It can be hard to rekindle a relationship with children when you don’t see them often, either due to travel, work commitments or custody arrangements, but by using patience — and understanding that bonding is an ongoing process that takes time — you can build strong lifelong relationships, even if you are not a day-to-day parent. Here are some tips to get you started, based upon children’s dominant senses.
Taste and smell children will like a little gift of something personal, a handmade card or their favorite treat. They want to have some “proof” or memento that you think about them even when you’re apart. Make sure you carry her school photo in your wallet, and have a purposeful and prominent place for his drawings or presents. Keep current with their tastes: if she likes Bratz dolls, then know all about Bratz dolls; if he likes basketball, be able to discuss his favorite team’s recent game. Let the child call the other parent if he wants to, even if it’s not in the court order or your ex doesn’t reciprocate. Taste and smell children like harmony, and as they get older, they will appreciate the more reasonable and fair parent.
Visual children will be sensitive to how things look to others. Dress nicely when you pick them up from school, but realize you may get a cool welcome, as the child will not want friends to know about their family situation. To reconnect, show them photos and pictures of what you have been doing, and if they bring you anything to look at, like a drawing or written story, stop and take note. Spend time to look it over as they would have picked it out especially for you. Be thoughtful about your expressions — I once had a child come to see me who mistook her father’s tears of pride for tears of disapproval. Be aware of what your child will see and how they will interpret your mood.
For your tactile child, start with an activity. A quick game of shooting hoops, a race around the park, or a popsicle-stick building project will give the child time to ease into communicating, at their own pace. Bonding occurs with these children during the act of “doing,” so save that IKEA shelf kit to work on together, or make a kite to fly that afternoon. Don’t bombard with questions about what’s been happening in his time away from you. Rather, wait until he brings up things naturally, as this will allow him to feel physically safe before you have expectations about communication. Be sure to keep the physical environment at your home as similar to the other home as possible — for example, same size bed, same characters on the sheets, same toothpaste, etc.
Ironically, breaking the ice with auditory children isn’t always best done by talking. If forced to speak about her day, the auditory child will clam up altogether and give you the silent treatment. Try to ease them into their new surroundings by setting up small, auditory rituals like playing a favorite song in the car as you head home. Let your child chat about what interests him, before you begin asking questions. Also, be very careful about your initial tone of voice, as that will set the emotional feel for the whole visit. Once they open up and start to chat, listen, ask relevant questions and remember to allow the child to dictate the pace and topic of conversation.
Priscilla Dunstan is a behavioral researcher and creator of the Dunstan Baby Language and author of “Child Sense” and “Calm the Crying.” She currently works in New York as a behavioral consultant. Learn more about Dunstan at www.dunstanbabynewyork.com.
©2014 Priscilla Dunstan
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