Photo of parent with two children spending time sat on bench

12 Quick, cheap and simple ways to boost your connection with your child.

Sometimes I worry that we’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that connection looks like the photos we see on social media.    You know the ones  –  blue sky, bright sunshine and big smiles of togetherness whilst having an amazing experience.

Yet, in my experience the quality of connection in family life is made up of multiple, regular, small moments which add up – most of which would make terrible photos on social media.

When you’re pulled in different directions with your responsibilities, money is tight and your child would rather be with their friends or on a screen than spending time with you building connection can feel like one thing too many, but sometimes there’s lots of small things you can do to help which can fit practically into your routine and budget.

As this is a topic which comes up for lots of parents I figured it might be helpful to share  what we found worked over the last 15 years of fostering and raising our own children where we’ve navigated a range of different needs, interests, ages and family dynamics. I’m hopeful you’ll find at least one or two things to help.

You’ve got to eat and drink:

Unless your child has an eating disorder then mealtimes can be a great opportunity to boost connection.  

Research supports the many benefits of eating together – although if, like us,  you’re juggling work, clubs and activities you’ll find that it’s not something we can manage every day of the week.  Thankfully just 3 or 4 times a week can make a big difference.  

Here’s a few ways we build connection around eating and drinking:

  1. Introduce games or conversation cards to the odd meal time.  On a daily basis we have questions like “what was the best/worst/wierdest part of your day”  Silly games like the “don’t laugh game”* can take 10 mins but have you all belly laughing and feeling much closer before you all head off to your individual activities. Sussed is great card game for starting conversation.   

When one of our foster children left home they identified eating together as both the best and worst thing about living with us.  Worst because they’d found it a hard adjustment to sit together at the table and best because it meant we all had a point to find out what was going on with each other each day.  For us this was the valuable feedback we needed to persevere with the challenges of teaching small children to sit together round the dinner table.  With little ones it can be a long time of hard work before you feel the benefits of eating together, but it is worth it.

  1. Dinner time chores.  Ok you’re not going to easily sell this one to your child, but doing chores side by side can be great connection time.  We’ve always made meal times the point where the children start doing chores – everyone takes turns on cooking, washing up, drying up, laying the table.  At least two people are working in the same space so it opens up connection opportunities (or arguments about whose turn it is to choose the music). 

Working side by side is a great (and safe way) to open up conversation.  Doing jobs in your home (without expecting payment) is part of learning teamwork and creating  sense of belonging and autonomy for your child.  Whilst they may not love doing it they will reap so many benefits and when you work alongside them it can be a great opportunity to boost your relationship (even if it would be quicker to just do it yourself).  That extra 15 mins it takes to do the chores might be the best consistent connection time you get.

  1. Go out for breakfast or a coffee/milkshake/sausage roll/icecream/smoothie etc – this may just be an hour of your time, but there’s something about heading out together which can focus that time. We discovered that up to two kids eat free (aged 15 and under) with a paying adult at Beefeaters so even if you have a hungry teen this need not break the bank.

As well as chores another way to build in side by side activitie:

  1. Take a journey– walking or car – together.  When you’re not eyeballing one another these can be great opportunities for a chat or simply to share music you love or play an observations game (depending on the age and stage of your child).  Connection comes in many different shapes and forms, not just conversation. We’ve recently started borrowing a dog which is a great way to get the children out for a walk they’d have vehemently resisted previously. You can borrow a dog for free with

What if your child is more active than chatty:

  1. Swimming & water-  Swimming has been a firm favourite for all our children.  Admittedly the teens preferred water parks to the local pool, but finding water and joining in with the fun was invariably a hit.  It’s a lower cost activity than a day at a theme park and once I embrace the cold I know it’s something which only takes a couple of hours. 
  1. Simple home sports can also be a cheap activity which takes under 30 mins – table tennis on the dining room table, a round of swingball in the garden  or a penalty competition with a football have all been great opportunities for fun and connection.  
  1. Get fit together – If you’re happy to go out and about the gym, badminton, cycling or other sports may present opportunities to not only connect with your child, but boost your own fitness too.  
  1. Simple games – One of the simplest ways to connect with an active child have been games like tag, hide and seek and races. They need not last more than 10 mins to give everyone an energy boost.  For years my husband and one of our children would race to be the first to touch the front door.  Completely pointless (and sometimes annoying), but those little things we do together bring a burst of energy and build the sense of identity and connection you have in your little family unit.

If running around isn’t your thing then board games and challenges might be another nice way

  1. Games Hour – During lockdown we introduced Games hour.  Lasting an hour and costing me a large bag of crisps and some chocolate, these sessions are great on a rainy Sunday afternoon.  I have one child who HATES competition so we take it in turn to choose games (usually ones which take a max of 15 mins) and share snacks at the end of each game for everyone taking part.  Yes there are some wobbly moments, but we’re not avoiding everything which might upset us – working through it is part of the experience.  There are also lots of lovely moments.  

A photo from our family games night – it’s great fun even if it doesn’t look very exciting in the photos!

What about when you’re shattered?

  1. Movie nights – this was another regular which came about from lockdown – watching a film together (especially if everyone is watching rather than distracted by devices).  I find sitting still hard, but we’ve got into the routine of having a TV dinner (which is a treat in our house) and then I crochet as this helps me to stay sitting and not get distracted by my phone, especially with the films which I find less entertaining!
  1. Share a TV Series – When you don’t have time for movies or can’t agree on the genre you like a tv series is great option.  We’ve just finished Ghosts on Iplayer which the children and we loved.  With each episode lasting just 30 minutes and iplayer being free this has been a big win on the busy weeks for us.  We’ve now started on Gladiators and are actively looking for other series! 

One of the simplest but most overlooked:

  1. Notice – whether that’s “I’ve seen you getting on with your homework.” or “Thanks for putting the bins out.”  feeling seen and appreciated is a powerful boost to a relationship.  In the Seven Day love prescription the Gottman’s identify saying “Thank you” as a key step for connection with couples.  It takes little time, but it can make a significant difference.

Finally, always allow an extra 10 mins at bedtime – it is when kids want to talk the most and those conversations might be the most important and intimate interactions you have.  The odds are they’ll make a much bigger difference in the long term to how much your child feels seen, heard and understood than any big day out.

So, perhaps today instead of working out that massive thing you feel you “should” do consider your family set up and identify one tiny thing you can do and start there. You might just be amazed at the difference this makes over time.

Julie is an ICF accredited coach who offers vital thinking space to busy parents. She’s passionate about children growing up experiencing acceptance, belonging and connection. Her background includes working with young people in education, as a foster carer and being a mum. She is very experienced in the additional challenges some young people experience including SEN, neurodivergence and trauma

You can book an initial consultation with her at: