While becoming a better parent is one of the most admirable resolutions one can adopt, it is also one of the most difficult. Unlike diet or exercise, the outcome of improved parenting is not solely dependent on the parent’s actions, but also on the child’s reaction.
Not only that, but children’s reactions change as they grow. Add in the fact that no two children respond to one parenting technique the same way, and the thought of solving the perfect parent equation seems near impossible. However, there is one time-tested way for parents to strengthen relationships with their children and that is –quality time.
Between soccer games, text messages, doctor’s appointments and lunches, it’s easy for quality time to get cut. Below are 10 tips to ensure it doesn’t.
1. Commit to 20 Minutes
During this time let your child choose the activity whether it’s a game, a walk or a chat. Be mindful of your child’s regime by choosing a time of day that is also good for him. During these 20 minutes see the world from your child’s perspective. Listen with empathy, even during play. Why 20 minutes? We all have it. This time is dedicated to just you and your child. It’s meant to form an unbreakable bond between the two of you. Of course, you can spend more time with your child if you want to, but commit to at least 20 minutes.
2. Participate in Your Child’s World
If your child does not know what she wants to do, suggest going to her room where you can discover an activity together. Good activities are ones where you can still talk. Drawing or coloring together, playing a board game, building or baking are all good options, as long as they’re of interest to your child.
If your child is older and this is a new habit for you, you may be met with some resistance and suspicion. Persevere until you find a way. Asking your child to walk with you to the coffee shop for a steamed milk or hot chocolate is a great chance to connect. Or ask if you can help her organize or re-decorate her room. Choose any activity that allows you to share a piece of her world.
3. Be Present
Forget your own schedule for these 20 minutes. Don’t text or talk on the phone. Don’t check on dinner or laundry. Focus on your child and nothing else.
4. Plan for a One-On-One Time
It’s important that each child gets his own 20 minutes with you. This may require some planning, particularly for parents with more than one child. If one child hasn’t yet developed the emotional maturity to understand without feeling rejected, in the beginning you can invite him in to join in and continue your one-on-one time with your other child later.
Eventually when your children learn they’re each entitled to one-on-one time, it will become easier for them to respect the time you share with their siblings. Why one child at a time? We are often guilty as parents of grouping our children together and not seeing them as individuals. Children want you to know them deeply, and understand that they are different from their siblings. Spending one-on-one time sends a strong message that says “you are important to me; I love you; I support you.”
5. Choose Interactive Activities
It’s better to play a video game together, where you can interact with each other, than to watch television, which offers no opportunity to talk. If you choose to go to the swimming pool, then it’s time to jump in. Spending quality time with your child means participating. The more you take a genuine interest in your child, the closer you will become.
6. Separate Work from Play
These 20 minutes are not well spent driving your child somewhere, or watching your child’s football practice. Scratch out tucking your child into bed at night or even helping with homework. The best thing to do during these special 20 minutes is play. If you don’t like to play, learn how. Ask your child to teach you a new skill like how to ride a skateboard. There is nothing children love more than teaching their parents something new.
7. Be a Friend, not a Parent
Refrain from teaching and giving advice, unless you are asked. Treat your child like you would your best friend. Would you constantly tell your friend how to do things? No. You would respect her and view her as a capable person who can make her own decisions. This is how you should see your child. Take this time to learn from your child and find out what they are thinking about, what their dreams are. Don’t assume you know better as the parent.
8. Keep a Secret
If your child shares something with you during this time, don’t bring it up in an argument later or worse tell other people about it. Respect your child as you would any other friend.
9. Make it a Habit
By committing to this one simple habit, you will notice a much stronger connection to your children. Twenty minutes is the minimal amount of time you should spend with each child, each day. Even if you have three children, this amounts to one hour of your time. As a parent you will develop great confidence and pride in knowing no matter how busy life gets, you make time for your children.
10. Communicate Change
If you have to work late or be away from home, make sure your children know when and how their time will be made up. This tells your children their one-on-one time is an important commitment for you. Likewise, if your child is busy with friends, don’t interrupt their play by getting involved, or ask the friend to go home so you can spend time with your child. Instead, offer to bring home made popcorn to them, or something else that will show your child you care about him.
For working parents, committing to this time will ensure you have a balance between home and work. It will also ease the guilt of having to say “no” when your child wants to play and you have to make dinner, for instance.
For parents who stay at home, these 20 minutes will ensure you are consciously making the effort to do something your child chooses to do, not something you have planned or need to do. If your spouse wants to do this as well, he can do it at a different time than you, or spend 20 minutes with one child while you spend 20 minutes with the other.
As simple as this resolution may sound, it is extremely effective if you do it well. Consistently spend 20 minutes each day with your child and you’ll be surprised at how much closer you feel and how much easier it becomes to understand each other’s point of view in any situation.