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Most parents can look back over the past weeks or months with their children and lament how little time they’ve spent interacting in a meaningful way.
It’s common to go through an entire day rushing from one task to another to realize that while you and your child both spent plenty of time in the same space, the quality of that time was lacking.
There is a temptation to look off to the future for when this quality time will happen. It’s easy to fantasize about long trips to the beach in the summer, vacations, less busy time at work, or other things.
The reality is that you can increase the quantity and quality of time spent with your children immediately, and the problem is often a state of mind more than anything you’re currently lacking.
1. Take Time For Yourself
It might sound odd starting off with taking time for yourself, but it’s the easiest thing to overlook.
One of the biggest reasons parents don’t spend more quality time with their children is their lack of energy and overall exhaustion.
If you find yourself desperately looking forward to the late-night hours after the kids are asleep to watch a movie or just relax, then this probably applies to you.
This can seem especially hard with little children when every waking second is demanded of you. Taking time for yourself is something that is more of an art and unique to the individual.
A rule can’t be written on how you do this or what you need to give yourself permission to do. Yet if you make this a conscious focus you’ll reap huge rewards.
This might mean letting your child watch a mindless video on your phone while you sleep an extra 30 minutes. It may mean a couple unhealthy – bordering on junk food – dinners, so you can spend that dinner prep time finishing the chapter of a new book.
It may mean letting the kids stay up late watching a movie so you can have a friend over to have a few drinks and talk.
Obviously, if you add in financial resources and maybe a supportive spouse or extended family, you can get more elaborate with this.
Remember though, this is not something you mainly need resources for, it’s something you need focus and willpower for.
2. Pretend You Are A Kid Again
No – this does not mean making a huge mess and eating nothing but junk food. It means when you’re in your kitchen you’re probably not thinking about your kitchen; you’re thinking about your career, your finances, an ongoing feud with another person, etc.
When your kid is in the kitchen they’re almost certainly in the kitchen and that’s it. To pretend you’re a kid again means you need to consciously push all the other concerns out of your mind just for a little while.
When you do this you might notice the sunbeams shooting through the window onto the floor. You might notice all the things around you which could fit on your head like a helmet.
You might notice a large cupboard you could see if you or your child could fit into.
This is not a mindfulness meditation, and with all the concerns parents have to face it’s not a practical mindset to live in, but it is necessary to be able to take a break from all the concerns for little stretches if you really want to connect with your children.
Turn off all external concerns, even if it’s only for 15 minutes.
3. Get To Know Them More
You already have an idea of what your child likes, but don’t forget that your child is an infinitely complex being. There are things about their personality they don’t even know yet.
Don’t use your quality time with them to have a good time you would have liked to have when you were a kid. You may have loved to go fishing when you were a child, but if you find fishing bores them, take the hint.
If your child loves to play with dolls and role-play house, grab a doll and pretend you’re a silly character.
If you have a rambunctious child, pick up a couple of pairs of rolled-up socks and tell them you’re going to stand at the other end of the room and throw the socks, and you want to see if they can dodge them.
Your child will need no prompting. You’ll find them picking up a doll too and jumping into a role play, or springing to the other side of the room and doing ninja rolls without a moment’s hesitation.
During this time try to let them lead the play once it gets going, and make sure you use this opportunity to get to know them better. You may think they love soccer, but then find 5 minutes of kicking goals will change into looking at bugs.
Go along for the ride with them and just try and stay present. Of course, you can lead the play in directions you think may be more enjoyable for your child, but try not to override their personality.
One of the highest honors of parenting is getting to learn your child’s quirks and personality with them, and help them to grow in the direction their heart is pointing.
4. Go For Frequency Rather Than Length
Understand that of necessity the majority of your time together won’t be quality time, and don’t beat yourself up over that.
You’re going to have days when you hardly have time to say a word to your child. You’re going to go through periods when they need discipline and structure more than they need bonding time.
You cannot burn yourself out or ignore your own needs to be everything to your child every day. If you try to spend hours at a time doing this you’ll just find yourself exhausted.
Be kind to yourself, and be in it for the long haul. Quality bonding time is just one aspect of parenting but is often easy to miss out on.
These habits have to be long-term habits, and if you can regularly find 20 or 30 minutes a few times a week you’ll find they add up to something of great value in your relationship with your child.
Improving the quality of time you spend with your child involves the same type of work that goes into any relationship.
It’s best to think of this as a time where you are giving the best of yourself to them, rather than something that exists outside of ordinary and everyday reach.
Your child’s life will be filled with a sea of experiences and people, and in making the effort to bond more with your child now you’re building a foundation to be a bigger and more meaningful part of their life in the future.