I was asking myself the other day, while I was wondering whether or not to open the fifth suspicious email of the day, what effect will all the deception and trickery in today’s digital world have on children growing up today? Will they be able to grow up psychologically healthy with so many evil people around trying to take advantage of them? Will risks posed by the digital world damage their ability to trust others? I concluded that the answer to that question is “no”, if they have a strong trusting relationship with their families when they are growing up. A foundation of trust so to speak. So for my 2018 holiday message, I thought it might be helpful to present some ideas that I hope you can use to strengthen the trust and bond between you and your children.
The Importance of Trust
As I like to say to parents, “if you can’t trust your parents, who can you trust”? That’s my way of saying that the relationship your child establishes with you, their parents, is the basis of your child’s entire future. For a child, having a loving secure relationship with their parents, the people who are most responsible for them and are totally committed to their well-being, is hopefully something that your child can experience. It’s a child’s most precious asset. But as the world changes from 100% real to a more virtual and complex one, children, maybe even your children, are bound to feel the effects of the uncertainty around them.
What your Kids are Up Against in the Digital Age
To better explain to you what I mean, let’s take a quick look into the future for your children, shall we? Your children are undoubtedly going to live in a super connected world. They are already. That connectivity will have great benefits for them but also poses great risks at the same time. First take a look at some of the positives: When your children are grown.
–It is likely that they will travel in self-driving cars, connected to the Internet that will guide them seamlessly and efficiently to their destinations.
–It is likely that they will take virtual vacations that will allow them to experience much of the world while never leaving their homes.
–It is likely that they will own household help that is provided by robots that never tire, never complain, and are commanded by digital household assistants.
–It is likely that will have access to instant information about everything, making it much easier for them to solve problems and make smart life decisions.
–And finally, it is also likely that they will have their workplace in a location remote from the people who hired them, giving your children the freedom to live where they choose rather than a being forced to live within close proximity to their bosses.
But they are also likely to experience the negative impacts of a connected world:
–It is possible that people stealing their identity will financially harm them.
–It is possible that they will have their email accounts hacked and used by others for their own purposes.
–It is possible that they will mistakenly log onto fake websites that look identical to the real one causing them great harm.
–It is possible that they will be preyed upon by companies that collect and sell their personal information and use it to target them for the company’s own financial gain.
–It is possible that they will be cyber-bullied or unjustly defamed by others.
–And finally, it is possible that they will be lured in into relationships with strangers on the internet or that they will wander into sites that peddle pornography or other malicious content.
Practical Advise to Increase Trust with Your Children
As you can see, it is becoming increasingly difficult for parents to protect their children from being harmed by strangers now that we are so connected by billions of computers. I fear that the uncertainty and negativity that your children may be encountering today will damage their ability to relate to one another in trusting way… the foundation of what makes a happy life. Could this be why pediatricians are seeing an explosion of children with anxiety disorders, adjustment difficulties, poor psychological resiliency, and sleep problems? I think maybe so.
But we live in the world we live in. Societal evolution is not going to go backward. A world connected by computers is here to stay with all the risks that that entails. Parents and children need to learn to cope. But how? Here is my big point; by making your relationship with your children as rock solid as possible. As I see it that is the only way parents can counter an increasingly scary world that we are leaving our children. With that end in mind, I wanted to make you aware of an article in Psychology Today that I came across that might help in this regard. Let me read to you the 10 things the author, Dr. Laura Markham, suggests that can strengthen your relationship with your children:
- Aim for 12 hugs (or physical connections) every day.
A family therapist, Virginia Satir famously said, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”
Snuggle your child first thing in the morning for a few minutes, and last thing at night. Hug when you say goodbye, when you’re re-united, and often in between. Tousle hair, pat backs, rub shoulders. Make eye contact and smile, which is a different kind of touch. If your tween or teen rebuffs your advances when she first walks in the door, realize that with older kids you have to ease into the connection. Get her settled with a cool drink, and chat as you give a foot rub. (Seem like going above and beyond? It’s a foolproof way to hear what happened in her life today. You’ll find yourself glad, many times, if you prioritize that.)
Laughter and roughhousing keep you connected with your child by stimulating endorphins and oxytocin in both of you. Making laughter a daily habit also gives your child a chance to laugh out the anxieties and upsets that otherwise make him feel disconnected — and more likely to act out. And play helps kids want to cooperate. Which is likely to work better?: “Come eat your breakfast now!” or “Little Gorilla, it’s time for breakfast — Look, you have bugs and bananas on your oatmeal!”
- Turn off technology when you interact.
