likely they are to cooperate with us (in the short run) and share their lives with us (in the long run.)

What's a GEM?


The GEM is a sliver of undivided attention provided to your child without any sort of agenda or goal. It can last twenty seconds or longer, and it can be a happy or unhappy moment.


Plenty of us have gone out of our way to come up with "fun things" to do with our children. (Good on us!) Maybe some of those things have actually turned out fun. (Alright!) Maybe most ended up being no fun at all. (Hey, we freaking tried!)

  1. Just listen. Let your child guide the conversation with little or no talking from you. Use encouraging words or gestures that show a genuine interest. ("Cool!" or "Oh, wow!" or "No way!") No criticism. No disagreement. No advice. Just stay in the moment for as long as he wants.

Here's how it works:

  1. Get on the child's level. Whether he's on the couch, his bed, the floor or anywhere else, be sure you are at eye-level or below.

  2. Make eye contact. Your eyes are everything. Keeps yours on him.

  3. Try to feel what the child is feeling. Step outside of your feelings, and step into his.

  4. Physically connect. Touch his shoulder, hold his hand. Any gesture that feels natural to you and is welcomed by him. (If the child doesn't want physically contact, skip this step.)

  5. Be present without distraction. The mind is constantly chattering and judging, but turn down the volume on all of that and just give your kid all of your attention.

  6. Just listen. Let your child guide the conversation with little or no talking from you. Use encouraging words or gestures that show a genuine interest. ("Cool!" or "Oh, wow!" or "No way!") No criticism. No disagreement. No advice. Just stay in the moment for as long as he wants.

Here's a classic example. Your four-year-old comes to you with a worm she found in the garden. Instead of demanding she take that gross thing outside immediately, you come join her to take a closer look. You let her explain where she found it and what she likes about it.


Here's another example: Your 12-yer-old tells you about a dream she had last night, or about a new show she just discovered. Instead of continuing to do the dishes while half-ass listening, you shut off the faucet and really engage.


One last example: Your nine-year-old complains of boredom. Instead of telling him he has plenty of things to do in his room, you stop your work, turn toward him and empathize with him. "This pandemic is so hard, isn't it?" you might offer. Then you give him a few minutes to gripe and groan. You don't step in and solve his boredom (that's rescuing), but you try to remember how frustrating it was when you were bored as a kid and just sit with him in it. When he asks for suggestions, you throw out a few. But he eventually saunters off and, soon, is happily engaged in something else.


The Challenge


GEMS are focused attention, and it's incredibly helpful for kids during times of stress. (Pandemics qualify!) You are probably giving your children lots of near-GEMs already (GEM-Adjacents?), but for this challenge, you're going give your child at least three aware GEMS a day. Then, at the end of the day, ask yourself: Did it make a difference in how my day went?


Idea for a post? Shoot me an email anytime at parentshiftbook@gmail.com.

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