Turning Toward Our Children: Answering Bids for Connection

It’s about the quality of connection, not the presence of perfection.

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World-renowned relationship researcher and co-founder of The Gottman Institute, Dr. John Gottman, has conducted 40 years of research with thousands of people. From his research has emerged a practice that is important to the emotional connection between two people – the act of “turning toward” your loved one when a bid is made. What is a bid?

According to Gottman, a bid is an attempt to get attention, affection, or acceptance. It is a bid for emotional connection.  “Will you play with me?” is an obvious bid, but not all bids are so clear. Therefore, it is good to familiarize ourselves with what bids are and to be mindful, being on the lookout for what our children say or do that may be a bid for connection. How we respond to these bids has a great impact on the connectedness we share with our loved ones. There are 3 responses to bids: positive (turning toward), negative (turning away), and no response (turning away).

Take for example a simple bid for attention. “Will you play with me?” A positive response would either be “Yes, let’s play” or something like “Oh, I would LOVE to play with you. You are my favorite person in the whole world to play with. At 6:00, I’ll be finished with my work and ready to play. Let’s make it a date!” This helps the child feel acknowledged and important. Each time you turn toward your child in this way, Gottman says you are making a deposit in their Emotional Bank Account.

Bids are offered both verbally and nonverbally, and it isn’t always easy to discern that a bid is being made, which is why being aware and positively responsive is key in building emotional connection. A toddler who holds his arms up to be picked up is making a bid for attention or affection. Poor behavior may also be a bid. How should we respond if a child makes a bid in a negative way, such as through misbehavior or a tantrum? Conventional parenting wisdom says to respond negatively so as not to reinforce the poor behavior or tantrum, but children are often doing the best they can in that moment to get their needs met. No matter if the bid comes in the form of a sweet “mommy or daddy, let’s play” or a screaming tantrum, the message is exactly the same. “Notice me. Show me I matter.” By giving a positive, loving response to the bid no matter what form it comes in, we fill our child’s emotional bank account and build connection. A child with a full bank is less likely to make bids in negative ways.

Here are some ways to “turn toward” your children when a bid is made:

  • Be attentive when they’re speaking to you. When we are too busy to look up and pay attention, we miss an important chance for connection. Be intentional about putting away distractions and focusing on your loved ones as often as possible.
  • Be concerned about what they are concerned with. Even if what they are concerned about seems trivial, showing that you are concerned because they are builds the relationship.
  • Convey the message “you are known and accepted” as much as you can.
  • Avoid criticism and these 3 other relationship destroyers.
  • Say “yes” to play. We have lots of other things to do, but nothing more important.
  • Greet with enthusiasm. In the morning, after school, or after any extended separation, greet your children with warmth and a smile. Showing our children that we delight in them is a very simple but powerful connection builder.

It isn’t possible to always give positive responses to bids, and that’s okay. The intention is to try, and when we fail, we can always come back to repair by making our own bids to them. As with all relationships, it’s about the quality of connection, not the presence of perfection.

*Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on creativechild.com and has been reprinted with the author’s permission.

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Rebecca Eanes is the creator of www.positive-parents.org and author of The Newbie’s Guide to Positive Parenting. In her new book, Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, Rebecca shares her hard-won insights on giving up the conventional parenting paradigm to reconnect heart to heart with her children. Because parenting is about so much more than discipline, Rebecca hits on important topics less spoken about, making this more than a parenting book. It’s a book about building lasting family bonds and reclaiming joy in parenting. Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide releases on June 7th. Pre-order now and receive access to an exclusive online book club. Click here to learn more about the book and the pre-order offer.

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