How We're Building a Closer Family Bond And Why It's No "Charade"

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When I signed up for this mom gig, I was surprised that part of my job description included "Solutions Manager.” After I gave birth, I’d already taken on the roles of personal chef, wardrobe assistant, and private sleep coach. Then it became clear I was also tasked with figuring out answers to burning questions like “how to make bath time enjoyable?” and “can I hold my newborn while peeing?” Recently, these fixes have grown more complex because we’re dealing with larger emotional issues like friendship dynamics and how to make bath time enjoyable. (Bath time has many levels.) So, when my 8-year-old started feeling lonely at school, I was ready to find an answer. 

“Mom, I don’t want to go to school tomorrow,” my third grader said after an enjoyable bath time. I checked his temperature, but he assured me it wasn’t anything physical. He wrapped his arms around my waist and said into my stomach, “I’ve just been feeling lonely.” At that moment, I thought about keeping him home from school for, you know … the rest of his life. But I understood that might not be the best option, so we talked about his feels instead. 

My kid revealed he’d been feeling like an outsider with his friends. His friend group got along fine, but some days he ended up playing by himself at recess. As an only child, he was a pro at independent play, but when he saw all his friends swinging together or playing freeze tag, he felt he was missing out. This empty feeling grew, and as the day went on, he was having a hard time re-engaging with everyone. 

I held him close and told him I understood. His grip around me loosened and I felt some of his tension ease. But when he looked at me, I saw he still carried a big kick-ball sized ball of stress. So, I stepped into Solution Manager mode and we talked about ways he could feel less lonely. Maybe he could try playing with other friends on the playground? Or what if he talked about the things he had in common with his usual group during his breaks? He agreed to try some of the suggestions, and I silently agreed not to keep him home from school for forever — even though my protective mom heart said otherwise. 

“I still feel lonely, Mom,” was the report that came back over the next few days. 

He told me he had tried to talk to his friends during their downtime, but it didn’t feel good. Then he said he was too shy to play with friends he wasn’t used to. My heart hurt. I wanted to kiss-and-make-better the emotional bruises he carried like I’d done for each random knee scrape when he was little. I assumed finding ways to help would become more complicated as my little one grew up. What I didn’t anticipate was feeling so defeated when ideas didn’t work.  

When Connections at Home Grew, Connections at School Grew, Too 

The pressure to find an answer grew like our piles of dirty laundry. In the afternoons, I listened to him talk about his day, gave hugs, and tried to come up with a solution. Then in the evenings, we started playing games as a family to help him have a little more fun. The one my son fell in love with was charades. He was an instant “charades master.” Laughing harder than he had in days, I watched him gesture wildly. For this clue, his arms were swaying above his head and that’s when I shouted, “The Haunted Mansion!” Before I could blink, his arms were around my neck in celebration. He loved coming up with funny titles and I loved seeing his mood lighten — and a few days later I noticed a change. 

Sometimes, the best parenting solutions are unplanned. And that’s how it was with the simple old-school game of charades. As my son felt more included at home, he began to build a new confidence at school. He reported back that the playground felt more playful and talking during his breaks didn’t feel forced anymore. Experiencing our family bond differently helped him learn to connect and communicate in new and exciting ways. And that’s a solution I can totally get behind. Now, to figure out bath time ...

Tags: Friends, Motherhood, parenting, Self Confidence

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Tonilyn Hornung

Tonilyn is an author and freelance writer who lives with her husband, young son, many furry friends, and never enough closet space. See Full Bio

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