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As I listen around to families, one thing seems to be common to many: most of our communication is task-oriented. “Is your homework done?” “What time do you have to be at practice?” “Did you get your room cleaned up?” Many parents lament that they’d like to improve conversation with their kids, but honestly, I wonder can we even call it “conversation?”

Experts in child development speak about the importance of attunement and attachment in early childhood. They tell us we need to look at our child; we need to really listen and pay attention to him or her. So, we pretty much do that…during early childhood. But somewhere along the way, we slip into sloppy communication habits and before you know it, we only talk to get things done. We could think of attachment and attunement as a web or netting which holds the family together, and which catches kids when they fall. Here are some ideas to experiment with to improve attachment and attunement in your family:

1. Start small – if you have not been connecting with your kids, begin with just a few minutes a day. Set aside your phone, newspaper and make an effort to say something positive to your kid or about your kid every day.

2. Ask for their time – make a date to talk. It might sound something like, “Hey buddy, I’ve been so busy I’ve felt a little out of touch this week. How about before you go to bed tonight we have a couple of minutes just to catch up? What time might work best for you?” Being willing to state it as your priority and to be flexible honoring what works for them already gives you two positives before any conversation even begins. Especially as kids move into adolescence, they may resent our assumption onto their time. By asking, we show respect…the same attitude we’d hope they’ll reciprocate toward us.

3. Consider shared interests – while you may not want to shop at the mall or chat about the newest video character, somewhere in this world is something both of you may have an interest in. One dad I know began going camping with an eager camper. He took along art supplies because he liked to diddle to relax. It became a hobby they both enjoyed especially using natural materials, “found objects” for projects. One mom and teen son I know share a love for musical theater.

4. Be willing to follow the kid’s interests if need be – sometimes a kid has a real zest for something new to us, like photography or horses. I know whole families who’ve been led to discover a new passion through a kid’s interest for example the family who now plans summer vacations to see well-known baseball fields.

5. Play – so often, under the stress of being the mom or dad, we forget how to play. It might be playing catch in the yard or doing a little skate boarding. It might be taking a bike ride or doing finger painting. It might be baking cookies or throwing snowballs. Remember that one of the reasons we had kids is that they’re FUN, a fresh window on the world!

So what does this have to do with positive communication? Attachment and attunement…as we play and listen and talk casually, we and our kids remember our fondness for one another. As we watch them and really SEE them, we just may begin to see them for the new person they are becoming; we may HEAR them all the way to their core.

I double-dog dare you to experiment with some fun this week.

And let me know how it goes!