As a therapist, one of the most common fears I hear from parents is that their kids feel lost to them in some way. Whether they feel like their kids are too engaged with “screen time,” or are “addicted” to a game, or “obsessed” with YouTube - parents are worried that their kids are spending too much time on Whatever The Thing Is, and disconnected from them.
Feeling disconnected from your kids is definitely scary! You go so quickly from your baby being completely attached and dependent on you, to your kids being exposed to all sorts of other people and experiences! And even though we *know* that’s developmentally appropriate, and kids grow up… feeling like our kids are turning away from us to be engaged with something else is pretty terrifying. It means we don’t know exactly what is going on, which means being unable to ensure their safety.
In my professional experience, limiting those other experiences is usually counterproductive. Cutting out screen time or making video games the bad guy does nothing except create a big ol’ barrier between you and your kiddos. I’ve written (literally) a whole book on this topic - so I’ll save this particular sermon - but in the meantime, if you are worried about your kid feeling metaphorically far away from you, here are 5 questions you can ask them that will help bring you closer together.
Question One: Will you show me how you did that?
Try watching what they are into for a while, being genuinely curious about what they are doing! When a kid is super dedicated or invested in an activity, they are probably learning all sorts of neat skills or tricks. Ask them about what they did! You will learn something about their interest, giving you a place of connection. You will give them the chance to explain something they’re interested in, which is a beneficial intellectual skill. You will learn some of the jargon of their interest, making it easier to talk to again later. You will show them that their interest is valuable, therefore their choices are valuable, thereby helping increase their sense of self-value.
Question Two: How did you learn how to do that so well?
Kids who seem “obsessed” with an activity are working towards expert-level! They are showing passion, dedication, investment, and engagement - and definitely have something interest-specific to show off. You taking the time to notice how their hard work has paid off does a few things. It helps them feel seen and valued by you, their parent. It gives them a sense of expertise, which increases self-esteem. It gives them the chance to be the teacher, which is an important part of learning and brain development. It helps them see a scenario from someone else’s perspective, which is important for cognitive and social-emotional development. Also, it just feels plain good to be recognized for achievement, and you’re the one giving them that warm and fuzzy feeling!
Question Three: What is the hardest part for you?
I love that this question is a stop-and-think one. I’ve asked this of most of my kid/teen clients, and it has yielded some of the most interesting conversations! It opens the door to talking about strengths and weaknesses. It leads to discussion of how we deal with failure and how to build resilience. It often helps them think about what tools do we have to use to accomplish goals, what are our resources, who are our allies, and how to do better next time. This question also helps to frame difficult obstacles as challenges, not threats. It allows the kids to analyze the situations from a strategic and emotional standpoint, and allows us to learn more about how they learn and know better how to offer support.
Question Four: Do you have advice for beginners?
This question is another that will help shift them into feeling like an expert, and give them the respect of honoring their time and skill. It helps them think from someone else’s perspective which is another useful cognitive exercise. It also gives them the opportunity to think about how far they have come - reminding them of their own strengths, abilities to overcome obstacles and their perseverance. All important qualities for mental health and well-being!
Question Five: Can I bring you any food?
I know this seems like a silly one, but so much of our love as parents comes through providing food, doesn’t it? Asking if you can bring them food is a nurturing way to say, “I support what you are doing and would like to help you keep doing it.” It’s a gesture of love. It communicates that you are on board. It shows you respect their decision about how to spend their time. It helps them stay in a state of “flow” - an important piece of positive psychology. It does so much, in fact, that maybe don’t even ask - just put their favorite snack on a plate and take it to them some time when they are knee-deep in their favorite activity.
If you’d like to read more ideas and encouragement for processing your own parenting fears and connecting more with your kids, please check out Connect with Courage, available on Amazon and other major book retailers.
About the Author
Roya Dedeaux is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who focuses on providing play with purpose to everyone from parents to professionals! She has a private telehealth practice working primarily with parents and their kids, and is the author of Connect with Courage: practical ways to release your fears and find joy in the places your kids take you. She is also a grown homeschooler, mom to a few wild and wonderful kids, and loves to crochet and play with clay!
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