They might be small but they sure are mighty! Toddlerhood is perhaps the most intense yet rewarding period of parenthood. As a parent entering this new chapter, you might be asking yourself “how do I emotionally connect with my toddler?” as you strive to raise an emotionally healthy child.
When it comes to building an emotional connection with your child, we are their greatest teachers. So whether it’s showering them in love, talking openly about your feelings or putting firm rules and boundaries in place, here are 6 ways you can build a strong emotional connection with your toddler.
1. Be generous in showing your love and don’t be afraid to drop L bombs left, right and centre
There is nothing more powerful than human touch and affection. As humans, it’s a basic need we crave at every age and stage of our life – but it’s never more important than with our little ones. Not only does demonstrating your love physically help with their neurobiological development, but it also shows them in a very tangible way just how much they are loved. Engage in eye contact, shower them in cuddles, smile at them and encourage them with warm expressions at every opportunity you get.
Normalise saying “I love you” to your child right from the get-go. For your toddler to hear these three simple words can make a huge difference in their well-being and lay the foundations for a really solid parent-child relationship for years to come. Even on the hardest days when your child is testing your patience, take a moment to zoom out and remind yourself that your love for them is unconditional – and then tell them!
2. Put boundaries and rules in place
It’s often a rude shock for toddlers to learn they aren’t the centre of the universe and can’t get away with doing whatever they want. That’s why putting boundaries and rules in place is absolutely paramount when it comes to teaching them about acceptable behaviour.
Consistency is key so if they break a rule or don’t follow instructions, make sure there is an age-appropriate consequence. For example, if they refuse to put suncream on then they can’t go to the beach. And remember, our kids are sponges so model the kind of behaviour you want them to have.
3. Create special one-on-one rituals between the parent and child
Making sure you get quality alone time with your toddler should always be a top priority no matter how busy life gets. Sit down with your partner and schedule in specific times so you can bond with your child without the other parent present. And then let the magic begin! You can let them pick a cafe to eat at or a fun activity like getting their nails painted or going to a theme park – it doesn’t really matter as long as it’s just the two of you enjoying some quality time together. Bonding one-on-one with your toddler makes them feel special and builds up their self-esteem, all the while strengthening your own relationship with them.
4. Never diminish their feelings
This can be a hard one especially if your child whinges often. But instead of shutting them down and telling them to be quiet – listen to them, ask them what their anger or frustration is trying to communicate and empathise with them instead. Starting a genuine conversation as opposed to trying to sweep it under the rug is where true connection begins. In time, your little one will feel safe and secure to share their thoughts, feelings and worries with you.
5. Give them your undivided attention
In this day and age, our attention is the most sought-after commodity. Be it from our phones, our work and all our other commitments. But don’t forget, it’s often the young person standing right in front of you who needs it the most.
We get it, life’s busy and stressful at the best of times! So even if you can engage in just 10 minutes of screen-free play with your toddler, it will demonstrate to them how important they are to you. Another great approach is to have no phones at the dinner table.
6. Fire up your imagination and embrace play
There is no better way to bond with your toddler than to get down on their level and play with them. When in doubt, play like no one is watching and be guided by them and their bubbling imagination. Play is an integral part of our children’s development – it helps them develop their language skills, express their creativity and grow their personalities. Not only that, when you play with your toddler it brings you closer together.
Raising a child is perhaps one of life’s greatest privileges. And while it’s not always easy going (hello tantrums, broken sleep and taking 45 minutes to get out the door), building a strong emotional connection with your toddler certainly sets you on the right path for an unbreakable bond for years to come.