20 Ways to Build Stellar Intimacy with Your Kids at Any Age
Welcome to Part 4 of our Building Intimacy Series.
So far we’ve looked at:
- Building Intimacy in ANY Relationship
- Building Dynamic Intimacy with God
- Creating Healthy, Intimate Friendships
In our last installment, we looked at the importance of reaching not only outside ourselves for strength, but also to God, the “third strand” in the cord of any supernatural friendship.
This time we hit on how to nurture stellar intimacy with your kids. Though long-term intimacy is much easier to maintain the earlier you start, you can build intimacy with your children at any age so that even as teens and young adults, they’ll look forward to time spent with you.
As in the previous lessons, you’ll get some helpful exercises including an opportunity to rate yourself on your level of intimacy with each of your children and then actively listen to your kids. You’ll also receive a beautiful post-able and printable infographic, and additional resources to help you nurture intimacy with your children.
Here’s a few Must Dos for Every Age:
#1 Turn off the distractions
Whether they’re 2-years-old or 20-years-old, children pick up when you’re distracted and interpret it (correctly) that others are more important than them. If you make them the center of your attention when you are with them, you meet your child’s fundamental human need of simply being heard.
#2 Schedule regular time
Whether it’s daily for young children, weekly for teens, or monthly for grown children, schedule regular time with your kids. When you show them they are worthy of your consistent dedication, a second core need—the desire to be valued—is met.
#3 Enter and affirm their world
Don’t expect them to come into your “world”. You’re the parent and the onus is on you. Be intentional about understanding—and not judging—their views. You may not understand or agree with them, but if you demonstrate a genuine interest in their ideas and opinions, you nurture their basic need for affirmation.
Pray with them and for them. First, you demonstrate by example your reliance on God. Second, you show them your accountability to your “Father” in parenting them (this comes in especially handy in their teen years). Finally, you point them to God so that when they leave the nest, they are spiritually equipped to thrive in an unspiritual world.
Because our kids change so much from Infancy to Adulthood, we’re breaking up the remaining 16 ideas for intimacy into FOUR stages: Pre-School Age, Elementary Age, Middle & High School Age, Young Adulthood.
#5 Get on the floor
Whether your child hasn’t quite mastered rolling over or they’re racing through the house in a pull-up, build an emotional bridge by getting on your knees, your backside, or your belly so you can be eye-to-eye with them. This is especially important during play time.
Research has proven our need for human touch at all ages. Intimacy can only thrive in an environment of safe connectedness. Not only will your kids be drawn to you, you’ll be drawn to them.
#7 Get silly
Face it, parenting is hard. When your two-year-old is, well, being a two-year-old, tensions can flare. Make sure you are balancing your necessary discipline with times of laughter and silliness. Go ahead—sing into your hairbrush, act like their favorite Disney character, or talk to their hamster. You and your child can giggle your way to intimacy.
#8 Get reading
Read their favorite story, even if it’s for the 50th time. Read about science, nature, and cultures. Read the Bible together. This is an opportunity for you to be the fountain of knowledge to which they will confidently come again and again.
Elementary School Age
#9 Be their biggest fan
Let them pick their activities and you be their cheerleader. Sure, when they decide to bail on a sport or instrument before the end of the season or school year, you may have to hold their feet to the fire. But if you attend their games or concerts, shoot hoops with them, or host parties for the team or classmates, they’ll feel your support.
#10 Be sincere
Kids can smell a phony a mile away. Connecting with your child’s interests has to be intentional. If you don’t have anything positive to say, don’t say anything until you can be sincerely optimistic or encouraging.
#11 Respect them
This is the stage where friends start to take more of a prominent role in how your child views themselves. Respect their desire for limited PDA if they request it. If you want to really boost their confidence, ask them for advice.
#12 Give them a bedtime massage
Those few minutes right before your child drops off to sleep is prime time for intimacy. Their defenses are down and they’ve had time to ruminate over conversations they had at school or with friends. You’ll be amazed at the verbal gushing a little foot massage can prompt.
Middle and High School Age
Yes, sometimes they will act childish (they are still children), but you have to give them the space to make mistakes. Let them make the minor mess-ups while they’re still under the safety of your wings so they can avoid the life-altering disasters when they’re flying on their own. When they humble out in the wake of your wisdom, they’ll fly back home.
