Thu, November 2, 2023

Making Time for Connection: Why It’s Important in Early Childhood

Emily Boucher and Amy Mockbee Founders, Work & Play

You do it, too!
Will you sit with me?
Can I help?
When can we play trains?
Can I come?

No matter how they say it or show it, children love to feel connected to their parents and included in what’s happening at home. As parents, we often take the “grown-up” approach to parenting by doing lots of overseeing, organizing, and managing. We play the role of the experts in what they like or dislike. We tune in to what makes them nervous or what special treat makes them light up. Parents understand children’s rhythms, routines, and approach to the world around them. We are aware of what comforts them and what they need. No one knows them quite like we do.

But the reality is, as children grow, whole new worlds open to them. The nature of child development is change as they navigate the world around them with more independence and ease. As parents of young children, we can miss recognizing our little ones as the thinkers, doers, and learners they naturally become. In the preschool years, children begin to venture away from their world in the home, with their family. Whether on a playdate, at a play group, or a small group lesson, your child begins to experience their environments in new ways, particularly when their adults physically separate from them. The transition to a preschool program is a milestone in an individual’s social and emotional development. The individual child joins a classroom. The preschool years are a fascinating time to reconsider how you see your child and what you may expect from them.

As parents, dedicated time for connection can feel out of reach, and even a luxury. And, yes, it does take some effort, but it doesn’t take a lot of time. Spending a few moments with a shared experience to connect and learn about your child as an individual is incredibly impactful. The key, and what is different than chatting in the car or watching a movie together, is to give a child your undivided attention. This seems so simple and obvious, but it’s quite easy to miss as parents. We appreciate how parents today feel like so much of their time and energy is directed at their children. Undivided attention is different from scheduling, caring for, and meeting needs. It takes time and discipline.

Giving a child undivided attention and dedicated time can be a tall order in modern parenting. We are pulled in many directions. From our home becoming our workspace, to our dining room table becoming a learning area, we have demands on us like never before. It’s a major juggling act at any given time. There are emails to read, dishes to wash, laundry to fold, meetings to attend, counters to clear, and to-do lists to tackle. All this tugging at our attention can result in missed opportunities for meaningful connection with our children, at any age.

Here’s the challenge: Deliberately and mindfully planning time with your child is a journey in connection. Letting the dishes sit, putting the phone away, closing the door on the messy room and being with your child for even five to ten minutes will get the job done. Incorporating times to connect with your child from a young age will carry over to connection and trust in the years ahead.

It can be as simple as sitting together for a snack, starting a collection together, doing a craft, working on a puzzle, listening to a favorite song, going for a walk, setting the table. There are long-term benefits to these small, shared experiences: kids who are seen and known feel safe, secure, comfortable, and more confident.

This can be a humbling experience as a parent. Being parents has allowed us to not only talk the talk but also walk the walk. Take this story of how one of our children, a middle child, reacted to one-on-one time.

When we started this, it was almost intolerable for my daughter when I gave her my full attention. She seemed uncomfortable and uneasy. At first, I felt rejected and puzzled. Why didn’t she want to connect in a more focused way? But under those initial hurt feelings an “ah-ha” moment emerged. As a middle child, she had never really had my undivided attention; there was always something else tugging at me, and she had become accustomed to and comfortable with that being our dynamic.

She is now a young teen and that same girl who was uneasy with undivided attention as a younger child now knows we can connect for a quick check-in or a longer talk. In those early years we found a way to connect and build trust. I can see when she is struggling and she knows if she needs me, I’ll be available.

What should you expect if you give this idea a try? In our work we have seen a range of reactions to the idea of dedicated time for connection from both kids and parents. We strive to empower and honor parents as individuals. In doing so, we see that parents may feel uneasy or unsure about this kind of exercise. Maybe they didn’t have this experience as a child or their child’s energy and approach to the world is easier to tolerate with some distance. Perhaps the idea of getting on the floor and playing trains for ten minutes seems unbearable. We understand.

Becoming a parent doesn’t automatically change those feelings for adults. To start, find something that is already part of your routine like bedtime reading, walking the dog, or making pancakes. Keeping it simple and routine will make it feel more approachable and realistic. What we have found in our experience is that time for connection doesn’t take fancy toys or elaborate set-ups. We recommend starting small and putting your observation skills to work to take the first simple steps.

To gain some insight into your individual child, tune in to what they are doing when they seem truly engaged. Do they like to build, get their hands dirty, look at books, move and challenge themselves physically, collect and organize, seek out sensory play? Beginning to recognize who they are in these moments will help you make decisions on activities, toys, and materials that foster winning strategies for ways to connect.

Every day, parents do what they can to show their children love, to be present and keep trying at this parenting thing. As parents ourselves, who have seen our young children age out of the early childhood years, we can only reiterate what undoubtedly so many people have said to you: This time when your children are young goes fast. When we were in the young-child phase of life, we didn’t often appreciate that advice: the years may fly by, but the days, and even minutes, can feel incredibly slow and hard. There is truth in that. But you’re doing it and, even on your toughest days, you are doing the best you can. That you can take a beat and consider how important it is to be present for your child, even for a few moments—to see them and to value who they are and where they are going—is an immeasurable gift to them—and yourself.

What’s the short of it? Find approachable, sustainable ways to connect. Be present. Get to know your child as an individual. Get to know yourself as a parent. Celebrate and support who you both are, one day or minute at a time. You’ll both reap the rewards in the years to come.

Emily Boucher, M.S. Ed. and Amy Mockbee, M.S. Ed. are founders of Work & Play, through which they provide individualized support to parents, educators, and schools as they navigate raising young children today. Learn more and read their blog at

Emily Boucher and Amy Mockbee worked in New York City independent schools as educators and in administration. Now, Emily Boucher is Director of a Montessori preschool in New Jersey and Amy Mockbee teaches a 3s program in New Jersey.

This article first appeared in the 2023 issue of the Parents League Review. Get the current issue of the Review free with a family membership. Or purchase it separately.

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