A highlight of parenting is seeing your little one’s personality unfold − the feeling that comes with experiencing each milestone is priceless. But the reality is that our lives are busy and it’s not uncommon for parents to worry about not spending enough time with their children and to feel that they are missing out on creating precious memories. Johannesburg-based clinical psychologist Cristine Scolari explains that spending quality time with your child will allow you to build a strong bond with her that will encourage her to feel more secure, happy and confident. “You will also get to know what makes her tick, what’s going on in her life, what’s making her happy and what’s upsetting her,” she says. It is, therefore, important to distinguish between quantity and quality time, so you can relish the time you do get to spend with your little one.
Quality vs quantity
When you’re caught up in your daily responsibilities, you may find yourself simply going through the motions. Being present is becoming increasingly challenging in a fast-paced world where we’re expected to be constantly connected and available to everyone. Cristine acknowledges that this can be a challenge for parents, and
suggests making a conscious decision to put away our phones and tablets once the work day has ended. She
also encourages incorporating quality time into your child’s daily routine: “Let your child ‘help’ you cook, play games with her in the bath, or chat about the day over dinner. Reading at bed time or just cuddling are other ways to achieve this,” she says.
If you’re struggling to be present, practicing mindfulness techniques can help you feel more centred and in control. This can be as simple as taking control of your breathing and reminding yourself to be in the moment.
Instead of trying to catch up on work while having a conversation with your child, Cristine suggests putting work aside until your little one goes to sleep. “After all, we’re only talking about a couple of hours.” When engaging with your little one, pay attention, hear what she has to say and acknowledge her feelings,” she says.
Specialised educator Julia Gorham notes that spending quality time with your child is an important ingredient in building a happy and memorable relationship with her. “The first element of effective parenting is taking the time to be with your child. Without this, you can’t employ any methods of good parenting,” she explains. The line between quality time and quantity of time is not always clear though, and Julia defines the former as being alone with your child and interacting with her. “Children love to have you all to themselves, and it’s important that you are physically and emotionally involved with your child during this time,” she says.
The benefits of quality time
Clinical psychologist specialising in child psychology Leandri Beyers, explains that a child’s relationship with her parents and caregivers are the first meaningful relationships she will have. This bond or attachment plays an integral role in future relationships as it sets the norm and expectations for other relationships that will follow. “Spending quality time with your children will consolidate and facilitate emotional closeness and show your child that she is seen as important and loved,” she says. A close bond will, in turn, make discipline easier since it is the quality of the relationship that maintains cooperation between the two of you. “You will find that the more you focus on connecting with your child, the more your child will listen to your requests,” she says.
Know the signs
Your child’s vocabulary is limited, so she won’t always be able to communicate that she needs more time with you. But the experts agree that if children lack attention or closeness, they will present with behaviour problems. They may seem needy, clingy or act out with aggressive and uncooperative behaviour. Cristine cautions that this behaviour may be geared towards getting attention − even if it is negative attention. Children of all ages have a deep need to be loved and cherished, so this lack of attention can lead to your child “feeling anxious, depressed or being withdrawn,” she adds.
Creating quality time
Creative parenting expert Nikki Bush conducted an informal survey that revealed that working parents are parenting on average two to three hours a day. Considering that your little one is at daycare or school while you’re at work, and factoring in the time you spend in traffic, the time you get to spend with your child is limited, so the goal is to make the most of the time you do have together. She offers this practical advice for working parents, so you can get the most out of the relationship you have with your child.
- Put your cell phone away when dropping off or collecting your child from school and connect face-to-face. These snapshot parenting moments are key to connecting with your child both now and in the future.
- Instead of using electronic devices to distract your child, talk, sing and play games together. Observe the world beyond the car window and learn together by counting the trees, reading the traffic signs, or identifying the makes of vehicles.
- When learning at home, use technology to reinforce real, hands-on learning rather than replacing it, especially in the formative years of your child’s life (birth to nine years of age). Keep it real!
- Remember that play is the language of childhood, so make time to play together often.
- Revisit your values, expectations, priorities, working hours and employment options.
- Look at your schedules and see if one parent can be more flexible to afford your child quality time.
- Consider joining or creating a forum for working parents in your company where these issues can be raised and tackled.
There are a number of creative ways to enjoy the time you spend with your child without overexerting yourself. Cristine reminds us that weekends offer more time to do special things, which don’t have to cost money, like going for a walk, having a picnic or watching a movie together.
Other activities include card games or board games. “With younger children, you need to follow the child’s lead and not force her to play outdoors if, for example, she really wants to be indoors drawing,” she adds.
Ultimately, it’s about showing up fully and turning mundane daily tasks into special moments, finding joy in the little things, and witnessing your little one blossoming.
Try these tips to help prioritise quality time
- Talk to, or play a game with, your child.
- Engage in an activity that your child has initiated.
- Demonstrate through your words and actions that you love your child.
- Spend time with your child when it has a special impact. These are routine times like just before you leave for work, when you return home, and at bedtime.
- Engage in activities that require both your time and undivided attention.
- Set up a “special date” with your child, which she can look forward to. This could include something like a picnic, visiting the zoo, or doing a special art activity.
- Depending on your child’s age, join her while she’s engaged in her favourite activity. Encourage, compliment and play with her.
Leandri further suggests creating dates and rituals with your child to up on how everyone’s week has been, or having individual dates when you spend one-on-one time with your child doing something she enjoys.