Patty was sitting in the living room reading a magazine when her 10-year-old daughter, Lynn, burst into the room. Patty looked up and noticed that Lynn had chocolate around her mouth and said, “Honey, please be sure to wipe your hands and face after eating.” To her surprise, Lynn exclaimed, “Mom! All you ever do is find something wrong!” and stormed out the room. Patty sat speechless as she remembered telling her daughter earlier that day that she had done a good job on her math test, that she was proud of her making the school play and thanked her for being on time at school pick up. Why didn’t any of those positive comments sink in, but the one negative one did?
Children are wrapped up in a very active process of growing and developing. They are constantly changing from minute to minute as the cells in their bodies make them bigger and their brains form new connections that increase their abilities to understand the world around them. This constant evolution of their very beings is in competition with what is happening around them. Especially in the pre-adolescence and adolescent years, many children are more aware of these changes and turn inwardly as part of the normal developmental process. This can mean that it is harder for parents to be heard and their children tend to feel more isolated.
Additionally, all the distractions that come from the Internet, smart phones, and constant stimulation can distract kids from hearing what you are saying. When pre-teens and teens are looking at their phones or computers, they are only partially aware of what is going on around them. Social media is a modern change in how adolescents connect, but the innate need to feel loved and attached remains the same.
You can offset these developmental obstacles and technological distractions to communicating with your children by tapping into something that is hardwired into every individual, regardless of age. Human are born to respond to touch. When a child is touched, the brain is stimulated in various areas that create lasting pathways. By using a loving touch, parents can reach through the noise inside their child and connect with them on a deep and meaningful level that they will literally feel with their body and spirit. Here is the basic recipe; feel free to add your own personal touch:
1. Say your child’s name to get their attention.
2. Look at them in the eye while you speak.
3. Give them a gentle hug or soft caress during the exchange.
4. Added benefit: Recognize them in front of other people.
That’s it! It is that simple. Here is an example of how this may look in action during dinner:
Mom says, “Lynn, I noticed that you emptied the dishwasher before dinner and set the table. Thank you for helping me get dinner ready. It was a big help to me after a long day at work. Your contribution to the family means a lot (hug around the shoulders). I love you.”
When you praise your child and touch them, their neurons connect in a different way than when you just speak to them. With touch the message goes deeper and literally feels good to them. Use this technique to help you connect more profoundly with your children and build a solid, trusting relationship.
Gentsch, A., Panagiotopoulou, E., & Fotopaoulou, A. (2015). Active interpersonal touch gives rise to the social softness illusion. Current Biology 25(18), 2392-2397.
Jönsson, E. Kotilahti, K., Heiskala, J., Wasling, H., Olausson, H., Croy, I., et al. (2018). Affective and non-affective touch evokd differential brain responses in 2-month-old infants. Neuroimage, 169. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2017.12.024.
About the instructor
Deanna Marie Mason PhD
More than 20 years of clinical experience helping families:
Bachelor's Degree in Registered Nursing, Master’s Degree in Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and PhD in Nursing. University professor, patient education specialist, pediatric researcher, published author and reviewer to first-line international scientific journals, continuous philanthropic activity related to health promotion and education, wife and mother of two children.