Connecting with kids and spending time with them is an important part of the parenting journey. You might find yourself juggling all kinds of priorities and trying to figure out how to best serve your family, so we’ve got some habits and activities to get you started on building a deeper and strong connection with your kids—no matter what age they are.
Get rid of the idea that your kids need all the newest, fanciest toys, and take that energy to spend some time with them every day doing something together. Even a walk around the block where you can chat and catch up, or a quick game of basketball in the driveway, or taking them to an empty parking lot to practice driving. Those moments in time are the building blocks of your relationship. Try making these shifts in your habits and watch the improvements.
Connect with kids through adventure!
Next time you’re in search of something for the whole family to do, grab a copy of Adventures From Scratch: Family Edition! There’s no better way to connect with your kids. Children love uncovering each new challenge by choosing a page and scratching off a hidden activity. A handy key is included to help you know which tasks should meet your current needs, and there are over 50 amazing adventures included in the book!
The Importance of Connecting With Kids
Parenting experts spend a lot of time talking about the connections between parents and children. That bond is so important because it’s the basis of the respect and trust between the two of you. Your children will listen to you, follow your rules, and confide in you when they are struggling if you have a strong connection.
It’s important to start when the kids are young because it can assist with their development. Every parent is learning as they go, so you are not alone. Just focus on positive interactions with your children and use some of the ideas we’ve laid out to help you build up your relationship and achieve a strong sense of respect and love.
Habits to Help Strengthen Your Parent-Child Bond
Before we get into specific activities for kids of different ages, let’s look at some of the habits you can put into practice at any point. These habits will help you connect with your kids of all ages and help bring your whole family closer together.
At the end of the day, it can be hard to focus on conversations. Stop multitasking and really focus on your children. Their recap of their day might be repetitive, but they will notice if you start to get distracted. Practice active listening. Make eye contact and ask lots of follow-up questions.
If the evening is too hectic, plan on having breakfast with your kids every day and have a cup of coffee while catching up on things happening in their lives. Find out what they are doing at school, get updates on their friends, and ask what some of their favorite things are at the moment. You’ll probably be surprised by some answers even though you live under the same roof and see each other all the time.
Keep showing up.
A full childhood is 18 years which is 936 weeks. That time will fly by. Make a point to show up each week. If you’re invited, try to show up. Work commitments will get in the way often, but if you always prioritize being available and there for your children, you’ll be able to figure out a way.
If you have a partner, you can split the duties to have someone there as support as often as possible. This means sporting events, school shows, school conferences, birthday parties, and family meals. If you don’t make it a priority, you will end up missing out on so much and they grow up each week and change and you won’t be able to get that time back.
Be open about emotions.
Talking about emotions with your children is so important. Emotions can be so hard to handle and if you are never taught how to name them, it’s hard to find healthy outlets for them. There are so many approaches to discussing emotions. Some families have a book that explains each one, others use a flip book or chart that illustrates them, and others just pause in the moment and give time for kids to feel those emotions.
However you decide to discuss emotions and feelings with your children, it’s a good use of time. The earlier kids get an understanding of feelings and learn that it’s OK to have those feelings, the easier it will be for them to learn about good outlets and ways to communicate those emotions.
Kids that learn how to label sadness, frustration, anger, and joy when they are toddlers will be given the appropriate tools to talk about them. You’ll be able to understand triggers for your children and really connect with the things that drive them and make them happy. Every time you acknowledge their feelings, you are earning their trust.
Share with them.
We mentioned being interested in your child’s thoughts and happenings, but conversations are best when they go two ways. You may not think that your child would find your daily happenings interesting, but by sharing something about your day, you’re showing them that you trust them and you want to share with them.
Obviously, you’ll want to choose the topics carefully because some things are just not age-appropriate. You can tell them funny things that happened at work, show them a picture of the family pet doing something adorable while your kids were at school, or fill them in on things going on with grandparents or cousins.
This will help teach them that your relationship is open and all about sharing. They will feel special because you are choosing them to talk to about your life. It will help them get to know you a bit better as well.
Engage in physical connection.
Make sure you are showing affection to your child each and every day. A family therapist named Virginia Satir said “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” So prioritize that in your daily routine.
It gets harder as children become more independent, but you can connect with eye contact and smile and maybe sneak in some hugs here and there. Just make sure to keep trying and remain open to it because it’s important when connecting with kids of any age.
Prioritize one-on-one time with each child.
Do you have multiple children in the household? That’s great. Growing up with siblings is not bad for kids at all. But it does shift your relationship with them because there is more competition for your attention.
Schedule some one-on-one time with each of your children. Even if it’s just a simple walk around the neighborhood or a trip to the ice cream parlor, spending that time with one child allows you to have an uninterrupted conversation. Try and keep things as consistent as possible and offer equal time, but find a unique and special place for each child.
