We spent this past weekend on a whirlwind trip to New York and Connecticut to visit my niece and two nephews. With all the holidays, school events and work obligations, it can be really difficult to find a mutually convenient time to go, so even though it meant a lot of driving for a Friday night to Sunday evening visit, we decided to just go for it.
My brother and sister-in-law’s children are still really little (3 1/2, 2 and 5 months) but the older two are now able to recognize and remember their cousins, and my girls are eager to bond with the only first cousins they have in North America, so we’ve committed to making the most of this connection where we can.
We arrived in New York at 2 a.m. on Saturday, but had the girls up and ready for a great day at the Bronx Zoo with their little cousins. They held hands, played games, sang songs and cuddled the baby. We joined them for a fundraising walk on the beautiful Connecticut shore for their local special needs provider on Sunday morning and then made the long trek back to Montreal on Sunday afternoon and evening, getting them to bed at 11:15 p.m. on a school night.
Despite the late hours and lack of sleep, my girls were absolutely delighted by the weekend away. They loved that their two-year-old cousins knows their names, and that they could sing along with him and his big sister. They particularly enjoyed spoon-feeding and holding their baby cousin.
It was worth every hour of that drive to nurture that connection.
Connection to family is only one kind of connection, of course, but it’s potentially the most powerful one there is. And we know that connection is one of the 7 C’s of Resilience, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (the others are coping, control, confidence, competence, character and contribution).
A connection to trusted people, especially adults, gives kids a sense of stability, enables them to feel loved and appreciation (and to express love and appreciation themselves). This sense of belonging is a key part of resilience, because it helps kids face adversity and overcome challenges. They know they are part of a bigger picture of support. When they feel the security that comes from strong connection, they may be more likely test themselves and try new things. They can build the other C’s of resilience, like confidence and competence.
In addition to family, kids can also develop connection with their school, their local communities, their synagogue, church, mosque or temple or other community groups like Cub Scouts and Girl Guides. Big Brother and Big Sister programs are great examples of connection building for kids who might not have access to enough trusted adults in their own families or neighbourhoods.
So how do we help our kids build connection? Well, first of all, we need to give them opportunities and time to do so — creating family rituals and traditions, taking part in community activities, planning a block party to get to know your neighbours, or becoming involved in their school.
Connection means seeking out the linkages that are meaningful and trust-worthy to you as a family and to them as individuals. It means listening to them when they talk, and responding to what they say with are and attention.
It also means letting them hold up their end of the connection, so that they too get to express love, appreciation, time and whatever talents, skills or interests they might have. That can be feeding a baby cousin, participating in a school fundraiser or going camping with the local Cub Scout troupe.
And while parents needn’t be implicated in every one of these connections (especially as kids get older and seek to nourish new connections of their own), we can and should be supportive of the ones they make.
There are some things kids can never get too much of: love, security, affection, dignity. And when it comes to forging connections, there is no such thing as too much belonging. Which is why I will cherish the memory of my girls and their cousins cuddling together for the few brief hours they get to see each other several times a year.