Child Life specialists using their creativity with loose parts to teach kids about their health.
Guest Blogger, Dixie Somers
There are only so many hours in the day and as parents we often pack each day full of work, school, running the house, activities, dinner, and bedtime. It’s not surprising that in the midst of all of our responsibilities, we sometimes feel disconnected from our children. We all know that our children are the most important little people in our lives, and we want them to feel that we value their interests and abilities while also showing we care in a meaningful way that they will remember. So the question is, how do we do all that with the time we have available each day without just adding one more thing? Here are four ways to get more involved in your child’s life that are fulfilling and meaningful.
Show Them That Education Is Important
Just like sports teams, schools always need volunteers. Most classrooms invite parents in whenever they can make it to read to the class or run a station. If your schedule allows it, spending the day or part of the day at your child’s school will pay dividends in terms of connecting with your child. You will get to see them interact with their peers and be able to put faces to the names your child talks about. You will also show them that school is important and that you are invested and interested in what they do there. Your child will feel like you are a celebrity and show you off to their teachers and friends during your visit.
Many of us have jobs that don’t make it easy to spend time at school during the day. Don’t worry; there are many other ways to connect with your child and their school. You can volunteer to help out at an evening event (school dance, science fair ice cream social) or simply take your child to events that happen at their school in the evening. Even sitting with your child every night as they do their homework will help you to connect. They can ask questions and you can see what they are studying. Having conversations about what they love to learn about as well as what they struggle with can help them to see you care deeply about their education. Plus, it gives you many topics to talk about if you know what they are learning about in school and how they spend their day.
Learn a New Skill Together
One of the best ways to connect with your child is to learn a new activity together. It puts you on the same skill level and really allows your child to interact with you in a new way. Maybe your child wants to learn how to paint. Michaels and other craft stores have free classes for parents and children to learn to paint together. Maybe your child wants to build something. Check out the free classes offered at Home Depot to build birdhouses.
Learning a new skill together can really deepen your connection with your child. They see you trying new things and being willing to be vulnerable and you see them as they try to do something they’ve never tried before. With a bit of planning, you and your child can learn all sorts of new skills. Be sure to check out community websites or sign up for mailing lists at your favorite stores for events to try with your child. Learning something together provides you will a place in your relationship where you are working as a team to accomplish a goal.
Jump Right In and Coach Their Team
For children, sports are fun ways to be social and active with their peers. Having Mom or Dad there to share the fun and excitement makes it even better. Most sports teams need volunteers to do just about everything. Even if you know nothing about your child’s sport of choice, there are plenty of ways to help out. You don’t have to have an athletic administration master’s degree to volunteer to be an assistant coach, be in charge of equipment or management on the sidelines (have you seen what happens when little kids are not directly involved in the play? They definitely need sideline management!), keep score, organize the other volunteers, or bring the snacks each week.
The point is to spend time with your child engaging in a physical activity they love. You will be there to cheer them on and high-five them when they find success, and you will also be right there to cheer them on and pick them up when they don’t. Your involvement will show your child that their passions are important to you, even if you don’t love their sport. Win or lose, your child will feel connected to you on the ride home as you talk about the highlights and the things to work on for the next game. For you, that’s a win-win.
Date Night with Your Child
Once a month, commit to taking your child on a date—just the two of you. You can plan the date together which allows you time to talk to your child about activities they love to do. You can even take turns planning the activity for your special night. These dates don’t have to be expensive at all. You can go to the park or playground, have a picnic, or roast marshmallows in the backyard. You can also check out a baseball game or a new restaurant if that’s something your child wants to do (Groupon and Living Social can help you plan less expensive dates out). The point is planning and spending time with your child one-on-one. For at least a few hours each month, they will be the center of your attention. You can talk and engage with your child in a way that might not be possible in other settings (like at home with siblings or on a team with 20 other kids). These nights out will allow you to reconnect with your child and really get to know them as a person. This will be their favorite night of the month!