Enjoy the little moments.
Savor all the small moments. It seems obvious, but so many people let the days fly by and don’t take a second to step back and appreciate each one. Whether you keep a gratitude journal or take a photo of a special minute each day, finding a way to really soak in those memories will help your overall connection.
Stand back and watch your household move around you. Soak in the magic of childhood and watch them figure things out on their own. You’ll remember the laughter and fun (and probably some of the tantrums), but the time will fly by and it’s so important for parents to give themselves a few minutes to just appreciate the moments they are in.
Keeping these memories to share with children as they grow is special. Most people don’t have many memories from the first few years of life. If you document funny things your kids say or keep some of the fun and colorful art, you’ll be able to provide them with a glimpse of the toddler years.
Connecting With Young Kids
Young children care mostly about attention and time. Your conversations may be filled with more random thoughts and repetitive questions, but you are sure to have some incredibly memorable moments. Time spent with young children will help build a solid foundation that you can continue as they grow up and start really discovering themselves.
Do craft projects together.
Crafts are fantastic for child development because they can help them work on hand-eye coordination and boost their creativity and imagination. Pick up a few art supplies and sit down together and let the creative juices flow. You can do simple activities like coloring with markers or try some fun family crafts. You can also check sites like Pinterest to find more complicated projects.
Doing these activities together is great for connecting with kids. It’s a fun way to work as a team and you’ll get a fun object at the end to show off. Adults rarely take the time to be creative and do fun crafts, so take advantage of the time with your children and reap the rewards yourself.
Snuggle up for a movie night.
Young kids will get to an age where they have the attention span for a movie and you can start to introduce them to some of your favorite movies from childhood. Turn off your phone, cuddle up on the couch, and don’t forget your snacks. Choose from all the classic Disney or Pixar movies, pick a film off this list of “Must-See Movies for Kids,” or surprise your child with a movie you’ve heard them talking about.
This is so simple and easy. You’ll get to enjoy the physical connection with your child during the movie, plus you’ll be able to relax and enjoy a movie. Make this a regular activity that you and your child can look forward to. It requires very little preparation.
Play outdoors (and don’t be afraid to get dirty).
Kids are quite adept at rough-housing and getting dirty, especially when playing outside. Join them! Throw some of the rules out the window and enjoy some playtime with your children. You don’t have to just watch them at the playground—get out and play alongside them. Kids will always remember the moments that their parents played on the playground and will be more likely to engage with you and invite you to do more with them in the future.
Think about some of the fun activities your kids love that make you shudder because of the mess they make, and go do them. Make some slime, cover your driveway in chalk, have a painting party, or go play in the rain and mud. The clean-up will be worth the fun memories you are making with your family.
Turn up the music, and have a dance party!
Young children have a lot of energy and very few formal outlets to get rid of it. Dancing is a great way to get the wiggles out and it’s even better when the adults join in. Don’t feel silly dancing in your own house with your young children. They will absolutely love it.
Make a playlist filled with some of your kids’ favorite songs and a few of yours that you think they will love and hit play. Let yourself have some fun and your kids will immediately pick up on that good energy. Plus, there are tons of health benefits from moving your bodies throughout the day. Add this to your nighttime routine and dance away the day’s challenges.
Connecting with Elementary School-Aged Kids
Elementary school-aged children are getting better at communication and understanding their feelings and relationships. Take advantage of this development stage to continue to build and strengthen your bond with your child. Each day, they will be learning new things and growing into their personality. Don’t miss out on getting to know them during this stage. Ask questions and have some fun together. Here are just a few ways to do that.
Play board games together.
Family game nights are a fun way to bond with family members of all ages. A little friendly competition helps everyone work on problem-solving while playing some classic card games and board games. Team up for games like Charades or Pictionary, or split up individually and play.
Make this at least a monthly activity in your home. There can be ongoing rivalries in the house (all in fun of course) and reigning champions of certain games just waiting for a competitor to give them a run for their money. Order pizzas, set up around a large table, and pull out all the family favorites for this activity which is both fun and builds connections.
Continue storytime with the bedtime routine.
Many families have a routine with young children to read a few picture books once they are done with bathtime and getting ready for bed. That does not need to change once the kids get a little older. Join them for some reading time before bed.
Once they get to elementary school, they can start reading on their own. Encourage them to read to you so they get some practice while also enjoying some special time together. The Harry Potter series is a popular choice for kids as they get older and you can cover a few chapters each night. Maybe you switch off who is reading so everyone gets a break.
No matter what your schedule looks like, having a few minutes set aside each day to do something together will keep your relationships closer. Even if it is just a few minutes of storytime each day. Plus, you can always call them and do it over the phone if you have to travel.
Show up for after-school activities and events.
