FILL IN THE BLANK — The most important thing I could ever give my child is
If you answered ‘my time’ — you are 100% correct!
The truth is that what children from birth to adulthood need most is time spent with and attention from their parents. As a parent of young adults, I am the first to admit that my primary goal when my children were young was to ensure the raising of happy and well-adjusted human beings. After all, I think that is the goal of most concerned parents. I probably purchased hundreds of books over the years that ran the gamut of how to accomplish this goal successfully! Depending on the expert ‘du jour’ the answer could be found in any number of subjects — health, nutrition, development, yoga, music, exercise, education, psychology, art, bonding, etc. I probably spent a small fortune on books, and believe it or not, the three-part answer was right under my very nose the whole time. And they were consistently giving me the perfect cues, ‘Mommy will you color with me?’ — ‘Mommy, can we go for a bike ride?’ — ‘Mommy, come swing with us.’ — ‘Mommy, can I help you stir the batter!’ — 'Mommy, I love you!'
It's easy to fall prey to perfection parenting on a quest to be the perfect parent. You wind up purchasing all the latest and greatest, gadgets, gizmos, and parenting self-help books while overlooking the importance of just spending quality time interacting with your children.
You are probably saying to yourself — I am with my children all the time, every long day. And no one understands better than I that the days of parenting can feel very long; however, I have also witnessed that comparatively the years are short — so beware. It’s easy to think that we’re giving our kids heaps of attention because we’re spending lots of long days together. And I am not disputing the fact that during that time we are giving them some of our attention; I merely wish to suggest that it's undivided attention that ensures quality time.
First of all, recognize that you are dividing your attention during those long days — and I dare say now more than ever with all the modern life distractions. Sure you are with your children, but at the same time, you are probably grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, working, blogging, answering text messages, posting on social media, etc. Whatever might be consuming your time, in parallel with your children, be aware that their frustrations are building as they yearn for your undivided attention. Intuitively, they know when our mind is elsewhere, which is understandably so much of the time. Try to remember how important the undivided part is to quality, because there is nothing like the love that a child feels when we shift our headspace and energies over to our child's world completely, and they truly become the center of ours. This scenario is positively necessary for quality time.
And BTW — the time spent in the car rushing from school to the next extra-curricular activity or the time you spend helping them with their homework doesn’t cut the mustard! I am talking about ‘quality’ time when you fully engage and interact with your children in a mutually enjoyable activity.
If you can carve out at least a couple of hours each week to spend quality time with your child, you will find a kind of magic happens. I would like to qualify, though, two hours doesn't have to be the limit; the more time you can spend with them, the better. This quality time doesn’t have to be a full stint in one afternoon either. I recommend you start slowly — it will be easier and less stressful for you to find small snippets of the time in the beginning. Start with a few minutes each day and gradually work up to a larger chunk of time. Even at ten to fifteen minutes a day, you will be amazed at what happens when your children sense that you are indeed putting all else aside, entering their world, opening your heart, and making the concerted effort to understand them better. You will see that investing in regular quality time with your children will pay off great and valuable dividends.
• Realizing Better Behavior •
This plan for quality time might sound like you're adding something to your already full, overflowing plate. Inevitably, you are; however, it's all good because what you're adding is downtime that leads to better behavior. By slowing the pace, you create a time of the day when all else ceases to exist, and the world revolves only around you and your children. This balance will feel beautiful — but more significantly, your children will feel important and loved. They will be less stressed, more secure, more confident, and more cooperative. And as a result, you will undoubtedly notice an upward spiral in their behavior as you regain balance in your family life.
• Being Their Role Model •
It's only natural to want our children to emulate us. We want them to be the new and improved model of ourselves. I see evidence of this all the time on social media — moms 'twinning' with their daughters and dads proudly pictured with their little 'mini-me.' I know it makes me feel wonderful when people tell me that my children 'didn't fall too far the tree.' For any parent, that is perhaps one of
life's biggest compliments. Increasing quality time will provide more opportunity for you to set the example, as opposed to outsiders, and for your children to model your behavior rather than the behavior of others.
• Finding Deeper Empathy •
When talking about devoting more time to children, I would be remiss not to address the topic of time for yourself. It's a challenging and tricky balance for parents to get enough time to themselves while meeting what sometimes feels like the insatiable needs of their children. However, believe it or not, improving the quality of time can help. When you improve the quality of time, not only will children feel more satiated and less needy, your empathy for them will also deepen. Quality time not only provides magic moments for children, but it also contains magic moments for parents too. They are moments that can revitalize a parent. By feeling what your children feel, sharing the energy of their excitement, reentering the world of imagination, and being reminded of the beauty of childhood innocence, you will find deeper empathy, and it will be easier to get your parenting groove on!
• Building Better Life Relationships •
Spending quality time with our children when they're young will naturally improve communication and strengthen the parent-child bond, which will last a lifetime. One of the catalysts for me writing this blog was hearing 'Cat's in the Cradle' the other day — the American folk classic written by Harry Chapin and his wife Sandy and made famous by Cat Stevens. We should all take heed in the
Chapins' warning. It is a fact that the quality time we spend with our children in their youth influences the relationship we have we with them later in life. When we create quality time and provide a relaxing atmosphere for young children, it enables them to feel more comfortable voicing their thoughts and feelings. As a result, we become more attune to our children, better recognize their strengths and weaknesses, and are better able to guide them. This early communication and interaction between parent and child is the foundation upon which we build a healthy family relationship for life.
• Never Spoiling Your Children •
I only mention this because I have known parents conditioned to believe that giving children the attention that they need, somehow spoils them. In other words, that if a child is acting out for our attention, we run the risk of giving into a manipulation by affording them quality time — thus spoiling them. I am here to set the record straight. Giving our children the quality time that they need will not spoil them. There is a sharply divergent difference between a natural need and a want in children. Children innately need things over which they have no control. One of these needs is quality time and attention from their parents. On the other hand, yes children also want material things, and it is regarding those material wants that we usually see children manipulating parents. That is something entirely different! Although it was not my intention to get too scientific or espouse child psychology tenets within this blog, there is something to be said for secure attachment. Over seven decades of research and documentation — the results of which I won't bore you with — boils down to the fact that overall consistent warm responsiveness to a child's needs (different from their wants) is the foundation of what is known as secure attachment. And that secure attachment is an intensely strong indicator of raising an overall well rounded human being who will be confident, compassionate, and successful in all relationships.
Oh! And by the way, we'd be ever so grateful if you'd...
Watch for next week's blog. I'll have lots of great ideas for spending quality time with your children.