PAP 086:

25 Ways to Connect with Your Kids and Family at Home

Connection is one of the most important and powerful human needs. It provides a sense of safety, security, belonging, and fulfillment. And yet, we often struggle with making true, genuine connections. And our kids with ADHD/autism struggle with it far more. As this episode airs, we are under lockdown due to the Corona virus pandemic. You’d think this would provide so much more connection being stuck at home, but it really doesn’t. We have to act with intention to create genuine connection. In this episode of the Parenting ADHD Podcast, I’ve listed 25 ideas to connect with your kids and family at home, right now, and at any time in the future. 

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Penny Williams (00:00): When we feel connected with others, true, genuine connection, then we feel safe and when we feel safe, then we have good coping strategies. We have a more healthy life. We have good mental and emotional health. We have better behavior.

Penny Williams (00:29): Welcome to the Parenting ADHD Podcast where I share insights and strategies on raising kids with ADHD, straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams. I'm a parenting coach, author, ADHD-aholic and mindset mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your atypical kid. Let's get started.

Penny Williams (00:58): Hello my tribe. Welcome back to the parenting ADHD podcast. In this episode, I want to talk to you about ways to connect with your kids to get through hard times and hard things. Of course, for those of you listening right when this episode airs, we are in the middle of the Corona virus, COVID 19 pandemic in the United States, and so there's a lot of kids and even adults right now who are really struggling with what we are going through. These are really hard times. These are times that are so crazy, so big and so difficult that we never imagined them even possible. I don't think many of us have ever gone there in our brains. And so we're really dealing with the unknown and we're dealing with a situation where we have zero control of. We cannot control the virus. We cannot control the stay safe, stay home orders. We can't control that.

Penny Williams (02:13): All of our kids' schooling was shifted online. We can't control our kids' anxiety or our own around what's going on. I have struggled with this myself and, at times, I've melted down, I've had to deal with and feel my emotions. And that is part of getting through hard times. We cannot avoid. Avoidance is a negative coping strategy. It's not a healthy coping strategy. What's more healthy is to acknowledge our feelings, feel them, honor them, and then work through them so that we can move forward. We can move beyond that. That's really the way to deal with struggle and challenge and hard times or even things that make us feel really uncomfortable. And for our kids with ADHD and some with autism, avoidance is a huge, huge coping mechanism and really it's fleeing, right? So we have fight, flight or freeze and that is the flight portion and I've actually been studying polyvagal theory since I have been cooped up in the house and I'm not going into details about that in this episode.

Penny Williams (03:39): We will certainly be doing at least one episode if not several on that concept in the future because it really describes our kids' experiences and their symptoms and their behavior. Polyvagal theory can explain all of that and in polyvagal theory there's really four parts instead of just fight, flight or freeze, there's also connection and that's what we're going to talk about today because right now we're cooped up together and many of us are thinking that maybe this is a negative thing, but really this is a huge opportunity. We have been forced to slow down. We have been forced to spend time together and to take a time out of our busy, hectic lives and now is the perfect opportunity because of that to really connect with our kids and with our significant others. And anybody else in your household. And it's so important because connection with others is when we feel safe in polyvagal theory, there's really feeling safe and feeling unsafe and when we feel unsafe, that's when all of that behavior happens.

Penny Williams (05:05): That's when we flee. That's when we fight. That's when we might get aggressive or moody. That's when we might even freeze and be kind of paralyzed by things either metaphorically or sometimes that's either even a reality that you would get physically kind of paralyzed with fear and anxiety. And this is all physiological. The polyvagal theory is completely born on looking at physiology and the Vegas nerve and our sensory and anxious physical responses. And it really explains everything. It's so fascinating and amazing and really a great driver for our parenting in general, but especially with kids that are atypical. And so back to the fact that this is a huge opportunity to connect. So when we feel connected with others, true, genuine connection, then we feel safe. And when we feel safe, then we have good coping strategies. We have a more healthy life.

Penny Williams (06:19): We have good mental and emotional health, we have better behavior. And this is everyone in general, not just our kids, but let's talk about it in relation to our kids because that's what we talk about on this podcast. us as parents in this difficult Parenthood and also, the struggles that our kids have. So how do we build this meaningful, genuine connection with our kids? Because that's really the question and the struggle. Let's admit it. This can be a real struggle. We have so many battles with our kids and we have so much frustration around their symptoms and their behavior, and so we kind of put up a wall. And so do they. And that makes it much harder to connect, to just connect with each other because you cannot connect when you're bumping up against each other. When there's a bunch of friction, we're not getting genuine connection there.