After-school activities range from art classes to sports to play groups. Take any opportunity you can to show up and engage with your kids in these moments. Whether you want to help out for a day, show up to a recital with flowers, or even dabble in some parent coaching.
Kids don’t need tons of gifts, they want you to show them that you are interested. By showing up to their activities and handing out hugs and high-fives, you’ll be able to show your child that you are there cheering them on. There will probably be some activities that are a little painful to make it through, but your attendance is all that matters to them in those moments.
Volunteer to chaperone field trips.
Being a consistent volunteer in a child’s classroom can be a big commitment and people with full-time jobs often have a hard time carving out the space in the calendar. One fun way to help out the teachers, while also getting to have fun experiences with your kids, is to volunteer to chaperone a field trip. This is just one day away from the office and you get to meet your child’s school friends and see them interact in a way that is completely new to you.
Field trips often include activities that you might not get access to otherwise, like cool museum tours or custom experiences at the zoo. By showing up to hang out for the day, you’re helping out while also strengthening your connection with your child. Plus, they will likely be pretty excited to show you off and introduce you to their friends.
Connecting With Older Kids
Once kids hit their preteen and teenage years, you’ll experience some new power struggles with them as they fight for more independence. There are still simple ways to connect with your kids! In fact, these moments can be more enjoyable for you, as the parent, because you’ll really get the chance to learn more about the person they are becoming and offer advice and guidance.
Have a tech-free meal at their favorite restaurant.
In today’s society, having anyone’s full attention is rare. I’m talking about full eye contact, no phones or screens, and some serious active listening going on. Plan a meal every once in a while where you can give your child your full attention.
Catch up on the little things, like school and friends, but also use that time to talk about big life topics as well. See if they have any thoughts or dreams about the future. Talk to them about the steps they are taking to start working towards their goals.
Pick somewhere where you both enjoy the food. Set up a regular cadence if possible so your kids can look forward to that dinner. It’s helpful for them to know that there is a special time on the calendar.
There are many first times in a child’s life, but the milestones get bigger and more life-changing when they get into high school. There will be a first time behind the wheel, a first time getting a job, a first time dating, and so much more.
Take time to talk about these moments with your child. Celebrate the happiness that comes along with it in a special way. Maybe you have a favorite ice cream spot that you’ve gone to for a long time and you can visit that or maybe you just surprise them at home with some sparkling cider and balloons. Just make sure to take a little time to acknowledge the hard work and growing up that is happening.
It’s important to remember that teenagers and older children do a little more eye rolling and sighing than they did when they were younger, but you still want to make sure to call out their accomplishments. They will appreciate it, even if they don’t have the best ways to show you.
Take a class together.
Whether you choose an online course or you find something you’re both interested in learning more about, trying something together can strengthen your bond. Language courses are fun because you can practice with each other outside of class.
You can also try an art class where you get to learn new techniques and work together to create. Pottery, painting, or photography are all fun options. If being creative is fun, but you want to do something a little more practical, sign up for a cooking class. The chances are, your teenager has barely been through the aisles of a grocery store. Set them up for success when they move out of your house by taking a cooking class together and challenging them to learn how to function in the kitchen.
Go on a family vacation.
There is rarely a more special time than a vacation. By leaving home (or enjoying a staycation), you are actively making the choice to take a break from your to-do list and enjoy some leisure time. Family vacations with small children can take a lot of patience, planning, flexibility, and energy, but as the kids get older, you’re able to enjoy more of the vacation.
Sit down with your teenager and see what kind of vacation they think they would enjoy. Planning the trip is half the fun and the odds are pretty good that you’ll be able to find a location you both are interested in. Whether it’s a family road trip to the beach, a camping trip, or visiting a big city, plan the itinerary together.
Once you arrive, make sure to spend some quality time together doing fun activities. Make compromises and try things you might not have tried normally. Your kids will have such great memories of the trips where you were right alongside them. Plus, they might be inspired by your willingness to try something outside of your comfort zone.
Connecting with kids might seem like a struggle—or even impossible—sometimes. Start by trying these ideas out, and you might even come up with a few more of your own.
How do you connect with your children? Use the comment section to let us know what special activities you do to bond and become closer.
While you’re here, grab your copy of Adventures From Scratch: Family Edition. This interactive scratch-off activity book is fun for all ages! It contains over 50 activity suggestions, hidden beneath a scratchable coating. Each one is a surprise, waiting to be uncovered. It’s the perfect place to start finding ways for the whole family to bond!
Frequently Asked Questions
When connecting with kids, start with general questions, then ask for more details as they start opening up. For example, ask how school was, focus on their answer, and try to dive deeper.
If you’re trying to connect with your kids, it’s important to give them your full attention and have some one-on-one time. You should also share things with them to build trust.