Your child will remember for the rest of her life that she was important enough to her parents that they turned off their phone to listen to her. Even turning off music in the car can be a powerful invitation to connect, because the lack of eye contact in a car takes the pressure off, so kids (and adults) are more likely to open up and share.
- Connect before transitions.
Kids have a hard time transitioning from one thing to another. If you look him in the eye, use his name, and connect with him, then get him giggling, you’ll make sure he has the inner resources to manage himself through a transition.
- Make time for one-on-one time.
Do whatever you need to do to schedule 15 minutes with each child, separately, every day. Alternate doing what your child wants and doing what you want during that time. On her days, just pour your love into her and let her direct. On your days resist the urge to structure the time with activities. Instead, try any physical activity or game that gets her laugh.
- Welcome emotion.
Sure, it’s inconvenient. But your child needs to express his emotions or they’ll drive his behavior. Besides, this is an opportunity to help your child heal those upsets, which will bring you closer. So summon up your compassion, don’t let the anger trigger you, and welcome the tears and fears that always hide behind the anger. Remember that you’re the one he trusts enough to cry with, and breathe your way through it. Just acknowledge all those feelings and offer understanding of the pain. Afterward, he’ll feel more relaxed, cooperative, and closer to you. (Yes, this is really hard. Regulating our own emotions in the face of a child’s upset is one of the hardest parts of parenting. But that doesn’t mean we’re excused from trying.)
- Listen, and Empathize.
Connection starts with listening. Bite your tongue if you need to, except to say, “Wow!….I see….Really?…How was that for you?…Tell me more…”
The habit of seeing things from your child’s perspective will ensure that you treat her with respect and look for win/win solutions. It will help you see the reasons for behavior that would otherwise drive you crazy. And it will help you regulate your own emotions so when your buttons get pushed and you find yourself in “fight or flight,” your child doesn’t look so much like the enemy.
- Slow down and savor the moment.
You aren’t just rushing your child through the schedule so you can spend a few minutes with him before bed. Every interaction all day long is an opportunity to connect. Slow down and share the moment: Let him smell the strawberries before you put them in the smoothie. When you’re helping him wash his hands, put yours in the running water with his, and share the cool rush of the water. Smell his hair. Listen to his laughter. Look him in the eyes and meet him heart to open heart, sharing that big love. Connect in the magnificence of the present moment — which is really the only way we can connect. (For most parents, this is also the secret to being able to tolerate playing that same game, yet again.)
- Bedtime snuggle and chat.
Set your child’s bedtime a wee bit earlier with the assumption that you’ll spend some time visiting and snuggling in the dark. Those companionable, safe moments of connection invite whatever your child is currently grappling with to the surface, whether it’s something that happened at school, the way you snapped at her this morning, or her worries about tomorrow’s field trip. Do you have to resolve her problem right then? No. Just listen. Acknowledge feelings. Reassure your child that you hear her concern, and that you’ll solve it together tomorrow. The next day, be sure to follow up. You’ll be amazed how your relationship with your child deepens. And don’t give this habit up as your child gets older. Late at night is often the only time teens will open up.
- Show up.
Most of us go through life half-present. But your child has only about 900 weeks of childhood with you before he leaves your home. He’ll be gone before you know it. Try this as a practice: When you’re interacting with your child, show up 100 percent. Just be right here, right now, and let everything else go. You won’t be able pull this off all the time. But if you make it a habit several times a day, you’ll find yourself shifting into presence more and more often, because you’ll find it creates those moments with your child that make your heart melt.
My Final Words
Knowing who to trust during their lives is going to be one of the great challenges for your children. Having a rock solid relationship, a trusting relationship, an emotionally warm connected relationship, a forgiving relationship, and an open relationship with their family I think is your children’s only hope of living a happy healthy life. So go over those 10 habits that Dr. Markham suggests and uses them as often as possible. So, my holiday wish for you and your children is to today, right now, without delay, make your home the warmest, funniest, trustingest place your children can possible have this holiday season and of course, every day there after. Remember: There are no do-overs when it comes to childhood; this is the only childhood your children that will ever have. Make the most of it!
If you enjoy exploring pediatrics with pedcasts, share an episode you like, and by all means, go ahead and subscribe to my feed by leaving your email address at www.docsmo.com. By doing so, I hope to make you one of the best-informed parents in the room. This is Dr. Paul Smolen, wishing you a happy holiday season and reminding you that when it comes to children needing trust, that’s… an absolute must. Until next time.
Many thanks to Dr. Monica Miller and Dr. Charlotte Rouchouze for their editorial comments.