One of the most heart-wrenching moments I've ever had as a mom was when my 3-year-old son actually grabbed my face, turned it away from the laptop screen I was fixed on and pointed me right at his big brown eyes so I'd pay attention to what he had been trying to tell me.
That's when it hit me. There are some basic rules of engagement -- common courtesies, really -- that my kids deserve.
If you find that the distractions of your grown-up world can sometimes get in the way of genuinely connecting with your kids, follow these rules of engagement to get back on track.
Plan time in your day, every day, to completely unplug and connect with your kids. Ditch anything with a battery or plug, and make that designated time all about bonding. For younger children, it's fun to let them pick what you'll do each day. Dinner is also a great go-to unplugged time. Gather at the dinner table -- sans TV, phones or video games -- and engage your kids in conversation about all the things that are going on in their lives. Sprinkle in some open-ended questions to get them to share with you about school, friends and their interests.
Are you happy?
When I was growing up, every so often my mom would randomly ask me, "Are you happy? Is life going good for you?" I was a pretty happy-go-lucky kid, so the answer was almost always yes, but I loved that she asked. It made me feel important and really served as a jumping-off point for me to confide in her about all the things happening in my world.
I've started asking my kids if they're happy and sometimes the answers my son comes up with are hysterical, like, "Yes, because superheroes save the day." Other times, he melts my heart with answers like, "Yes, because you love me."
Questions like these, or even "What one thing made you really happy today?" are a great way to open dialogue and connect with your kids.
Get down and make eye contact
The biggest lesson my son taught me that day was how important eye contact was to him. Non-verbal communication like eye contact is critical because it gives them affirmation that they have your full attention.
Unfortunately, it can be too easy to "Yes, honey" your kids while you flip through your iPhone or gaze away at the TV after a long day. Next time your child is trying to get your attention, take a few extra seconds to squat or kneel down to their level, so you're eye-to-eye, and truly hear them out.
One of the most rewarding things that came out of the experience I had with my son was not only the awareness that I now have about how I'm communicating with my kids, but also what it taught him about the importance of eye contact. Now when he has something he really needs to communicate, I notice how he seeks to establish eye contact. At 3 years old, he already gets what apparently took me three decades, two communication degrees and one very humbling experience, before I truly understood.