I've been writing quite a bit about our quarantine experience and how it has caused us to make many new decisions regarding school, church, and how we interact with our kids from day-to-day. For a long time, I avoided playing with my children. There are many reasons for this. Firstly, pretty much any kind of play included trauma behaviors, which would get under my skin or (just being honest) annoy me. Secondly, I was exhausted. I was a teacher, youth leader, and mom and was totally burnt out. Finally, I just don't enjoy a whole lot of play because I like to get things DONE and it often feels like play is stealing that from me. But during the quarantine, we started doing some fun family activities so that we wouldn't go insane from being together 24/7, and I started loving being with my kids.
Connection is like eating healthy. You can't just do it once a day; it is a lifestyle. During homeschooling and virtual schooling (and even when we go back to regular school), I am planning to carve out at least a half hour for a connecting activity, but connection can also look like helping with homework without distractions, watching a Youtube show together, trying a Tiktok dance, or just checking in and leaving them a quick encouragement note while they're diligently working on their schoolwork (or at least we hope!)
When it comes to connection, I try to make sure that I have cleared my mind of my to-do list so that I can truly connect with my children. I (try to) put my phone away and look at them in the eyes when they are talking or playing. I smile at them. I touch their back or their shoulders lovingly to let them know that I am present with them. This kind of connection with true engagement can prevent so many behaviors that stem from needing one-on-one attention, love, and care.
Okay, so here's the list of some simple ways to connect with your kids. Don't overwhelm yourself; just pick one and do it one time this week, see how it goes, and then add in more when you're feeling more confident and capable.
1. Color together - there are so many coloring pages online that you can do together. My children are obsessed with cartoons and love coloring their favorite TV shows. You can also be a little more spiritual (I'm kidding...kind of) and get this free download of a coloring page with a Bible verse!
2. Play a game or do a puzzle together - Here are some quick, fun games we love. I always say that everyone gets a jolly rancher after the game, but the winner gets TWO jolly ranchers (gasp!). Also, when I am doing a game as a connecting activity, I usually just choose the game so we don't run into any arguments and we eliminate the decision-making process! I basically try to avoid anything that is going to prevent connection.
Challenge your friends (it's an app that has one-on-one games. The loser has to do something silly. It's fun and hilarious and you could take turns with each kid)
Trash or Garbage (card game)
Uno - there are so many variations. Also try playing spicy uno! It's so fun!
Charades - like Head's Up, but free!
There are 3D puzzles now. I can't wait to order one for the kids!
3. Play with kinetic sand, slime, clay, or play-dough. This is a sensory activity and can really help a child if they've been stuck on a screen all morning. We bought guar gum and make jelly slime to switch it up. I try to make sure I have ingredients to make some kind of slime!
4. Use a silly voice or play a game like pterodactyl or the ha-ha game.
Silly voice: My kids are older, but for some reason, they love when I make silly voices and chase after them. I might make up a story or pretend to keep looking when they're hiding from me until I finally "find" them.
Pterodactyl: Get in a line. The first person looks at the second person and has to say "Pterodactyl" in a really silly way to try to get the person to laugh. If that person laughs, they are out of the game. Keep going until you have a winner.
Ha-Ha Game: Have one person lay down on the ground. The next person lays their head on top of the first person's belly. The next person does the same, and so on. Then, the first person starts by saying "ha" and each person says "ha." You keep going until everyone bursts into laughter.
5. Go on special kid date nights - This has been huge for our family. We started doing individual date nights with each kid and rotating each month. They get to choose the restaurant and we usually do something fun or one of the above activities. I always like to ask them a few questions about how they're doing. If you don't have the time/money for dinner, you could do a special drink, a chocolate bar, or ice cream. Here are some questions that I like to ask:
How are you feeling about _____ (whatever is going on currently)
What are you excited about?
What has been something really fun you've done recently?
Tell me something funny.
What is something that has been really hard?
What do you want to do that you're not doing right now?
What are you learning about God?
6. Plan special days every once in a while - If you're still stuck in virtual school or if you started homeschooling like me, it can feel like you're trapped inside. Here are some special (and simple/cheap) things I am planning:
Go to the town square & set up a blanket to do morning work on Fridays to mix it up. We will probably also get a special drink.
Have backwards day. Everyone wears their clothes backwards and serve ice cream before dinner.
Stop everyone in their tracks and take them on a bike ride, to the trampoline park, or watch a movie or show with popcorn.
Take a break during lunch and lay out some weird ingredients. Compete to make the best lunch (like Chopped). (Side note: We usually give two different awards, like best presentation and best taste to avoid sibling rivalry)
7. Let your kids teach you something - My son loves origami and my daughter loves baking. Sometimes it makes my kids feel special and loved if I ask them to teach me how to do something they know they can do! Maybe even film them teaching you and upload it to Youtube and encourage them to start their own Youtube Channel.
8. Encourage them. When you wake them up, tell them how excited you are to see them. When they're working on school, leave a note on their computer or desk to tell them how proud you are of them. Tell them they're precious, wonderful, or unique. If you see them do something awesome, point it out. Call out awesome things you saw each other do at dinner. Cultivate a spirit of encouragement, and they will start encouraging you.
P.S. You can download this note (plus two more, including a boy version!) at the bottom of this blog post.
I know you all have some amazing ideas for building connection with your kids too! Comment below to let me know how you're planning to connect with your kids during virtual school, homeschooling, or regular school!