To put it lightly, the last couple of months have brought a lot of unexpected and sudden changes into our lives. To most it probably feels like the world has been flipped upside down. We went from constant social interaction to seeing the same couple of faces in our household for what feels like an eternity. I think a lot of us have gotten used to hearing “our new normal” but if this is truly a new normal, we need to find a way to re-connect.
Did you know that connection is actually considered a physiological need? Just like we need water and food, our mind and body crave social interaction. Professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, did a study that showed an increase of social interaction can be linked to lower instances of stroke and coronary artery disease, higher levels of oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, and lower blood pressure levels and anxiety. Some interesting things that Professor Holt-Lunstad found were that cardiovascular and neuroendocrine responses to stress lowered when subjects were near or thinking about someone they love and trust1.
Another study which hits a little closer to home for most of us MoMs, is about the interaction between parents and NICU babies. It’s been proven that constant human contact (touching, cuddling, or talking and singing) can help babies’ brains develop and help their heart rate to stabilize. Performing these actions causes their brain to produce certain hormones and chemicals which will help them thrive2.
Lastly, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has identified eight dimensions of wellness to focus on to optimize health. Two of the dimensions require interaction with others. One of the dimensions is Social, which states you need to develop a sense of connection, belonging and a well-developed support system. The second is Emotional and consists of coping effectively with life and creating satisfying relationships3.
Now that we’ve talked about all the benefits that come from connecting with others, I don’t know about you but it makes me miss my friends tremendously! I look back and think about how much I took “connection” for granted. Now with the craziness of the world, the need to distance leaves us wanting more connection and interaction. Connection is not something we consciously think about doing like we do with eating or bathing, but as children and adults we have emotional “buckets” that can get full and of course, can also empty. It seems like during this crazy time most of our buckets have been drained, but most of us live with others (even if those others are only babbling all day long). So why is it that we still feel so emotionally disconnected? If you are reading this, then I know you have one of the most important resources known to man…technology. Yes, I know some people will give me 500 reasons why technology is bad for our society and with some of it, I do agree. However, during such an isolating time, I think it is time we took advantage of all the benefits that can come from it. This little handheld device or computer gives you access to refill your buckets with just a couple of clicks.
Here are a couple of examples that technology can help us socialize during this trying time:
- Call someone. Just because you can’t see someone, doesn’t mean you can’t talk to them.
- Better yet… FaceTime! How awesome is it we can see each other through a phone!
- Social media. This is a great one even after the pandemic. There are so many different options now like but its great for those you don’t see every day, to still grow up with your family.
- Facebook groups are also a great way to keep in touch with other people that have similar views.
- Zoom. Yes, I know at this point most of us are probably sick of virtual meetings (why are they so many?!) but it really is a great resource for you to talk to multiple people at once, you can even host a family meeting for everyone to catch up and see each other.
Now that we’ve talked about refilling your own buckets, let’s talk about how to fill our kids’ buckets…and let’s be honest, yes your bucket should come first because if yours is empty, you have nothing to fill anyone else’s with. Research has shown that children who lacked early human contact (love and attention) indicated a drastic lack of emotional development as they grew older. Connecting with your child not only creates a better bond between the two of you, it can also assist with their success in the future. It’s important to note that little kids’ buckets can fill really quickly, but they also empty just as quickly. You may have to have several “touch points” throughout the day for their bucket to be steadily filled. One way to do this is to aim for several hugs and/or kisses throughout the day. Let them feel all the love you have for them. Another way to connect with your kid is by putting your phone down! I know I am guilty of getting glued to a game or social media for far too long, but nowadays there are settings or apps on most phones now that allow you to limit the amount of time you spend on your phone and its apps.
Here are a couple of my favorite examples of how to connect with your kids:
- Have a water balloon fight outside!
- Have a blindfolded snack taste test.
- Ice cream dates.
- Make an obstacle course or a fort in your living room with couch cushions or pillows and blankets.
- Random dance party.
- Have a chalk draw-off, invite your neighbors to be the judge from afar.
- Read them books with your best animated voice.
- Have an arts and crafts night. (who doesn’t love those cute macaroni crafts?!)
- Attend virtual playdates.
- Be sincere with your feelings and encourage them to express their own.
- I think most important of all, follow your child’s lead. Encourage them to choose an activity they would like to do with you.
The last couple of weeks have been chaotic and stressful but I hope you can put some of these in practice and fill your buckets to them brim!
Valerie is a mom to one-year-old twins, Oliver and Dexter. She serves FWMOM as a co-
chair VP of programs.
1. Frame, S. (2017, October 18). Julianne Holt-Lunstad probes loneliness, social connections. Retrieved August 05, 2020, from https://www.apa.org/members/content/holt-lunstad-loneliness-social-connections
2. Bonding with your premature baby in the NICU. (2019, July 31). Retrieved August 06, 2020, from https://raisingchildren.net.au/newborns/premature-babies/connecting-communicating/bonding-in-the-nicu
3. Kobrin, M. (n.d.). Promoting Wellness for Better Behavioral and Physical Health. Retrieved August 06, 2020, from https://mfpcc.samhsa.gov/ENewsArticles/Article12b_2017.aspx