We are a very busy family. My husband and I work. The kids have their schooling and social lives, math tutoring, speech pathology, occupational therapy and psychology appointments. We are all involved in our church community. I feel like I am struggling to catch my breath some days.
Any downtime we get, I am usually too tired to do anything. Some days are so busy that I sit down to dinner, often after 7pm, and realise it was the first time I have actually given my husband or kids eye contact all day. I have spoken to them, yes, but have I actually stopped and really listened? Have I given them my undivided attention, or have I half-listened to their stories while I’m making dinner or trying to finish work by a deadline?
At one of our psychology appointments, he asked, “So when do you have fun together as a family?” Insert awkward silence here.
It hit me like a ton of bricks. This is hard for me.
I hope it’s not hard for you, but I know that I often am so focused on just getting by, correcting behaviour, or breaking up sibling fights; There is no time for fun. Actually, I am just focused on survival.
But the irony here is – the less quality, fun time we spend with our children, the more likelihood of them acting out. Positive relationships are made in connection. Connection should come before correction. And ultimately, we should discipline from a deep loving connection, wanting the best outcomes for our children.
So my challenge was to plan and do at least one fun activity with the family. A time when there is no therapy, no behavioural systems or thinking about work, the house cleaning or washing. Just time to connect and enjoy each other’s company. To be fully present.
Planning a significant fun activity is often easy for us to do as parents! Let’s go to the beach, or the zoo or the movies. They are all fun and would facilitate fantastic connections. But is it enough (or within our budget!) to do this every single weekend? And is once a week enough? Can we have one colossal fun day and then live day to day in survival mode for the rest of the week? Of course not.
I also don’t want survival mode to be our normal. I’m not saying that I have the time or energy to make our lives fun every second of the day. Still, it has really got me thinking about how I can add fun mini connection points every day?
I am a speech pathologist (if you didn’t already know). I know about behavioural therapy. A large part of my job is brainstorming minor modifications to existing routines with families to facilitate children’s language, speech, or social communication development.
Adding a whole new activity into a family’s day is often too much or not sustainable. But ADAPTING a current ROUTINE that a family has, ends up having a significant impact on a child’s language, speech, or social communication development.
It is the same with changing any behaviour. Looking at how we can shift something we already do rather than adding a whole new thing, will make the change more likely to stick.
Think about going on a diet. Will it be successful if you have to throw out all the food in your kitchen and meal plan, shop for and prepare a completely different diet to your current one? Maybe, for a little while, but the long-term lifestyle change that is needed, more than likely, will be too difficult.
However, if you have a goal of drinking 8 glasses of water each day, adding a drink of water with every meal will be more likely to start the process of a complete lifestyle change.
I LOVE the book Atomic Habits (by James Clear). He talks about even a 1% change can make a significant impact on behaviour. And by anchoring (pairing) a new behaviour to an old behaviour will make the habit stick.
Creating Mini Connection Points
So how can we make a 1% change to a routine we already do to add more fun into our day and create a more intentional, connected and happy family?
Here are some of the changes I have made to add mini connection points to our everyday.
One of my daughters doesn’t wake up very happy most mornings, as she struggles with getting to sleep at night, so she is usually tired. She also has school anxiety, so mornings are tough. I found myself reacting to her cranky mood with no empathy. “Hurry up and get out of bed or we are going to be late” usually ended up with her in tears and us being late anyway.
But when I take the time to make a fun mini connection point in the morning, she usually bounces out of bed happier and our relationship is intact.
I will now sing “Good Morning Sunshine! Mummy says hello” (to the tune of an old song from my childhood). Or I pretend that I can’t see her and pretend to jump on her in bed or become the tickle monster and wake her up that way. We usually end up having a big cuddle, and she jumps out of bed.
Now some kids would hate that! My son, for example, hates being woken up like that – luckily, he is ALWAYS up before dawn. But, if he isn’t, he loves when I go in, open his blinds up to let the light in and slowly rub his hair, so he wakes up. I always wake him by saying, “Good morning, Treasure! You’re a sleepyhead today.” We always end up having a cuddle and a chat about our day.
This takes a few minutes out of my morning, but now it is part of my routine; it is an intentional connection that makes our day run more smoothly.
Driving in the car
I drive and drop my kids to school 4 out of 5 days of the week on my way to work. This is one of my favourite times because they can’t get away! We live about half an hour from my kid’s school, so it gives us lots of time to have a fun time before we say goodbye for the day.
We usually play a fun game together, like our number plate game (find A-Z in number plates) or giving cars funny names based on their number plates. We play the rainbow car game, where we find vehicles in the correct order of the rainbow song (FYI – pink cars are tough to find!) Another game we often play is a “guess that song” game where we hum a theme song to a movie and guess what show it’s from.
Sometimes my kids will just want to talk about “stuff” that’s on their mind too. My daughters, in particular, have lots of anxiety around school, so we have great talks and practice what we can say in a situation they are worried about.
Cuddle time on the lounge
When I get home from work, I walk in the door, drop everything, and have set up a routine of each child sitting on the lounge for a cuddle and telling me something about their day. It honestly is one of my favourite times of the day.
I LOVE the saying by Catherin Wallace that says, “Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big because to them, all of it has always been big stuff.”
So taking a few minutes for each child to tell me about their “big stuff” is important. Even if it’s about a butterfly they saw in the school garden, or the latest budding romance in year 3, or the fact that they had a day where they felt like their friends didn’t like them.
Another perfect time for us is at the dinner table. Playing fun games at the dinner table or talking about some good and hard things are connection points where the child feels listened to and important.
One of my kids’ absolute favourite things is hearing about when they were little (babies and toddlers) and all the crazy things they got up to. Like when I left my 3-year-old and 1 year old alone in the lounge room to run to the bathroom and came back with her whole face covered in stickers. Or when I would change their nappies and pee and poo would go everywhere (tip of the century: you can never go wrong with pee and poo stories! Haha). They also love hearing about when my husband and I were young. Like the time my husband was doing skids in his father’s van and rolled the car when he was on his Ps. Or the time I raced down a steep hill with a major city road in a shopping trolley when I was 17! (See where the strong ADHD genes come from!!? Haha)
We often tell jokes, make up rhymes and love playing the spinning pen game. This is where you spin a pen and have to say something nice about the person it lands on – even if it’s yourself.
Every day we eat dinner, every day we are in the car, most days I have to wake up my daughter, so these are the perfect times to add fun connection points into our lives.
What routines or tasks do you do every day that you can slightly adapt to create a perfect mini connection point with your children?
Let us know in the comments, so we can all get ADHD Done Differently… together.