As parents and caregivers, we have the opportunity to help children create an open and receptive state of mind rather than a reactive one. Doing this is important because participating as healthy individuals in healthy relationships requires receptivity.

Connecting with another person in a caring way is almost impossible when the nervous system is reactive. Reactivity actually comes from the fight-flight-freeze-response state of mind. The reactive response is immediate without the benefit of thinking. If we are focused on self-defense, we become guarded and unable to join with another in a relational way. Self-defense disallows real listening and a consideration of another’s feelings. While in a self-defensive, reactive mode, people can even distort neutral comments, reconfiguring them into words that imply conflict.

When people are in a receptive mode, activity in the brain is more calming. Muscles in the face and the vocal cords relax, blood pressure and heart rate return to normal, and openness—receptivity—to the experience and expressions in relationship to others increases.

As we help our children develop a receptive state of mind, we also need to remember that they are individuals. It is important to maintain an individual identity when joining with others. While we don’t want our children to be totally self-centered and individualistic, leaving them feeling isolated, we also don’t want them to be so concerned about a relationship that they end up dependent and vulnerable to unhealthy and harmful relationships. We want our children to be healthy individuals with healthy relationships.

One of the best ways to prepare children for relationships in a way that encourages connection is through play—and playful parenting. When you give your children fun, enjoyable experiences with the people they spend the most time with, you are positively reinforcing what it means to be in a relationship full of love and care. Give your child experiences in your relationship that strengthen the bonds between you. Teach your children that healthy relationships are empathic, affirming, rewarding, and fulfilling.

Help your children create a receptive state of mind by dancing together, working in the garden together, playing games together, telling stories together, or engaging in other spontaneous and creative activities that connect to the idea of receptivity in relationships.

In short . . .

In short, reactivity shuts us down and leaves us defensive while receptivity encourages social engagement and connects us to others.