Kids that grow up feeling connected to a secure and loving caregiver have the relationship tools to be in healthy romantic relationships, have successful interpersonal skills with friends and coworkers, and even have stronger immune systems to fight disease and stress as adults!
The Kansas City metro area is a fabulous place to raise a family with so many wonderful (and practically free) sites for facilitating healthy relational and emotional development. It’s not just about what we do or where we go, but HOW we do activities that create bonding experiences with our kids. Get ready for some tips on how to create an emotional connection and increase security feelings for your children while having a blast at both well-known and hole-in-the-wall Kansas City favorites!
1. Puppy Play and Baby Farm Animals
In the middle of running errands, give yourself and your kids an oxytocin boost! A 20 minute stop at the KC Humane Society, Wayside Waifs, Land of Paws, or some other local canine spot will please everyone involved (you don’t even have to be looking for a new dog!). The pups will feel valued and benefit from the socialization with your family. Canines are regularly used therapeutically to provide humans with nonverbal acceptance and unconditional love. While you’re there cuddling and petting the pups, talk softly to the dog about how gentle and kind they feel. Social scientists call this voice “motherese” – a cross-cultural, cross-species voice that resonates in mammal brain and relaxes the body. If you want to take it a step further, talk to the kids about how dogs care for each other in a pack. For a longer experience, one of the most-loved local hot spots is Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead – which just opened for the spring season yesterday, April 1st! Talk with your little ones about animal mommies and babies at this well-known and loved children’s farmstead – most locals refer to it shortly as “Deanna Rose.” For just a few dollars, you can let your kids bottle feed baby goats (watch out for your loose clothing, as the goats like to eat that, too!) or watch a cow being milked. Whether you breastfed or bottle-fed your own babies, you can tell them stories about how you felt when they were little babies in your arms. Come down to your child’s level, eyeball to eyeball, and tenderly smile. Extra tip: if you’re super nice to the carriage drivers on the hayride, sometimes they’ll let your kids interact with the huge, gentle draft horses – equines which have also been used regularly in therapeutic settings to promote emotional development.
2. Sports + Art = Who-Would-Have-Thought Fun
Mix sports and art! The Nelson-Atkins Museum has an enormous well-manicured lawn (photo right) that’s far enough from the surrounding streets that you can feel safe to let kids roam the lawn. Take a picnic blanket, pack a small cooler with your family favorites (and maybe some sophisticated adult faves), and don’t forget the Nerf balls, bubbles, and paper for folding airplanes – there are huge steps for you to test fly your models. Use the time to PLAY with your kids – the goal is eye contact, syncing your movements and moods, and filling their bellies to satisfaction (the stomach being filled gives a primal sense of security). Play is the language of children. As they eat, allow them to come and go as they eat, so they can feel permission to explore and reconnect to you as a home base.
3. Create and Connect
Some of my family’s favorites are pottery painting places like Paint, Glaze, and Fire in Overland Park, Ceramic Cafe KC, or Potter’s Haven in Lee’s Summit (among others), as well as family-friendly art spots like Artichokes which has Open Studio days in Mission Farms and the West Bottoms when all ages are welcome to paint a canvas for a small fee. When you go to wash hands, see if your kids will share soap or water with you. With very small kids, wash their hands with them, letting the tactile experience of touch and warm water connect you with him/her. Notice specific details about the colors and choices your kids make as they paint, with unconditional acceptance for the way they choose to express themselves.
4. Synced-Up Spectators
You can spend a ton of money at the silver screen and not get a lot of parenting mileage out of the investment because there is only connection with a screen, so movies should probably not be on this list at all, BUT … since Elsa and Anna are almost impossible to miss these days, let’s make the most out of the dark room. Hold hands, lift arm rests for cuddling with your kids, WHISPER in moments that characters connect with each other … for example, when Anna runs in front of Elsa to save her sister from being harmed by the selfish Prince Hans, say to your little one, “that’s how I feel about you … I would step in front of a bad guy to save you, too. You’re so important to me.” The Coterie Theater (photo right) offers a live performance alternative to the movies … the trick here is to sit on the floor with your kids! The Coterie, a fabulous theater with shows for young audiences on the lower level of Crown Center, has floor seating right in front of the stage for kids in this small black box theater with theater chairs around the floor space for adult seating. To get the most out of your ticket, sit on the floor with your kids and participate in the show with them, taking chances to rub their back, brush their hair or let them sit on your lap and rock a little.
5. Give a Little Time
National Volunteers Week is April 23rd – 29th! Families that participate in volunteer service events tend to have kids with high levels of empathetic consideration for other people. Serve KC is a great resource for specific, small projects that locals are arranging on a regular basis. Harvesters (food pantry) is a great starting place for small children to get a lesson in “do unto others.” Cultivate KC (photo left) is a great way to teach children about growing food and sharing with others. Check out www.volunteermatch.org or United Way to search for opportunities that are age-appropriate for your own family, as well as tailored to your family’s area of interest (animals, human rights, education, health and medicine, seniors, etc.).When we teach children about giving and serving others, we are helping them exercise the high-functioning portions of the brain that are responsible for empathy and compassion.
Because the human brain is social, children will get the most out of experiences that involve other connections with other humans (such as visiting seniors or helping in a homeless food kitchen under the eyes of a supervising adult). Look for opportunities to verbalize without judgement what your child might be feeling or thinking. The ability to be empathetic, to take a walk in someone else’s shoes, is a key bonding relationship skill that lasts throughout the human life cycle. Not only will you and your kiddos benefit from experiencing compassion – perhaps you’ll also feel a warm glow when they’re able to turn to you someday and empathize with how many diapers you changed, how many sandwiches and grapes you cut, or how many showers and sleeps you missed.
It’s true that sometimes we get more than we give.