Your child is your most important investments. It is important to connect with your children in order to help them feel valued and loved. It is also important for you as a parent to be an integral and valued part of their lives, not just as provider, but as mentor, coach, and teammate. The connections you build with them as children will help to strengthen your connection with them as they become teenagers and young adults.
He was 13 years old, or at least that was our guess. We rescued our feisty French bulldog, Bugz, 11 years ago and he instantly became a family member. He was there for our milestones of marriage, career change, new home and children. He had some challenging quirks to him caused from an abusive past, but that made us just love him even more. We accepted him for who he was and would give him the best home possible.
As time went on and his hair turned gray, his back legs became weak and there were fewer tug-a-war games, I knew we would face the inevitable. I tried to prepare the family, but knew that when the actual day came the pain was going to be awful to work through and witness. My kids had already experienced a tremendous amount of deaths in a short period of time, so I knew that this loss would rip open those old wounds and possibly instill fear and uncertainty about their own life.
One week before school was to begin, Bugz’s health rapidly declined. I brought him to the vet that morning to see if there was any hope, but the doctor validated what I already knew in my heart.
It was time.
Through a flood of tears, I made arrangements to come back that afternoon with my husband to put Bugz to sleep. I knew we only had a few hours at home with him and my mind went into overdrive on how to make this time memorable and how I was going to tell my kids.
So here is what I did.
Honesty: It’s easy to sugar coat difficult conversations or avoid them all together, but I know kids need to hear the truth from the people they trust the most, their parents.
My husband and I sat the kids down and told them that the vet confirmed that Bugz’ health wasn’t going to get any better. He was suffering and crippled by the pain. I explained our plans of bringing them to their grandparent’s house while we took Bugz back to the vet. I wanted to be clear about what the vet would do to avoid the boy’s imagining more frightening scenarios or thinking that the vet was a bad person. I explained that the doctor would give Bugz medicine that would make him go to sleep, very similar to medicine given before surgery. Once he was asleep, the doctor would give him an additional dose that would stop his heart from beating and he would die.
Yes, I used that word.
My husband and I were right there to hold them as they processed what I said. My 7 year-old screamed and cried, while my 4 year-old calmly asked, “Will he go to heaven with Grandma and Grandpa?”
We knew that they would both react differently and their grief would continue to come out over the next several months. The most important things that we did was validate their emotions, told the truth, answered questions and explained that they did nothing to have caused it. We then gave them the choice to participate in memory making activities.
Legacy Building: I wanted the boys to always have something tangible of Bugz, so we took lots of candid photos and we did some paw prints on a canvas. They chose the paint colors and how many paw prints they wanted on their canvas. My four-year old even painted his own hand that is displayed next to Bugz’s paw print. The boys also chose Bugz’s favorite tug-a-war rope to be cremated with. During all of this there were some tears shed and stories told about our amazing furry family member who will be deeply missed.
Dog’s Palliative Care: I grilled Bugz a big, juicy cheeseburger and gave him enough pain medication and sedatives to calm his nerves before I brought him back to the vet. I let him spend time in his favorite outdoor spot as he soaked up the sunrays and was gently stroked by our hands.
Never Left His Side: I carried Bugz into the exam room and my husband and I sat on the floor with him. We reassured him he was safe, and then sobbed into his fur coat and said our final goodbyes. My heart was broken as we drove away and I rubbed his empty leash with my hands, but I knew he was no longer suffering.
That first night without Bugz was awful. My 7 year-old lied awake until midnight as he mourned his dog’s loss and my four-year old had a challenging time controlling his temper. We knew that out of all the recent deaths we had experienced, that Bugz’s would cut a bit deeper and it did.
It has now been a month and the kids continue to express their emotions verbally, through creative arts and play. We have had to adjust to a home without a dog and still face painful triggers of his loss, but we have also grown closer as we go through this journey of grief together.