Penny Williams (07:25): And so now in this time of togetherness, forced togetherness, right? We have so much opportunity to really build that connection that then is going to translate after the pandemic is over, when we get back to our own sort of normal lives and we're out in the world again and we're busy again and things are different. But back to somewhat what they used to be, it can really carry through to those times and it will continue to build a better relationship between you and your child. It will continue to help them to manage and cope better and to have less of the unwanted behavior. So while it's in our nature to fight, flee, freeze, especially for our kids because there's so much challenge and struggle by building connection, we are helping to calm those pieces of their system so that they don't feel the need, they don't feel unsafe, where they need to flee or fight or freeze.

Penny Williams (08:42): So let's talk about 25 ways that you can connect with your kids right now at home in this specific time in the world. And for anyone listening far after this is over. These are great ways to connect at any point in time, but this list is specific to things that you can do while you're self quarantined at home. Number one, board games. Most kids enjoy board games and it's a matter of finding a game that they're really going to be excited by, right, that they're interested in playing with you. You may have plenty of those games at home. You might already be a family that plays a lot of board games. If you're not, the mail is still running. There are many things like Amazon where you can order something and it will arrive at some point. I can't say that it will arrive speedily.

Penny Williams (09:43): I know my Amazon prime items are taking a little longer to get here, but it will come if you needed to do that. You can certainly find games online that you can print and create yourselves to or make up your own game together. , really engage your kids to be creative and , play the games that they're interested in so that you have their willingness to engage, right? Because forcing them to play a board game is not what we're talking about here. That's not building connection, that's not building positive experiences. Number two, a scavenger hunt. You can create a scavenger hunt in your house or maybe your yard a lot of public parks are closed right now, but you can take a walk around your neighborhood or , if you live in the city, take a walk around your city neighborhood, can you create a scavenger hunt?

Penny Williams (10:43): Right now there are a lot of neighborhoods that are participating in this bear hunt and they're putting bears in their windows for all the neighborhood kids who are going on walks with their parents. They're going on a bear hunt and as exciting for little kids. And you could do that in a myriad of ways, but you can also create your own scavenger hunt and you can create it in a way that's age appropriate if you have older kids. Number three, watch TVs or movies or videos or YouTube together. What are your kids interested in watching? What can you do with them and have discussions. Talk about it. Don't just watch this movie and then everybody walks away really make it a point to connect. Make it a point to ask questions or even ask, what was your favorite part of that movie?

Penny Williams (11:35): What was most exciting to you about it? Or whatever. , any sort of question that's applicable to the specific thing that you're watching. These are also great ways to build social skills with our kids, to teach them different of interaction. , if you've watched a movie and a child or even an adult in the movie struggled with something, maybe they handled an argument with a friend in a poor way. Or maybe they handled it in a great way. Talk about those things because you're connecting with your child, but you're also building lagging skills. You're helping them to increase those skills that they really need to work on. Number four, play a video game with them. So many of our kids, even girls are into gaming. Why not play a game with your child, play Minecraft with them, play. whatever. I don't even know because I am not into video games, but my kids are very much into video games and sometimes my son invites me to play with him and I'll admit often I feel busy and I say no because one I'm not really interested and usually he gets really frustrated because I'm not as quick as he is.

Penny Williams (12:56): And so I haven't done that as much. I haven't engaged with him in that way and I'm going to start. I definitely need to be doing that and we all need to do this with our kids. And really the point here is not playing video games. The point is engage in what they're interested in. Show an interest in what they have interest in. That builds connection and it also shows how much you care about them, that you want to know about what they're doing, what they're spending their time on, what makes them excited, that shows that they are important to you. Number five, ask fun questions. At the dinner table or over breakfast or whenever you gather together. family dinner is, is a really good opportunity for this, but you can certainly do it in other ways to ask questions to get to know each other and you're not just asking questions of your kids.

