With the summer holidays coming to an end, some of you may well be on the countdown for the school days to start again! As much as we love our kids, it can be a challenge to ensure everyone gets their daily dose of love, affection and attention.

There may be times when we feel no matter how much time we try to carve out for having fun with our children, they may crave more of our attention. And, when their need for attention is not met, it can manifest in our children as:

  • Anxiety
  • Behavioural challenges
  • Withdrawal
  • Or general breakdown in relationships

What if we changed the lens at which we view this behaviour from being attention-seeking (which can bring up negative feelings for us as parents) to connection-craving? When we see our children’s need for attention as a need to connect, it can help us change our response to our child’s behaviour and this alone can make an incredible difference.

As we know, creating positive connections is an important part of our mental well-being. As human beings, we are made to be part of a community – we function better as part of a tribe (clubs, family and community).

To put this another way, we can imagine each of our children as having their own love and connection cup that needs to be filled. Negative interactions can deplete their cup, whilst positive interactions (such as a bedtime story, a hug, praise or time together) can fill it. Of course, this doesn’t just have to be filled by us as parents but it can be filled by all the different role models in their life and those with whom they have positive relationships with. This love and connection cup may need filling up more at certain times than others. Experts say that for every negative interaction we have, it takes approximately eight positive interactions to outweigh the negative. So, for example, if your child has had a difficult day at school or fallen out with a friend, the chances are that they will need more love and connection time with you to fill their cup back up!

And, when this love and connection cup is full, chances are you’ll see a drastic improvement in your child’s behaviour.

The Neuroscience

We know that positive connections and interactions (or filling that love and connection cup) are key to supporting positive mental health and well-being. When we spend positive time with family and friends, we have an increase in the neuro-transmitters serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine – three of the feel-good chemicals which help us to feel happier and more connected.

When the Youth Fairies work with children, we always support them in identifying the things that make them feel happy. We ask them “what’s been good?” in their week and encourage them to build a positive habit of writing down five things every evening. These lists always include positive time spent with friends, siblings (yes, they do feature on the good list sometimes!), friends and pets too.

The benefits of recognising and recalling positive interactions

It is through repetition that we create good habits (and new neural pathways).

Each time we focus on the good things of our day, either in the retelling or in writing them down, we are helping to strengthen that neuropathway and increase our serotonin too. We are practising one of the 3Ps – Positive Thoughts. (The 3Ps are positive interactions, positive actions and positive thoughts).

In developing this habit, the boss part of our brain (the conscious brain) gives clear instructions to the PA (the anterior cingulate) which in turn informs all the other areas of our brain (the subconscious brain) that we are focusing on good things and are actively looking to remember and recall these things.  And so, as children focus on the positive relationships, they are able to recognise the value and seek to repeat these positive experiences. In doing so, they are also improving their mental health.

Ways to fill our child’s love and connection cup

Building positive relationships within family, at school and in their community develops our children’s sense of belonging, builds connections and confidence in developing and maintaining relationships. These positive connections support children if feeling safe and valued. All of which supports their mental health and well-being and, ultimately, their behaviour:

  • Schedule one to one time with your children – An ONS survey identified that although children enjoy creating memories as a whole family, they also value having individual time. This can be as simple as enjoying a bedtime story together.
  • Create a list of activities that you enjoy doing together – these could be with wider friends or family, or one to one time. You could write these on lolly sticks and store in a jar, setting time aside to plan the events over the year ahead. We know that, in addition to recalling good things that have happened, looking forward to time together also creates serotonin and supports improved mental health and a positive mindset.
  • Give them praise! It can be easy to forget to notice the positives in our child’s behaviour but the more we spot this, the more we encourage positive behaviour.
  • Encourage and support your children in developing positive friendships in school and other activities. Older children can be encouraged to make independent plans and activities with friends.
  • Model good relationships – include your children in your positive relationships and show them how you develop your friendships. We know that young people notice not only what we say but also what we do.
  • Positive connections with pets also have many of the same benefits as the interactions we have with one another. Our pets don’t judge us, they love us and require very little from us. Spending time with pets increases our oxytocin (for us and them) and helps to increase the sense of connection which can then extend to our other relationships. For more information on the amazing benefits that pets can bring, look out for our upcoming blog!
  • Encourage positive relationships with another trusted adult – there is so much value in having another adult to talk to and confide in. This might be an older cousin, aunt, God-parent or someone else in their wider community.
  • Acts of Kindness – kindness develops connections and has a positive impact of both the giver and the receiver. For more ideas to encourage acts of kindness and the associated benefits read our previous Kindness Blog

So, how might you fill your child’s love and connection cup today?