We all want to stay close to our kids, but it’s hard to squeeze in quality time when the demands of real life suck us in every day. Working moms (and dads) have to juggle family and career, and even stay-at-home parents have a long to-do list: laundry, cooking, housecleaning.
Sometimes, from sheer exhaustion, it’s tempting to just park the whole family in front of the TV and watch a movie together. But even if you’re sitting right next to your child, that doesn’t count as ‘quality time.’ Kids need one-on-one, interactive activities where you get to know each other, and show how much you care about what they think and feel. Here are some ways you can do that every day.
1. Make the most of the car rides.
Here’s one reason to be grateful for rush hour traffic. As you drive your children to school or soccer practice, ask them about their day. It’s actually a great time to have a conversation because you’re not competing against the television and other distractions. Try to make your questions open-ended (not answerable by yes or no) but specific enough that you don’t get a sullen, ‘I’m fine.’ You can ask about an activity (‘What do you like most about soccer?’) or explore a feeling (‘You look worried about the exam. What’s wrong?’ The key is to keep these conversations positive. This is not the time to lecture your children about grades of curfew—they’ll just clam up and get defensive each time they’re in the car.
2. Grab every chance to say ‘I love you.’
Children, no matter what age, need to know that they’re loved. Be affectionate, and hug and kiss them frequently. When they’re older—and no longer fit into our laps!— find other ways to say ‘I love you.’ You can leave a note in their lunch box, or pin a big Valentine on the refrigerator. Don’t wait for them to bring home a good report card to tell them, ‘I’m so glad you’re my child.’ It means the world to them that you care about them no matter who they are or what they do. And even if thye reach the age when it’s not cool for Mom to walk them to school, they’ll always walk a little taller and prouder knowing that they have your 100% support and confidence.
3. Take advantage of technology.
The good news is that today’s communication gadgets can be your best bonding tool! Send them a text message in the middle of the day: ‘Good luck in your Math test!’ or ‘I miss you! Can’t wait to see you at dinnertime.’ Email them a cute e-card, or use a fun Facebook application to send them an electronic ‘gift.’ Take time to call them in the middle of the day. Even if you’re at the office, you can still ‘greet’ them when they come home, and chat for a few minutes just to make your presence felt.
4. Make dinner time family time.
Never put a television in your dining room. Instead, use the evenings to catch up on family bonding. Older kids can help prepare dinner, so you can chat while fixing a salad or setting the table. Then, encourage everyone to share about their day while they eat. You can talk about your ‘highs’ and ‘lows’, or your favorite (and downright depressing) moments. Do make eye contact, and listen to stories without judgment. If you’re bothered by something that a child said, make a mental note to talk about it with him another time—privately, and when you’re both rested.
5. Set a monthly ‘date’ with each child.
If you have a big family, it’s hard to give each child individualized attention. However, kids may feel bad about having to compete for ‘Mommy time,’ and you may subconsciously focus more on a child who is more talkative or is more ‘problematic.’
To avoid accusations of playing favorites, and develop a close relationship with all your kids, schedule a monthly date with each of your children. Your child gets to pick what you will do together, and has you all to himself for at least one hour. Dates don’t have to be expensive. You can take a walk, or share a special hobby. An artistic child may enjoy scrapbooking with you, while your more active child may want to go bowling. Make sure to schedule your kids’ ‘Daddy time’ too!
6. Say your prayers together.
If you come from a religious family, this simple night-time routine not only reinforces family values, but also gives you a glimpse into your children’s dreams and fears. ‘What can we pray for?’ or ‘How can God help you today?’ may get them to open up about something they didn’t know how to express.
7. Tell a bedtime story.
This is one bonding ritual that reaps many, many benefits. It encourages a love for reading, develops imagination, and can be profoundly soothing for very young children. They will love being cuddled in your arms and hearing your voice. They will enjoy taking all sorts of ‘adventures’ with you, as you travel to distant lands and share the ups and downs of their favorite characters.
Do try to continue this activity even when your children already know how to read. Introduce your own favorite childhood books and rediscover them, together. Or, let him show you his own favorites, and send the wonderful message that you care about his interests and his hobbies.