It was just another day. There wasn’t anything particularly different or note worthy about it. To be quite honest, it was actually one of my more disconnected days. I had been having “technical difficulties” with my computer and needed to get some work done on the blog. I was preoccupied with my concerns that these “important things” were not getting done. There was however, something extraordinary happening. I learned something from my 1 yr. old daughter about my relationship with my children. She taught me something simple but profound about connection.
As I sat at our kitchen table with my laptop in front of me I became progressively more frustrated with things that were out of my control. As I took heavy sighs and slumped in my chair, Emma, my 17 month old daughter teetered over to my side. She didn’t make any noise but gently laid her hand on my leg. Her gentle touch took my attention away from what I was doing for a moment and I turned my gaze from the computer toward her. She just looked at me knowingly and then the corners of her lips turned up and her little nose scrunched up to reveal 4 deep lines right between her two beautiful brown eyes.
The combination of that touch, that pensive, appreciative look and that genuine, sweet smile sent warmth throughout my body. The discomfort I felt from sitting and the discontent I was experiencing washed away in an instant. In that moment I was completely connected to my little girl.
Just a second later, she turned away from me and continued playing with a ball that she had been previously playing with.
The relief that my daughter’s exchange provided to me in the midst of something I found very stressful was wonderful, but that wasn’t the big insight. The real revelation came after that as I observed my daughter do this again and again throughout the day. She did it with me, my wife, each of my sons and even with a family friend that came to visit us. She was just checking in. She periodically got the attention of the person and gave them a gentle look, a touch and a smile that allowed her to just check in with them to let them know she was there, she knew you were there and she appreciated that.
Since this experience, I’ve tried to apply this formula the Emma taught me that day and have noticed a difference in my relationships. Just checking in from time to time with our children strengthens our own positive regard for the receiver as well as sends a message of authentic interest and care.
Emma’s Formula for Connecting Without Words:
1. An intentional and attentive look:
Each time my daughter “checked in” she would make sure she had locked on to my gaze. Our eyes met and she communicated, “Yeah, I’m definitely looking at you. Not just in your direction. I am meaning for you to know that I am communicating with you.” This kind of look is intentional and active rather than accidental and passive.
2. A gentle and purposeful touch:
Emma’s touch was small and at times almost unnoticeable. It wasn’t a massive display of affection. She didn’t smother me with hugs and kisses. She just laid her hand on my leg or on an arm as if to say, “I was just thinking about you and wanted you to know.”
3. A genuine smile:
Is there anything more self explanatory that this? She gave a grin, a real grin. It was as simple as that. Just by showing teeth and squinting her eyes she let me know she loved me.
We can do the same!
As I tried, over the following days, to consciously employ this simple little formula, I noticed two things started to happen. First, when I started to look at my children, touch a shoulder or an arm and to smile the smile that says, “I’m thinking good thoughts about you and I love you,” I felt closer to them. I felt proud of them and genuinely happy to be with them. I saw them as they really are. Second, my children gravitated toward me. They also felt closer to me.
Sometimes we struggle to connect with our children and feel that it will take an inordinate amount of time, talking and energy but sometimes all it takes is a look, a touch and a smile.
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