As parents, we often miss making a connection with our children by responding to them only from our own point of view. Doing so leaves children feeling denied and all alone. One of the keys to connecting with children is to really listen to them and try to understand their notion of an experience rather than invalidating what they think and feel by expressing our view alone. As parents, understanding and acknowledging children’s notions doesn’t mean we have to agree with them or always give them what they want.

For example, if you watch as your child takes a tumble while riding his scooter or tricycle, your observation may lead you to believe that he was more surprised than hurt by the fall. Your child, however, may experience the fall differently than you do. If your child’s response is to tear up and cry, chances are your child is hurt—whether it be his body or pride. So, if your response is “You’re not really hurt. Stop crying. You’re a big boy,” you are saying in so many words that his reality is invalid—you are denying his reality. A greater connection between the two of you will take place if your response is more along the lines of, “That was a surprise! You went over that bump and fell right over into the grass. Are you hurt?”

Another example involves a trip to a store. Perhaps your child spots a toy she has seen advertised and is quite sure she wants to buy it. If you respond with, “No, you don’t really want to have that toy—it’s just a worthless bit of junk,” you are missing a chance to connect. Your child just told you she wants to buy the toy, and connecting with her in her desire doesn’t mean you have to buy the toy. Responding with connection might sound like this: “That’s the toy you have seen advertised, and it does look like fun. What do you like about it?” If your child continues to insist on getting it “today,” you can always add, “I understand why it is hard to wait to buy this toy when you like it as much as you do, so remind me to write down its name when we get home. Then I will be sure to know exactly what you want the next time I buy a present.”

When parents can let their children have and express their feelings and desires while knowing all desires don’t have to be fulfilled, the possibility opens up for connecting with the child’s experience without having to deny his or her reality. Connecting with you and feeling validation from you is very important to your child.