Catching Tiny Moments

How Busy Parents Can Build Fantastic Relationships With Our Children


By Kelly Eden-Calcott 

I am a solo parent, a homeschooler and a freelance writer. Even  though I’m with my kids a lot, some days it feels like I’m just rushing  around doing tasks and not really “with” my kids at all.

There’s housework to be done, I’ve got clients to deal with, and when  you’re homeschooling there’s that teacher/student dynamic that can  often be more about getting your child to produce or do something (“Have  you done all of those math questions yet?” “Make sure you check your  spelling!”) rather than about building relationship with them.

Why the big exciting stuff is great but the tiny things matter more

My girls and I have just come home from four days away together. It  was fantastic! We went to see one of our favourite musicals (and spent  hours singing all the songs together). We played at TimeZone, had sushi,  rode on the escalators (a bit of a novelty for my small-town kids) and  went to the museum. The four days together built amazing memories and  closeness, but times like this are rare.

It took me six months to save for this trip away. It’s certainly not a  regular thing for us. So I can’t rely on these big special moments to  be our only relationship building times.

We often put a lot of emphasis on the big stuff in our lives – the  overseas trips, the birthday parties, the adventures – when the small  everyday things are what actually matter the most. I think we get  confused by the quality over quantity argument with parenting and think  that quality means doing a lot of big amazing things with our kids. It’s  a lot of pressure!

We often put a lot of emphasis on the big stuff in our  lives – the overseas trips, the birthday parties, the adventures – when  the small everyday things are what actually matter the most.

Most days my girls and I are not actually doing much at all – just  the usual housework, schoolwork, eating, sleeping standard routine. But  this is where the real relationship building is happening!

John Gottman, a psychologist and researcher and author of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, talks about an idea called emotional bids.  Everyone makes emotional bids all the time. It’s why we post to  Facebook and Instagram. We’re asking people to respond to us, to show us  some attention and approval. If we tell someone about the marathon we  ran last week we want them to celebrate with us. If we text our friend  to say we’re sick we’re hoping they will show us some love and sympathy,  send us a “get well soon!” message back. Emotional bids are made to get  three things.

Everyone wants these three things: Attention, acceptance and approval.

Your kids most definitely want them from you. And most of what they  do – asking you to watch them on the swing, tugging on your sleeve,  calling your name over and over, drawing you a picture at kindy, even  doing something naughty –  is just them trying to get attention,  acceptance and approval.

I made a mistake with this the other day with my daughter Lula. She  picked an outfit to wear that she thought was pretty (she’s 12 and  discovering her own style). She did look nice – she had on a lovely  skirt and off-the-shoulder top – but I thought it was a bit dressed up  to wear in the middle of the day and told her to change. Her reaction  was explosive! “You always think I’m wearing the wrong thing! I can  never get it right!” That’s when I realised I’d missed a huge  opportunity to offer her my approval. She looks up to me and thinks I  dress well (so sweet). And here I was telling her she’d missed the mark.

I had rejected her emotional bid. When we reject or turn away from bids it says “you’re not worth it” or “you’re not OK”.

When our kids say “Look at this mum! I made a Lego car!” and we  respond with “Cool” and then quickly turn our attention back to our  phones, we are rejecting their bids.

Now, I know, kids make a lot of bids. They always want us to look,  pay them attention, come play or ask questions. We can’t respond to them  all!

The studies Gottman did around emotional bids were on marriage  relationships. He showed that couples who responded to a high number of  bids (above 80%) stayed together, while those who ignored each other’s  emotional bids most of the time split up. So the aim for us as parents  then is not to exhaust ourselves responding to every single bid our kids  make for attention, but just to try and catch as many as we possibly  can.

It takes a bit of  effort but if we turn towards them, make eye contact, smile, nod, and be  present (even for a short time) we’ll pick up emotional bids without  even trying.


Our kids need our attention, approval and acceptance in a few different ways.

Touch – “Hug me Mummy”

Touch is lacking in our society. People need to be touched. Some kids  don’t like full tight hugs but they will still need some form of touch.  It might be sitting side by side, just touching arms, holding hands, or  a little stroke of their hair.

Attention – “Look at me Mummy!”

It builds relationship when you share an experience. When your child  says “Look at the train!” it’s because they want you to enjoy what they  are enjoying. They want to share it with you. They want you to know what  they find interesting, exciting, or even upsetting. Even if you don’t  feel the same interest as they do (not everyone can get excited about  trains), if you acknowledge their interest you’re telling them they are  important to you. “Wow, it’s a cargo train! I know you love those.”

So the aim for us as parents then is not to exhaust  ourselves responding to every single bid our kids make for attention,  but just to try and catch as many as we possibly can.

Learning together – “But why?”

I don’t know about you but I have incredibly curious kids. They seem  to be constantly wanting to know about everything. “Why?” is a common  question in our household and sometimes I’m just too tired to answer.

I’ve found a little trick though! When I still want to encourage  their bid to learn with me but I’m too tired to answer it myself I say,  “Why do you think it might be like that?” If they say they don’t know I  either say “Why don’t you find out and then tell me what you learn,” or  “If you did know what do you think it would be?” They come up with some  amazing theories! Whether they are right isn’t really important, they’ll  find out over time, but the learning and thinking together is another  way to build relationship.

Playing together – “Play with me!”

Recently, Lula and I realised my eight year old was making a lot of  “play with me” bids that both of us were ignoring. (When you’re over the  age of 10, playing can be pretty boring!). We decided that we needed to  make more of an effort to respond to Little’s emotional bids and give  her some attention. We set aside 30 minutes a day to play whatever  Little wants to play. The first day she picked a board-game called  Blokus (which is great because it’s easier then using my dusty  imagination to play My Little Ponies!) It made a huge difference for her  because she felt she was worth spending time with. That half hour had a  huge pay off for our relationship.

It’s still something I’m working on. I definitely need to catch more  of those tiny moments when my kids are asking for my attention,  acceptance and approval. It takes practice to become more aware of those  bids. To stop and turn towards them. Emotional bids can be so easy to  miss! But if it makes my relationship with my lovely girls stronger then  it’s 100% worth the effort.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this too. What ways do your kids  make emotional bids? If you are following my series on communication and  emotional intelligence I’ll be posting one more next week. If you  haven’t already, check out the last two posts on this topic too:

Tuned in: How tuning in to your kids’ emotions will help them control their feelings better.

Non-violent communication for mums (and dads too obviously!).

Looking forward to next week and hearing how you went with your parenting journey.

References (I recommend these awesome sites if you want to learn more about this topic and other communication tips)

Originally published HERE

Kelly Eden-Calcott is a solo mum of three lovely daughters,  living on the beautiful West Coast of New Zealand. She has a teaching  background and specialises in Childhood disorders and intervention. As a  parenting writer for national magazines in New Zealand for many years,  Kelly loves helping parents feel empowered with skills and knowledge to  parent more purposefully. For more practical and thought-provoking  parenting ideas check out her blog at