It's easy to enter the world of a young child. As a dad, all you have to say is, "Hey there, kiddo. What's up?" Better yet, you can offer to do something together – read a story or show how to use a few tools in the garage. Promise your kid a dash of your attention, and he'll pretty much drop everything to spend time with you.
But that all starts to change sometime in middle school. Sure, kids still want to be with Dad, but they're also building protective walls and figuring out how to make their own decisions. That's all a part of growing up, but it can make entering your child's world a little trickier, requiring some cunning and resourcefulness.
Because borders are being drawn around certain areas of your child's life – the classroom, the practice field, the youth group or just that off-limits zone your child sets up wearing headphones – you may need a creative reason to interrupt your child's self-absorbed world. Here are a few possible strategies for interrupting your son's or daughter's privacy – without seeming like an interruption:
Give yourself a mutual mission
Asking a young person's opinion can be both surprising and empowering. Together with your child, brainstorm gift ideas for Mom or plans for Grandpa's big birthday celebration. Take your child along when you shop for new patio chairs, discussing features, styles and prices together. Let her help design a flyer for the neighborhood block party. If you're raising high-tech whiz kids, respect their growing knowledge, by seeking input on iPhone apps or asking them to help with family computing tasks.
Volunteer at an event
Initially, your child may not be thrilled that you signed up for a chaperone assignment, church event or fundraiser for his sports team. But if you keep to the task at hand (and try not to embarrass him), your child will be glad to see you involved in his life. One tip: Give your kid some time to process your participation at the big Christmas party or weekend retreat, letting him know ahead of time about your plans and the extent of your involvement.
Get their attention
Most of the time, being frugal is the best choice for a dad. Kids need to see a model of good stewardship, and they need to understand that, despite what other families do, they don't always need the newest and the shiniest. But once in a while, you need to get your kids' attention by … splurging. Imagine yourself saying the following: "Banana splits for everyone!" "Hey, when that movie based on your favorite book comes out, let's take your friends to see the midnight showing!" "Sunday afternoon, we're all going on a hot-air-balloon ride!" "Don't know what got into me, but I just bought a discount pass for horseback riding!"
Knock and pray
I'm betting you already do bedtime and mealtime prayers with your kids, trying to model a reliance on God's will and plan for your life. But I urge you to try something a bit less repetitive, and a bit more inspired: some unannounced prayer with your child. Knock on her door, and ask if you can come in and pray. And then pray … big. Pray together for your family, your wife, stresses you might have, a neighbor or your community. Finish with a prayer for your child, who is sitting there with you.
As time passes, relationships with children often will come full circle. Your child will eventually be at a place where he can openly ask for your wisdom and advice regarding the weighty (and trivial) issues facing young adults. But in the meantime, you have some years ahead of you in which you'll need to step up and initiate those relationship-building opportunities – even if it means interrupting your child's world.