Penny Williams (13:55): Everybody participates, mom, dad, grandma, whoever is there? Everyone participates. Questions like, what's your favorite color? Do your child's favorite color? Do they know your favorite color? The answer is probably no. Even though we think that this is a really simple question and that we should all know this, typically we don't know this and those kind of interests change. , my favorite color today is definitely not my favorite color even 10 years ago. And so just having these conversations builds that knowledge about each other. That makes you feel more connected. It makes you feel like each other. More questions like what's the most fun you've ever had? What's the one thing you did in your life so far that was just the most fun you've ever had? What's your favorite animal? What's been the best thing about being quarantined together? What is or was your favorite class in school?

Penny Williams (15:00): Who is one of your heroes? Who do you look up to? These are all just questions that are really probing without probing and it just, they're getting to know each other. But by participating as parents, they're seeing you as a real person, not as just an authority figure. And that's really important in connection when we are showing power or control or authority or retail or we're trying to have that over our kids, that sort of authoritarian relationship. We're not connecting. You cannot connect with each other with that way of dealing with each other. Right? With that dynamic, there's no connection in that power dynamic. so it's really important that we're really showing interest and asking questions, but also sharing because that's where the connection lies. If we're always just asking questions of them, but we're never sharing anything of ourselves, we're not really connecting.

Penny Williams (16:08): That's not connection. you can purchase these conversations starters. Amazon for one has a ton of them, and I'll put some in the show notes for this episode. There's things like family talk, dinner, conversation starters, there's lots of different conversation starter packs. I'm on Amazon, like I said, all links them up for you. Number six, show interest in their interests. And this is what we've already talked a little bit about, but not just engaging in that play with them, which is important, but also really engaging in their kind of knowledge, seeking in their passion about different interests. If you have a kid who's super into trains, how can you connect with them over that interest playing trains together, researching trains together, watching videos about trains together really engage in their world. And this is true again for little kids but also teens, tweens, even young adults they want to connect with us just as much as younger kids.

Penny Williams (17:22): And all of this is valuable really at any age. cook together again, we're stuck here together. We're making a lot of meals at home. , I don't like to cook. I actually hate to cook. it is not fun for me. It is absolutely a chore and it is my least favorite chore. And so I find a lot of excuses to take the easy way out and not cook a lot, even though I shouldn't. And it's been a big shift here that we are eating meals that we caulk all day every day. it's up to us. And so that's a good way to engage with your kids. Cook together, bake together, make something fun, do science experiments together in the kitchen. You can find online so many recipes for chemistry experiments for things that you already have around the house. If you have a really science minded kid, that's a great way to engage with each other.

Penny Williams (18:20): And connect. Number eight, read together again, this is not just for little kids. Read a storybook series together with your older kids, Harry Potter the lightning thief, Rick Riordian series. There's so many series that kids, even older kids are really interested in. Read a chapter together every night after dinner or before bed or , in the mornings if nobody is going to work in your household and you're all there all day, every day, you could start your day with that. It's totally up to you, but that's a great way to connect and just to really spend quality time together. Right? Number nine, have a dance party. I don't know about you, but music really pumps me up. Music really is the thing that makes me feel better, that makes me feel happier. And that can be true for so many people. So why not have a dance party?

Penny Williams (19:22): Or if you have bashful kids who don't want to dance in front of you or you don't want to dance in front of them you can certainly have just a music listening party together. You don't have to dance. But , dancing is exercise. Dancing is getting the blood flowing. It's doing things that we're struggling to get done. Now if you are someone who goes to the gym to work out, several times a week, you're not getting to do that right now. And this can be part of what feeds that need. Go for walks together. Again, exercise green time. Green time is so important for our kids and for all of us. But there are many studies that show that it's really helpful for ADHD. So , just getting out and walking around the block in your neighborhood, that is powerful stuff.

Penny Williams (20:13): You're connecting, you're getting exercise, you're getting green time, you're getting some fresh air. the super important stuff that is very good to help you to connect, explore music together. Again, we kind of talked about this in having a music listening party but also you could explore your different music interests. , my son likes to create EDM, electronic dance music and other kinds of digital music. And so he is also really into just a lot of different genres though it amazes me the different music that he wants to play for me from music from 30 or 40 years ago to heavy metal to EDM. Like he just really is interested in this whole wide span of music and he finds it really enjoyable to play different songs for me. And he's 17. He loves when we get in the car, mom let me play a song and , he gets on Apple music on my phone and he will pull up stuff that he's just discovered or something that he's really into and play it for me.

