Self-care comes in many forms, and I think by now we all agree moms need it. It’s vital to our well-being which is vital to the well-being of our family. When you take time for self-care, your cup is being filled so your energy can pour out to those around you. Children have cups too, and those cups also need to be filled. But in the younger years, their cup-filling looks very different from ours – it looks like connection, interaction, play, wrestling, cuddling and more.
As moms and parents, it’s our responsibility to fill our children’s cups (literally, but metaphorically too). The beautiful thing about this is that when we take the time to do it, we’ll see an increase in independent play and receive that moment of peace we’ve been craving all day. Children have an inherent need for connection with us, and when that need is met, they feel more confident to explore on their own. Just like the variety of liquids we depend on throughout our day, there are many ways to meet your child’s need for connection.
We need water for hydration – they need eye level interaction. Play is a child’s work. It is how they learn about the world around them. Parent’s involvement in their child’s play is crucial to relationship-building, confidence-building and emotional stability. Sometimes it’s a passive version – I might sit on the floor and read while Miles plays with blocks for a few minutes. Eventually though, he will bring a book to me and we’ll read together. Or I’ll start playing with the block, too and soon enough we’re building together (and destroying together). Sometimes it looks like me sitting on the floor doing stretches and Miles copying me. This is one of my favorite activities, since yoga is such an important part of my life, I love being able to share the benefits with him. Many mornings we start our day with music and instruments and dancing. I sit on the floor and dance with him. Starting our day with connective play helps create a bond that lasts throughout the whole day. We are on the same level, literally and figuratively. Two worthwhile investments to help with these daily interactions are a floor chair, helping you get on their level without breaking your back, and a learning tower which brings them to your level and can be used in the kitchen while preparing food (getting chores done while connecting with your child is a win-win).
We need coffee for energy – they need rough play. Physical play like rough-housing is
invigorating, and actually shown to be important for children’s brain development. It helps to relieve stress – the child version of us going for a good run or workout at the gym. A great way to get in your daily dose of roughhousing is to take it outside. Roughhousing doesn’t have to mean wrestling on the floor or bed. It can be a game of chase in the park, or jungle gym play at the playground. The most important part is that you are involved.
We need a cup of warm tea for relaxation – they need calm, physical touch. Nursing is one way to make this connection, but it may look different for each family. When your child seems overwhelmed, overstimulated or is coming to the end of a long, independent play session, try offering a little cuddle session. Just a little way of saying “I’m here for you.” It’s their version of a long hug with your partner after an intense workday. They might refuse, and that’s okay. Some people would rather internalize those feelings. What’s important is the standing offer to connect in a calm, peaceful way. This can look like a short nursing session, a big hug, a calm dance while holding them and listening to quiet music. It could be perching them in front of you on a windowsill and quietly talking about what you see outside or reading a calm book to them while they sit in your lap. I find that after these cuddle sessions, children will often walk away with more energy and the willingness to continue with independent play.
Of course, there are always variations of normal depending on personalities and home life situations. To continue with the drink metaphor – you may enjoy chai while someone else enjoys black coffee, or iced cold water with lemon rather than room temperature water. You know your child best and can assess their needs based on their personalities and your daily routines. Sometimes the different ways of connecting can overlap. Taking a bath together in the evening can be really fun, eye-level interaction and also provide a calm, relaxing environment. Do what works for your family.
Another important thing to note: real connection happens when our phones and computers are away. When the tv is off. When we are mindful and present. It’s so easy to pretend to connect, by sitting on the floor alongside your child, staring at your phone screen. I am 100% guilty of this. But take a moment to consider this situation: you’re on a road trip with your best friend or partner, you’re in the driver’s seat, you’re favorite album is playing in the background and you’re so excited for this fun trip. But the entire time you’re driving, your friend is just scrolling through social media on her phone. Sometimes she looks up, but sometimes she completely ignores what you just said, absorbed in her own world. Connection is not happening, and in fact that road trip may actually damage your relationship rather than fortify it. Lets make a pact that we will start putting down the phone and looking our children in the eye while we play with them. (Besides, do you really need to read another post about Hillary and Trump?) If today was a bad day with too much screen time and not enough connection, don’t be hard on yourself – just set a purpose for tomorrow to be present and truly connect with your child.