The million-dollar parenting question is: How much time do kids need to feel loved and secure? In my research, I’ve uncovered some hopeful news.
It turns out that children don’t need large chunks of time delivered occasionally; they need short bursts of attention delivered consistently.
A little focused time goes a long way with kids. Many experts say that the attention span of a child is about one minute for each year of their life. In other words, a 1-year-old child can focus for about one minute, a 5-year-old for five, and a 15-year-old for about 15 minutes.
Interviews with children reveal that they are satisfied in less time than parents realize; they just want to be able to rely on that time, and for their parent to be truly focused—not multitasking or phoning it in.
Five to 15 minutes of undivided attention can transform you and your child’s lives.
Jeanette Betancourt, senior vice president of community and family engagement at Sesame Workshop, emphasized that relating time starts with the everyday caretaking moments that do not require any extra time. Brushing hair, getting dressed, eating meals, tucking kids into bed at night all provide a wonderful platform to relate to your child.
If you view the cutting of your kid’s nails as an opportunity to connect, instead of a chore, it becomes fun. If you view the drive to and from activities as a chance to communicate, rather than just transportation, it becomes relating time.
Once parents realize they are doing these things already, Jeanette says, the next question is how to make the most of these moments, talk a little more, invite questions, or give a hug for the sake of a hug.
The first five minutes pack a punch. Annie Pleshette Murphy, parenting expert, family therapist, and former editor in chief of Parents magazine, calls the first few minutes of every reconnection point with your child “the relationship savers.” These are moments such as the first thing in the morning, the first few minutes you reconnect with your children after school and before dinner, and when you get home from work.
The goal is to light up when you see your child.
A warm and nurturing response will set the tone for the time together and actually stretch the time—buying you loads of peaceful time where kids feel satisfied so that the moments you do have together feel full. (According to Annie, that focus on the first five minutes works well for marriages, too.)
Kids need alone time, too. Moments when you are in the same space as your kids, but each involved in your own activities—like when you are getting a meal on the table, while your kid is nearby doing their homework—are healthy.
Children of all ages—from babies to teenagers—benefit from doing their own independent activities, yet are secure and supported knowing you are nearby and available.
Here’s the condition: together-but-apart time only works if you are accessible to your children and available to engage in chat with them from time to time. You should avoid doing any “flow” tasks or work that requires your undivided attention.
Consider household chores.
Every expert I spoke to warned against a parent’s tendency to think of household chores as something you need to rush through to make space for quality time with your kids. Instead, let kids be involved with what you’re doing. Relating over the little things—making dinner, washing the car, folding laundry, sweeping the kitchen floor—is one way to make sure you get in some good connecting time with your kids, even if you have a mile-long to-do list at home.
Don’t shun them, engage them.
Those tiny moments of connection over seemingly mundane domestic tasks are often the most memorable for kids anyway.
Make the most of daily routines.
Streamline routines such as waking up, getting dressed, eating meals, traveling to and from school or other activities. The more predictable and less rushed routines are, the easier it is to use them as moments for calm, focused quality time.
Schedule dedicated one-on-one time.
A little bit of predictable special time every day to connect to your children can become the building blocks of connection over the years. Whether it’s 20 minutes of reading every night or half an hour to shoot hoops, create a tradition of reliable daily moments your kids can count on to talk to you.
Once a week or even once a month, dedicate a longer block of time to spend one-on-one, diving into a project together, going on an adventure, or pursuing one of your child’s interests.
Relating-time is a basic daily need that can be integrated into any encounter and interaction with your child. The goal is small doses, frequently and consistently delivered. That foundation will allow for the inevitable imperfect moments and overly busy times. Remember that, for the most part, your kids don’t really pay attention to what the activity is—as long as it’s with you.
Excerpted from TIME TO PARENT: Organizing Your Life to Bring Out the Best in Your Child and You by Julie Morgenstern. Published by Henry Holt and Company. Copyright © 2018 by Julie Morgenstern. All rights reserved.