How Connecting With Your Child Helps You Face 4 Challenges

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Good Inside" by Becky Kennedy. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you struggle to get your child to listen? Do they throw tantrums or tell lies? Are they afraid to be away from you?

Connecting with your child isn’t just beneficial for your relationship; it’s also a powerful tool to address several common parenting challenges. Dr. Becky Kennedy explains how to use connection as a strategy to bring about positive behavioral change in your child.

Continue reading to learn specific ways of connecting with your child that can make a difference for the whole family.

Connecting With Your Child

Kennedy’s foundational tool is to take time to connect with your child when you’re both calm (not in the middle of a meltdown). Nurturing your connection with your child is important because, when your child is behaving in a way you don’t like, it often stems from your child not feeling connected to you or from your child struggling with a feeling without an adult’s support.

Connecting with your child makes it possible to:

  • Change behavior. Kids who feel connected to their caregivers feel good about themselves because they feel loved, safe, and confident. Those positive feelings make it easier for them to engage in the behaviors you want them to show.
  • Generate goodwill. This will help your child be willing to comply with your rules and boundaries in the future.

(Shortform note: Other parenting experts offer a brain-based explanation for the importance of connection when you’re trying to shape your child’s behavior. In No-Drama Discipline, Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson argue that connection sets the stage for kids to listen and learn. When kids feel strong emotions like anger or frustration, they lose access to complex brain skills like emotional regulation and the ability to process new information. Empathic connection helps children calm down enough that they can access skills like logic, empathy, and problem-solving.)

Challenge #1: Getting Your Child to Listen

Kennedy argues that if you believe your child doesn’t listen to you, the issue isn’t listening, but cooperating—in other words, your child isn’t complying with your requests. When your kid doesn’t cooperate, it’s likely because they’re feeling disconnected from you or because you’re asking them to do something they don’t want to do. The latter is the nature of parenting, but there are ways to make your requests less confrontational and more engaging. Yelling, for example, only makes your child less likely to cooperate because they’ll be in fight or flight mode.

To make your requests less confrontational, Kennedy recommends using the tools of connection, validation, and playfulness. Let’s look at how connecting with your child specifically addresses this parenting challenge.

Kennedy recommends building your connection with your child before asking her to do something. Regularly spend at least 10 minutes one-on-one with your child (each individual child, if you have more than one) with no devices or distractions. Observe her play, describe what she does, or mimic her activities. Don’t ask questions or give her instructions—this is her time!

Challenge #2: Dealing With Tantrums

Kennedy explains that tantrums are episodes in which a child is feeling emotions more powerful than what they’re able to process, and they become dysregulated as a result. Tantrums aren’t misbehavior—they’re a moment where your child’s body gets out of their control. They’re important for your child’s development because they shape the foundation of them knowing what they want and being able to ask—and, if necessary, fight—for what they want.

To help your child learn to regulate her emotions without squashing her emerging will and assertiveness, work with the underlying urge. Kennedy suggests using the tools of empathy, validation, and connection. Let’s look at how connecting with your child specifically addresses this parenting challenge.

Validate what your child is feeling and how powerful and important it is. Kennedy explains that putting your kid’s urge into words tells her that you understand what she’s experiencing, even if you can’t allow her to have what she wants. At the same time, tell her that you’re right there with her, and stay present until the tantrum subsides.

Challenge #3: Coping With Defiance, Whining, & Lying

Parents often see defiance, whining, and lying as signs of lack of respect, but Kennedy argues instead that they’re symptoms of an underlying emotional discomfort. When your child engages in these behaviors, use empathy and connection to validate what they’re feeling, and to foster a relationship in which they don’t need to resort to those behaviors.

Kennedy recommends three tools for addressing each behavior: 1) boundaries, 2) validation, and 3) connection. Let’s look at how connecting with your child specifically addresses this parenting challenge.

Kennedy argues that a child who’s lying wishes for something that isn’t possible. It can be a desire for a fantasy to come true, to separate herself from something that might threaten her attachment to her caregivers, or to be independent. If the lie is about something that’s not possible, restate the lie as a wish. If it’s a desire to protect her attachment to you or to be independent, help her feel safe by telling her what you’d do if, hypothetically, you knew the truth about whatever she’s lying about.

(Shortform note: When your child is whining because she feels overwhelmed or lying because she wants her situation to be different, there’s another strategy that can help you validate her feelings, nurture your connection, and prevent the behavior from happening again, at least in the short term: Hold her. Experts argue that holding your child for several minutes when she’s whining helps her know that you understand that she’s not feeling okay.)

Challenge #4: Soothing Separation Anxiety & Bedtime Struggles

As we’ve seen, children are evolutionarily wired to attach to their parents because this ensures their survival. Separation anxiety—which manifests as crying, tantrumming, and other behaviors that happen when you say goodbye to your child—is a result of this wiring. Kennedy explains that when you separate from her, she’ll need to retain the sense of safety your presence gives her without having you with her. At bedtime, separation anxiety is compounded by the fact that your child needs to feel safe to fall asleep.

To deal with separation anxiety, Kennedy suggests using these three tools: 1) connection, 2) confidence-building, and 3) playfulness. Let’s look at how connecting with your child specifically addresses this parenting challenge.

Progressively increase the distance that feels safe during bedtime. Start by sitting on your child’s bed, gently stroking her hair until she falls asleep. After a few days, move to the foot of the bed, and so on until you’ve gradually moved to the other side of her open door. Kennedy recommends that each time you’re going to move, you let her know about it that morning so she can mentally prepare.

How Connecting With Your Child Helps You Face 4 Challenges

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Becky Kennedy's "Good Inside" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Good Inside summary:

  • A parenting manual to help you build a positive relationship with your child
  • Why time-outs, rewards, and serious conversations don't "fix" kids
  • Strategies to deal with ten common parenting challenges

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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