Steve Dennis and Trevor Rowe, BYU-Idaho professors in the College of Education and Human Development, give their professional advice on how to build great connections with children.

“It does tend to depend on the age of the child,” Dennis said. “But these techniques can be used universally and timelessly.”

Rowe explained how positive relationships with children are important.

“At the very beginning… In childhood, we talk about the importance of attachment … the earlier you can build that, the more it’s going to help,” Rowe said.

Several techniques and tips can be learned to build a strong connection with children.

Painting of child

Painting of child. Photo credit: Dakotah Barclay

1. Serve and return

This concept mirrors the “monkey see, monkey do” principle, or synchrony. When children observe and experience others serving them with a smile, an excited tone or a certain action, they are more likely to respond in that manner.

“(Children) learn that communication is reciprocal,” Dennis said. “(This concept) builds healthy attachments.”

2. Learn about child development

A deteriorating interaction with a child does not always indicate that the adult is the problem. Dennis notes that sociability in 1-year-old children can vary with personality, but as they approach 18 months, they often start to exhibit some anxieties and hesitancies about meeting new people.

“Understanding the development of children will help you to interact with them more appropriately and in a more exciting way,” Dennis said.

3. Study them

“Study the disposition of your children,” Dennis said quoting Brigham Young.

He shares a story about Benjamin Franklin and his father. Franklin’s father would invite ministers and people of varying professions over to observe how his children would interact with them.

He would then arrange suitable internships for them when appropriate. He used his insights to better adapt to the unique needs of each of his children.

Likewise, this skill can be utilized by showing interest in loved ones.

4. Ask questions

“They want to talk about what they like, and they’re excited to do that,” Rowe said.

Why remain in the dark wondering what kids like to do when simply asking them could provide the answer?

Some example questions are: What do you like to do for fun? What is the best dream you have ever had? Do you prefer cars or airplanes?

Remembering personal childhood interests can help build trust and understanding with children.

Children playing with play dough

Child playing with play dough. Photo credit: Alexander Grey

5. Play with them at their level

Children are naturally more curious and creative than adults are, so they are happy to take the lead in playtime.

“Follow their interests, follow their lead,” Rowe said.

“Don’t be afraid to get on the floor, don’t be afraid to play make-believe and play with puppets, and cars and whatever they’re interested in,” Dennis said.

Rowe shares that he currently has a four, seven, eight and 11-year-old at home, all with varying interests and playtime habits. He adapts to all of them.

“My seven and 8-year-old love their dolls a lot, and they play dolls a lot. And so if I was to join in with them, I play dolls too… I can join in and fit in their play,” Rowe said.

Children Books

Children's books in the library. Photo credit: Dakotah Barclay

6. Read to them

“Reading is important to language development… but equally important is (doing) it as a relationship activity,” Dennis said.

Dennis shares that when he reads to children, he adds other questions to make the story more collaborative and engaging. For example: “What do you think will happen next? What would you do in this situation? Do you like to ….?”

7. Animate emotional displays

“Children, when they’re very young and learning, have a hard time discerning emotions,” Dennis said. “Their prefrontal cortex has to develop a little bit before they understand full emotions.”

Because of this, both Rowe and Dennis say to be expressive and show interest to help the child understand the emotions they feel.

“Don’t just act excited, act real excited,” Dennis said.

Whether the children are one’s own or others, this advice can promote successful relationships with our little ones moving forward.