Penny Williams (21:22): And I have learned, even if I hate it, to at least let him play one song that totally pains me. , my brain doesn't move at the speed of his so heavy metal with double bass is like, just makes my brain cry. It is not my thing. Now I'm not an old lady prune about music. I love Eminem and , crazy things that most women in their mid forties don't necessarily listen to. But , he has very different tastes in music sometimes and I'm always careful to at least let him play one song that I find painful just so we're having that connection together. So what music can you explore together? What can you think of maybe old school from your childhood that you think your kid might enjoy and you play some of that for them. And then they say, Ooh I have the song.

Penny Williams (22:18): I bet you haven't heard. Let me play it for you. So much to explore there. , millions of songs. There's so much to explore there. And most of us already have access to music. look at family pictures. Take out your photo albums, show your kids pictures of their great grandparents, tell stories of your childhood. , that's an amazing way to connect, but also to keep your family history going by sharing that with your kids. And in my experience, they're always really interested. They want to know where they come from. They want to know the experiences of the people who've come before them and their family and they like to discover where they might've gotten something from. , maybe your child has freckles and nobody in your immediate family in the two or three generations that are alive in your family right now have freckles.

Penny Williams (23:17): Well maybe great, great grandpa did. And now they're fascinated because they realize where they've gotten that from. And that automatically makes us feel more connected when we're talking about our family. And our history and other people. Leave your kid a special note. I love this one. Leave them little love notes. We talked about this with Rebecca Brown, right? And her journal, her back and forth journal leave little special notes for your kids somewhere unexpectedly. You cannot imagine how amazing that makes them feel. And again, you're building that connection. You're saying, I see you and I want to remind you that I really care about you. I really love you. I'm so excited. You're a part of my life. Number 14 make paper airplanes together. If you have a kid who's into paper airplanes and alternative, if your child isn't into that origami pretty much everybody has some paper laying around the house and you can certainly experiment with that.

Penny Williams (24:22): You can find all sorts of full diagrams on the internet to really explore that challenge yourselves, see who can learn to make a paper crane the fastest or whatever. , just really get creative. Now is the time where we have so much time on our hands to really be creative, to stop pushing away at creativity. Because we don't have time for it to really nurture that side of ourselves and that side of our kids. paint each other's nails for moms and daughters or , if your son is Intuit, that's totally cool too. Or dad, whoever there's no rules. You can do any of these creative things, whatever your kids are interested in. And that's really kind of the message here is don't hold them back. Now we have time to do anything. Don't hold your kids back if they're interested in something, go for it.

Penny Williams (25:24): But, painting your each other's nails is kind of a bonding experience. I don't know why. Maybe it's that you're closeup with each other's feet, I don't know. But it's bonding, right? And those kinds of experiences will really stick with our kids. Those are the memories that lasts with them for so long. And again, it makes them feel so important when we are taking time to connect with them. You could also have a spa time, mom, daughter, mom's son, dad, daughter, dad, son, whoever. And there's recipes all over the place to find for facial to make your own facial out of food products and ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen. Again, it's kind of a bonding experience. Make a Fort. So many younger kids, but I think even middle school kind of age, those tweens, and the ADHD and autism population often like these little hidey-holes.

Penny Williams (26:24): And so make a Fort together or make it okay. I know so many parents don't want the mess. They, it feels like a chore to have them tear apart the room and make a Fort and have to put it back together and they may not clean up after themselves. This is the time to just let those things happen. This is the easiest time we're going to have to allow these sorts of explorations and these things that are going to take a lot more of our time and energy potentially have a tickle battle. The one way that I can still, even though he's 17, get my son to kind of break a mood and start to really interact. , a dual interaction is a tickle battle. Some families wrestle on the floor with their kids and that's some things similar. Just really you're almost engaging your bodies in a way that's connecting with each other and it's so super valuable not to mention fun, who doesn't enjoy a tickle battle?