#14 Don’t give up meeting with ‘em
Just because your kids are spending more and more time with their peers doesn’t mean they don’t want to spend time with you. Sure, they may buck and kick and protest, but what they don’t say (because their brains are fully developed yet) is they need you to fight for your relationship.. Don’t disappoint them.
#15 Drive ‘em
Because your aging teen seems to have less and less time for you, you’ll have to get creative about connecting with them. Drive time is the new prime time, especially prior to them getting their driver’s license. Take the time in the car to enter into their world. If you sincerely express interest, they’ll eventually talk.
#16 Make ‘em milestones
This is the age when your kids will actually remember family vacations long into adulthood so make milestones—go to the beach, visit local tourist attractions (and act like tourists!), and frequent a favorite restaurant (McDonald’s doesn’t count). Post photos around the house as reminders of happy times.
Because my own kids are minors and/or still living with me, I reached out to some “empty-nesters” who practiced many of the ideas I shared above, but now continue to successfully maintain intimate relationships with their grown children.
#17 Keep lines of communication open
Adult children get busy with their own lives, but you can still reach out to them regularly. Reggie & Aneda Price and Bill & Laura Boyles of Orlando frequently travel to see their out-of-state children so they can connect. Keith Nahlovsky of Yorba Linda, CA, said, “As often as you can…tell them you love them and always will.”
#18 Keep family traditions alive
As much as possible, continue the traditions you started when they were small. Richard & Jeanie Runge of Orlando have regular Sunday night dinners together with their grown boys. Tom & Carma Kuhn of Melbourne, FL, plan fun, family get-togethers: “We have practiced this through the years and our kids remain very close to each other and to us.”
#19 Be real about your own struggles
Michelle Read of Winter Park, FL and Robin Wadsworth of Los Angeles agreed that it’s important to be vulnerable with adult children. “When my children know my struggles and successes, it’s easier for them to share [their own],” said Read. And when they do share, Cindy Morris of Orlando suggests we listen without judgment, trusting them to make their own choices.
#20 Parent less, counsel more (when they ask)
Don’t make your kids remind you that they are adults. Karen Wilson of Celebration, FL shared, “It’s easy to fall into giving advice…Instead, I listen. I ask if they want my advice [or not]. This allows them to share more freely because they not only feel loved but respected.”
Time to get practical
1. Rate Yourself
In your journal, write down the names of each of your children and rate between 1 and 5 (1 being very little intimacy and 5 being very close) level of intimacy you have with each.
2. Ideal Intimacy
Next, briefly describe what healthy intimacy would look like between you and each of your children.
3. Listen Actively
This is the TOUGHY—ask your children if they feel close to you and why or why not. Ask them to be completely honest. Here’s the most challenging part: You can’t respond defensively. In fact, you can’t say anything—just listen. After they finish, say, “Thank you.”
4. A Plan of Action
Take the information they shared with you and honestly evaluate what you can do to improve your intimacy with your children.
If you have a great relationship with your children, count yourself blessed! If you need improve your intimacy with your kids, make a plan, pray about it, get advice from others who’ve been successful in it, then patiently start to implement your plan. It may take a while, but “love never fails”.
Wrapping it Up with Resources
As promised here are a few resources to further expand your understanding of what it takes to nurture and maintain intimate relationships with your kids no matter what their age.
- Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline & Jim Fay
- Good Enough Parenting: A Christian Perspective on Meeting Core Emotional Needs and Avoiding Exasperation by John & Karen Louis
- Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman
- Boys Adrift & Girls on the Edge by Leonard Sax
- Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Ted Tripp
- Raising Awesome Kids Reloaded: Becoming the Most Important Influence in Your Child’s Life by Sam & Geri Laing
- The Letter Your Teenager Can’t Write You by Gretchen Schmelzer
- The UnGame Family Edition
In the next installment of the Building Intimacy Series we enter the glorious halls of marriage and discuss 15 Fun and Practical Ways to Build Intimacy with Your Spouse.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to email me.
Don’t forget your free 20 Ways to Stellar Intimacy with Your Kids Infographic
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