When I was growing up, children were sometimes seen but not heard. I remember family camping trips, picnics and long car rides. Those excursions were warm and loving, but I hardly remember any quality time with either one of my parents.
On Sunday mornings, I would drive with my father to the bakery to pick up sweet rolls and fresh bread. Those were special times. On holidays, I remember helping my mother bake her famous apple pie. I loved the smell of baking apples in the warm kitchen.
As the youngest of three boys, I often stayed back with my mom while my brothers and my father would go on an outdoor adventure. But she was always busy, so I don’t recall her spending much quality time with me. I always wished that I was old enough to go with my brothers.
Yes, my parents did watch my baseball games and cheer me on, even when I struck out or watched the grass grow in right field. They gave me the very best they had. But some parents in their generation didn’t really have a concept of spending time alone with their children. Typically, kids just came along for the ride.
Today, parents are more likely to spend quality time with their youngsters. In the middle of our fast-paced world, parents want to get to know their children. They want to pause and spend time with their kids. It’s important. The only problem —how to fit that unstructured time in with everything else?
So what is quality time? How do we fit it into our crazy busy lives?
Play with them. Quality time with young children (ages 3 to 7) involves engaging in their play. Parents have to stop cooking, cleaning, mowing the lawn, paying the bills or responding to texts and emails. Bring out the blocks and build a village. Find the Legos and construct a spaceship. Take the dolls on a picnic. Video games haven’t done away with board games entirely. Candyland, Sorry and Monopoly still exist. Kick a ball back and forth. Play with your children, talking with them along the way. Parents have to get down on the rug to be on their young child’s playing field. This can be sheer enjoyment and pleasure. Just let go and have fun.
Involve your children while you do chores. Get a “standing tower” that enables toddlers and young children to reach the kitchen counter and cook with you. Give them something to do. They will love it. Older children enjoy reading to their parents, which strengthens their reading skills. We had family reading time. When our kids were young teens, they loved to curl up on a rainy winter night and read a good book.
Use chauffeuring time to talk about their interests. It can be harder to give teens attention. They are so preoccupied with their peers that they forget about their parents — unless they need something. Wait for those moments when youngsters feel talkative. Seize those opportunities to be a good listener.
Schedule individual time with each child. This is hard, especially for families with several children. Starting when my kids were 7, I reserved one morning for each child every week to go out for breakfast before school or on the weekend. Some days we just stared at each other. But other times, when it was least expected, we had important conversations. I made this part of our regular routine, even through high school, when it was particularly difficult to find time in their busy schedules. Now, as adults, they remember those times fondly.
Dedicate a specific time to spend with each child doing something that child enjoys. The most important point — be consistent. Children thrive on regularity and predictability.
We all need regular, undivided attention from the people who love us. Truly, this is the fuel that keeps the home fires burning.
Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.