Penny Williams (27:27): Now, I didn't as a kid, if I was just repeatedly tickled, it made me very upset. But , if we were just tickling a little bit and having fun back and forth that I really enjoyed that as a kid. And I'm sure a lot of your kids would enjoy that too. make up a story together. We talked about making up a game together. You can make up a story together, write a little fairy tale together. Again, so much creativity can be explored right now, and at any time later. These are the kinds of things that you can do with your kids at any point in time. And really at any age, as long as they're interested. coloring, coloring is so therapeutic and crafting and drawing any art in general can be very therapeutic. So at this time where we're really kind of struggling with some anxiety and that sort of thing, we're struggling with the emotions and trying to grapple with the enormity of what's happening around us.

Penny Williams (28:25): These sort of art activities are really therapeutic. So you could do all sorts of different crafts. You could draw, you could color together, anything along those lines that your child is interested in. I'm sculpting with playdough if that's what you have. All of those things are totally valuable. And then we have a few things that are just really about the relationship. Number 21 hug, hug each other often. Now I will give you the caveat that not all of our kids are okay with being hugged and you need to know your child and know if this is a good thing or if this is asking for trouble. But for most kids, they enjoy a hug and it really helps them to feel very connected, that embrace. Tell your child how thankful you are for them. , make sure that you are really communicating how much appreciation you have for having them in your life.

Penny Williams (29:31): Number 23 listen, how much do we cut our kids off? We have to practice being able to listen to our kids. It's crazy when you think about it. You think, "well of course I listen." We really don't listen that much and I'll tell you what the silence is golden when you wait for them to talk instead of trying to keep things going. That's when you get the really good stuff. This is actually a big interrogation tactic for law enforcement is be quiet and wait for them to talk. But this is also a really good exercise for connection because when we are silent and we wait for them to speak, we're giving them the opportunity to talk about whatever is on their mind. We're not shutting them down. We're not diverting the conversation in a different way. We're just allowing them to be free to say whatever is on their mind.

Penny Williams (30:36): Embrace imperfection. This is always something we need to be working on as parents and especially as parents of special needs kids. But if ever there were a time to just absolutely let go and embrace imperfection, this is it because we are fighting what is going on around us and we have no control over it. And when we're fighting things that we have no control over, we're making ourselves feel worse, much worse. We just need to embrace what is happening. And by doing that we're going to reduce the anxiety that our kids have in these moments. And this again is true far beyond this pandemic far beyond being stuck in our homes together. And definitely we always need to embrace imperfection. And why? Because perfection doesn't exist. And the striving for perfection is actually just causing more and more anxiety and causing us and our kids to feel like we're less than like we can't ever succeed.

Penny Williams (31:52): Because if you're always striving for perfection and perfection doesn't exist, guess what? You're never going to succeed. So we always need to be embracing imperfection. And then last on my list of these 25 ways to connect is to show your kids some grace and yourself. Show yourself and your kids some grace. It's okay to have big feelings. It's okay to be anxious and afraid right now. Those things are okay. It's okay to have an emotional breakdown and to show that to our kids, they need to know that it's okay to feel their feelings and to share their feelings. And when we are showing each other grace, we are allowing each other to be ourselves. We want our kids to be their authentic, true selves and we want that for ourselves as well. And we often fight against that and now is such a great time to really practice showing our kids grace.

Penny Williams (33:10): They're amazing. They are completely and wonderfully amazing individuals. They may not fit in a lot of traditional situations in our world. They may exhaust us, they may frustrate us and they definitely struggle and create some struggle for us if we're being real. But we want to be our true selves and we have to honor that in ourselves in order to honor it in our kids. I think we really have to recognize what kind of weight that has for us, how much impact we feel like being authentic will have in our lives. And I can tell you it's unbelievably powerful and it will change your kids when they are allowed to be themselves and when they are praised and acknowledged for being themselves. So above all in this time of extra closeness and extra togetherness to really be real and to really connect with our kids. It's really the little things. The little tiny things are some of the biggest memories that we have from our childhoods and they're the most special times. Very, very often. If you want to get links to anything that I've talked about, some of the conversation starters on Amazon, for instance, those are in the show notes. Go to parenting, ADHDandautism.com/086 and I wish you much connection and some togetherness and some alone time. And I will see everyone on the next episode. Take good care.

Penny Williams (35:10): Thanks for joining me on the parenting ADHD podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share and don't forget to check out my online courses, parent coaching and mama retreats at parenting, ADHD, and autism.com

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