How to Build a Relationship with my Child:
Parenting by Connection (With Dave Cales)
“When I parent by connection, the spiritual connection comes naturally…”
I had the privilege of being raised in a Christian home. Since I popped out of my mom’s belly, I have been going to church (technically, I have to add the nine months in my mom’s belly). By God’s Grace, I’ve been in full-time Children’s ministry for the last 30 years. If I’m completely honest with all of you, I have a confession to make … I did not enjoy my parent’s attempt to educate me with the things of Jesus.
You see, we went to church all the time, all day on Sunday, Tuesday night, Thursday night, and Friday night. My thinking was, “I get it, Jesus is awesome, but I just want to play with my friends or watch some TV.” I don’t hate my parents for it, I know they did their best with the parenting tools they had, but frankly, it was a lot of “do’s and dont’s” and a lot of “no you can’t go there, or no you can’t watch that” I just nodded my head and said what I thought they wanted to hear.
Sunday School was exactly that, going to Bible school on a Sunday. I didn’t have conversations that were meaningful or life-changing. It was a lot of “Thus saith the Lord” interactions, and good God-fearing boys don’t do this or that. I had a lot of Bible verses that I committed to memory, and I knew every Bible story, and I could find Jeremiah 29:11 in 3.9 seconds flat. All that to say, I knew about Jesus, but I didn’t know Jesus.
I would trade all of that in a second if I would’ve been able to say, “I’m just a kid, and this is what I’m feeling, or I’m just a kid, please listen.” Understanding this and being able to do some internal work, I came to a place where I needed to change my parenting style. I needed to connect with my kids instead of trying to control them.
What is Parenting by Connection?
It’s having the ability to position myself in a place with a desire to listen and understand what my kids are feeling, letting them express themselves without a harsh or quick reaction. Through Parenting by Connection, my child thrives, desires to learn, and wants to connect with me. It’s in that space conversations happen naturally, conversations about Jesus and what Jesus means to me. It’s in the space where we just spent 20 minutes horse playing and pillow fighting that my child wants to connect. We feel connected. Afterward, we have conversations about life and how Jesus can guide us through difficult times.
Times when I just had a session of what we call “Staylistening,” where my child has just finished crying, but I stayed and was just present. It’s there, where he feels seen and heard that as parents, we can have profound conversations with our children. Conversations about God and how much he loves us.
When love is flowing between our children and us, our lives burst with meaning, and the child is at their highest capacity to learn. They eat up everything we throw at them, and they want more of it because they feel so connected to mom and dad, and it’s here where God guides us and shows us what to say and how to say it. Let me show you what this looks like.
Like all teenagers, you ask them what’s going on, you get grunts and shrugged shoulders or an “I’m good” response. My teenage son is no different than your average teenage boy, and I know if I just ask him straight out, “Hey, What’s going on?” or “How can I help?” he runs for the hills. Any time he feels he needs to talk about his feelings, my boy is out of here.
Instead, we have this thing we do that every time we pass or see each other during the day, we start to wrestle. When I say wrestle, I mean move the furniture, let’s toss and tumble and go at it (FYI, my son was a nationally ranked wrestler in High School). Time after time, we would tumble, and I wouldn’t let him win, we go at it again, and I wouldn’t let him win until finally, one day I let him win, and I tapped out.
He jumps up and yells at the top of his lungs, “I’m the man of the house,” “I’m the man of the house.” He runs to the window, opens it, and yells as loud as he can, “I’m the man of the house.” Later on that evening, we had the most open and sincere conversation about Jesus. I didn’t open up the Bible and I didn’t speak down to him. I just had a simple conversation. Why was it so deep? Because earlier that day, my son felt connected to his dad, we laughed together, and we connected in play, and because of that play, he was open to having a conversation with his old man.
So here are five simple, practical tools I use to parent by connection with my kids on a weekly basis.
You’ll find that listening is a powerful remedy when your child cries, has a tantrum or is frantic with fear. She pours out the hurt she feels; you listen and pour in your quiet confidence that she’ll recover. When you Staylisten, you will move away from fixing things: instead, you will trust your child to recover and figure things out. You will move away from lecturing: you’ll assist your child as she clears away her upset. Allowing your child to cry things all the way through is a bit like allowing your child to nap till she wakes. In both crying and napping, the mind is busy doing important internal work. Housekeeping, you could say. Things get tidied up nicely. Energy recharges.
This is the art of eliciting laughter in play with your child, without tickling. Laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, and your child’s confidence will build as you learn to instigate playful role reversal and games full of friendly challenge and affection. The two hallmarks of Playlistening are laughter and your child’s sense that she’s in charge. Any time your child is full of unforced giggles and her appetite for fun is big, she’s making gains.
3. Special Time
A simple way to pour love and attention into your child. You set aside one-on-one time and let your child choose what the two of you will do. It’s up to you how often special time will be and for how long, but even three minutes daily can have a profound effect on your relationship with your child. Special Time accustoms your child to feeling well connected. It also attunes you to your child, so after awhile, you’ll anticipate difficult moments more often and learn to plan for them.
4. Setting Limits
A crucial tool in your work as a parent. Your child needs and deserves a limit as soon as her behavior starts to veer off track. A good limit gives your child the chance to offload the emotional tension that clouds her behavior, so she can return to the fun of learning and enjoying those around her. “No” is sometimes the kindest word, and it’s often an absolutely necessary word. A good “no” can move your child forward and save lots of wear and tear on you.
5. Listening Partnerships
A Listening Partnership is built to tackle the inevitable stress that’s a byproduct of parenting. It’s a straightforward tool: you exchange listening with a parent of your choice. You decide what you want to say. You express your feelings about the situations that irk you day after day. The other parent listens with warmth and respect. They don’t give advice—you know your own life and children best. Their aim is to help you offload tension. Then, you listen in return. It’s simple, cost-free, and a great way to reduce stress. It’s the parent support tool that helps us bring our best selves to our children and each other, day in and day out.
David Cales is the Children’s Pastor at NewLife Fellowship in NYC. He’s been married to his wonderful wife Daphne for 32 years, and she helps him with Children’s Ministry. Together they have two handsome boys/men, DJ & Daniel, and of course, he can’t forget his lovely Labra-doodle, Summer. He is currently enrolled as an Instructor Certification Program to support parents with the insights, skills, and tools necessary to build the meaningful connections that parents and children need to thrive. Born in Brooklyn, loves NYC. Let’s go, Mets!!!! You can reach Dave on Insta @dcales or Facebook – David Cales
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