By Elaine Spencer, Psy.D. Licensed Psychologist
As a mother of two young children, I often feel that there are not enough hours in the day to take care of them and accomplish all of the seemingly endless tasks that need to be done. I end up asking myself…where has the time gone? What exactly have I accomplished today? And most importantly, how did I really spend the day with my children?
I know that I am not the only parent asking these questions and I know I’m not the only one who feels that they may not be spending enough quality time with my children. This can leave you feeling a multitude of emotions, not the least of which is guilt.
First, let’s look at why it is important to spend quality time with your children. Here are 4 key reasons to make this a top priority in your life:
- The demands on parents and children seem higher than ever so being really present when you are together can have a huge impact.
- Spending time together improves your parent-child relationship and this leads to an increase in your child’s emotional security and ability to trust.
- Increasing your emotional connectedness with your child can lead to an increase in healthy communication and positive behaviors and to a decrease in the challenging negative behaviors that cause stress in many families.
- When you are emotionally connected to your child, you are able to let them know you are listening to them and noticing their behaviors by validating their feelings, reflecting back their thoughts and behaviors, and giving positive feedback.
Busy parents and busy children, I challenge you to squeeze in some time to work on your relationship and set aside some time to connect. The reality is that on some days this time may be five minutes of cuddling with your child or reading a book with them and that’s completely ok. On other days, plan an extended period of time to do some fun activities together and include your child in the planning process.
The ideas for fun activities to that can help you to emotionally connect with your child are endless but here are a ten that many families I know find helpful:
- Play Play Play: Let your child take the lead and play with them. Build Legos, sing Frozen songs, learn how to play Minecraft, or get crafty.
- Take a Trip Down Memory Lane. Kids love to look at old pictures and videos and to hear old stories. Encourage your child to help you take pictures to record all of the fun memories you are creating.
- Cooking Together. Encourage your child to help you pick out recipes and to help make dinner. Find a time for everyone in the family to eat together.
- Family Fun Run. What a great way to squeeze in some exercise, build self-confidence and self-esteem and have fun with your kids.
- Acts of Kindness. Have fun and teach your kids about making small changes in the world by doing random acts of kindness together. Pick up litter, donate old toys, make a card for someone special…The list of acts of kindness you can do are endless and it is easier than you think. It also leaves you feeling good!
- Create a Family Bucket List: Create a list of fun activities to do as a family with your children, post it and cross things off as you accomplish them. Include a variety of activities that from outings that are quick and inexpensive like trying out a new beach or park, to more special occasion events.
- Family Game Night: Have your children pick out a game and sit down and play it together. If you have more than one child, model taking turns by alternating who gets to choose the game. Game time is a great opportunity to work on social skills too.
- Highlights: Take time at the end of the day to ask your child about the best parts of their day and share yours too. Take this opportunity to praise your child by sharing with them what you liked about what they did that day and encourage them to keep it up.
- Say “Hi.” Leave little notes for your child in their lunch box, in their school binder or on their pillows to let them know you are thinking about them. Encourage children to send you a love note in return. You can also text your teen or send them a Facebook message during the day.
- Keep a journal. Start a journal with your child where you write a note for them and then ask your child to respond. This is a great way to praise your child and to encourage them to share their feelings with you. It is also fun to look back at all of the old journal entries to see how your have both grown.
Quality time doesn’t mean spending lots of money or having endless hours to spend together. The goal is for both you and your children to be fully present and really focusing on one another. This will foster communication in your relationship that will go way beyond the teen years and into adulthood.