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Simple Ways To Connect With Your Toddler When You Don’t Have Any Time

As a new parent, it can feel like there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to balance everyday responsibilities while also spending time with your toddler. Wondering about how to make a meaningful and conducive connection between you and your child can be a struggle. This may only add to your stress about the other obligations in your life you have waiting for you. This can be why intentionally  connecting with your toddler can feel like just another chore on your already overflowing “to do” list.  Don’t worry, I’ve got good news! While staying connected with your child is essential, it doesn’t have to become an additional chore. There are simple ways to connect with your toddler, even when you feel like you don’t have any time. Read on to learn how. 

Why Connection Matters

First thing’s first, why should connection with your toddler be a top priority in the first place? Well, the truth is connection is the secret ingredient to getting along with your child. A child who is feeling connected with their parents is more likely to respond positively to requests and expectations.  Connection also allows your little one to feel confident and secure in this world, results in better behavior, improved sleep, and easier time at separations (e.g. daycare drop off).

It is easy to get caught up with the busyness of everyday life which can inevitably cause you to have periods when you are emotionally unavailable to  your toddler. Despite being physically present, your mind may be elsewhere and this is just a part of being human. This happens to everyone and is a normal aspect of human relationships and daily life. You do NOT need to be emotionally available at all times to have a healthy relationship with your child. That is neither needed nor realistic. 

You may feel pressure to carve out more time that you don’t have in your day to spend with you toddler. While spending time with your child is important, the amount of time is not as important as the quality of the time. This post is all about turning the time you DO have into a meaningful time of connection. So how can you create a strong connection with your toddler without adding more to your to do list?

Do you need to play with them on the floor?  Playing with them is one way to connect, but it is not the only way so if you hate it – find another way. How much you play with them is NOT what actually matters when it comes to your connection. Additionally, staying connected with your toddler is not about the toys you buy, how many hours you spend playing their favorite game every day, or even filling every moment of their day with entertainment either. 

The secret to making your connection stronger is very simple and doesn’t require ample hours or money spent. The secret is threefold: focus on the minutes of the day that matter most, choose quality over quantity, and turn daily chores into moments of connection. But the most important part to take out of reading this? Presence is what actually really matters. A few minutes of being mindfully present with your child can fill up your child’s connection cup more than several hours of physical presence while spending the time on your phone (no judgment – every parent needs scroll time!) or on the floor while mentally planning dinner. 

Introducing: The Connection Bank

You can think of the idea of the connection bank like you would a regular bank with money. With a regular bank, there are withdrawals, and deposits, and similarly, your child’s connection bank operates in the same way.  When the balance tilts into the negative, signaling a debt, you may notice your child appears more needy, more wakeful, demanding, less independent, and more inclined to resist your requests. Their immediate response to your requests may often be a firm “NO!”. However, when the balance is positive, it can be a more harmonious experience. Imagine more cooperation, more “listening”, more positive behavior, more restful sleep, smoother bedtime routines, and a little one who voluntarily plays independently. 

So you might be thinking, that all sounds great, but , how can I build a substantial amount of savings in this bank account without adding more tasks to my already busy day? And what depletes it?  What actually makes withdrawals from the bank are the things that happen daily. Kind of like having to spend your money on groceries and housing – you have to spend it to eat and have a place to live. Making a request before taking the time to connect with your child, declining their requests, disagreements, speaking in a harsh tone, not having time to play are all “withdrawals” in the emotional bank account.

These daily experiences are unavoidable and are perfectly healthy, normal parts of daily life and relationships. Like with a regular bank account – your deposits are there to add a buffer and ensure a positive balance in the account. So what makes deposits? Moments of presence and connection, eye contact, active listening, cuddles, affection, encouragement, noticing when they do something good, playing, enjoying food together, reading or another activity you both enjoy are all deposits into the emotional bank account. 

3 Simple Tips That Are Easy to Incorporate

#1 Playful Daily Tasks

As a parent, you might find yourself caught in up daily chores and routines. This can lead to you feeling overwhelmed at times by the amount of things there is to do. But what if the tasks you have to do anyway can be turned into moments of fun and connection by doing them WITH your toddler? Getting your toddler to participate in daily chores has many benefits.

You can connect with them while still checking things off your list and they can learn essential life skills simultaneously! For example including them in food preparation, cleaning, dishwasher loading or unloading, laundry and more. Is it more messy and slower? Yes cooking and cleaning is going to take longer with your toddler helping, but it will still be getting done. In no time, they will grow and you’ll be able to delegate those tasks for them to do all on their own. The best time to practice chores is early and when they are naturally interested. 

You can also turn tasks that you are doing for them into moments of connection. Let’s consider changing diapers. One way to change the diaper is to simply change it. This gets the physical care job done, but does not add to the emotional bank account. Alternatively, you can take this into a moment of connection.

You can do this by singing a song, making eye contact, speaking in a silly voice, or pretending to put the diaper on the wrong way as an act of playfulness – e.g. on their head. For some bedtime examples you can make  putting on their pajamas into a game. You can try closing your eyes and giving your toddler a challenge to be “magically” changed into their pajamas when you open your eyes. I tried this with my children and they both loved it! This is because I turned an ordinary and sometimes even boring task into a fun game for all of us. For more bedtime routine tips, have a look at this blog!

The intention here is NOT for you to do this all day, every single day and for every task. Let’s be honest, no parent of toddlers has the energy for that. However, it is good to know that if things feel hard and your child is resisting, incorporating playfulness can transform a difficult bedtime routine into a 10 minute peaceful breeze. Remember that trying to get through the routine with a resistant child can take more energy and time. You might as well channel that energy into playfulness so that you can move from battling to connection. 

#2 The 12 Most Important Times Of Your Day

Focus on 12 specific minutes of your day that matter the most because these are the most impactful when it comes to keeping your toddler feeling connected. These precious moments include the initial three minutes in the morning when you first see them after sleep, the three minutes before you drop them off at childcare, the three minutes immediately after they return home from childcare, and the final three minutes you spend with them at bedtime before it’s time to sleep. Here is what’s common to all these periods of time: they happen during separations and reunions. 

Your toddler is still learning that when you separate, you will eventually reunite. This is obvious to you as their parent. However, it’s not as apparent to your toddler as a newly formed human being. When they feel connected and secure in their relationships, they are likely to have an easier time separating from you.  This doesn’t mean that having a hard time separating points to insecurity or disconnection. This can be a normal developmental phase or related to a life change or transition.

However, when your last few minutes together before separating are spent in connection, it is easier to say goodbye! It’s akin to adults going on a trip. You’re far more likely to embark on your journey with joy if you and your partner shared quality time beforehand. This is much better than if you had a disagreement right before departure. Similarly, the first few minutes of reunion, set the tone of your time together following the reunion. Prioritize physical affection and showing joy when you first see them at childcare pick up or when they return home. Do this and observe how their independence grows.

#3 Mindset Shift: Quality Time Over Quantity

It’s easy to fall into the trap of measuring our time with our children by the amount of hours spent rather than the special moments created. However, what really matters is not the amount of time you spend with your child. What matters is how you spend the time you do have together. What truly nourishes your child’s emotional well-being isn’t merely your physical presence. The moments when you are fully engaged and emotionally attuned are what really counts. Remember, you do not need to be mentally and emotionally present at every moment you spend with them. That is neither necessary nor realistic. You only have to make sure there are a few moments throughout your day where you are mentally present.

Let Me Know Your Thoughts!

What is something that helps you stay connected with your toddler throughout the day when you don’t have any time? Drop your thoughts in the comments down below! Check out our Instagram for more tips!

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