“Children spell love as: T-I-M-E” is a famous quote by Dr Anthony P Witham. Time is a concrete, measurable expression of love. When parents give their child the gift of time they are saying “I love you”; “I value you”; and “You are the most important person to me in the world”. During these Christmas holidays, your children will crave your time and attention, and it is an opportunity to turn your time into love.
Most parents know the tug of feelings that go along with finding quality time to be with their child. When you add up all the time your children spend at preschool, in school, asleep, at friends’ homes, and participating in activities without you, the remaining time becomes especially precious. There are only 936 weekends between a child’s birth and your child completing their HSC. That may sound like a lot, but how many have already gone by? If your child is 6 years old, 312 weekends have gone.
Are you the parent that will look back and wish you had done things differently?
Time is a building block for relationships
Time in a trusting relationship teaches your child that the world is a safe place that is responsive to their needs. They learn to form satisfying relationships with others, to communicate, to face challenges, and to regulate their emotions. When parents take the time to consistently meet the needs of their child, secure attachments are formed. Giving time to your child when they need it, even when you have more pressing things to do, creates an environment in which your child will feel safe talking with you. Miss these early opportunities and children learn that you don’t have the time, and that you may not listen.
Reading the ‘cues’ that your child wants time
Finding the right time involves: scheduling regular time with children; creating a space for spontaneous moments of time; or reading your children’s cues when they need time. Children regularly provide cues indicating that they want time. When parents pick up on these cues, and respond appropriately, the more secure the relationship with your child will be. They are also more likely to open lines of communication with their parent. The key is paying thoughtful attention to the cues between you and your child, and seeing things from their perspective.
The art of being in the moment – Quality time in Quantity
Quality time is about being fully present, and is a lot of hard work. The difference with quality time is the focus of your attention. Children know when a parent’s mind is elsewhere.
When a parent enters into their child’s world, with delight, and gives them their full attention, their child can sense that it is safe to open up and share their feelings, worries or dreams. The art of being in the moment takes practice for some parents to develop. When you are with your child, focus your attention – if you notice your mind starting to wander (your mind becomes distracted with work, shopping, meals, bed time, etc) notice that your attention has wandered and gently bring it back to focus on your child. Try to stay in the moment, and show your child how amazed you are by them. Being in the moment is when parents interact most meaningfully with their children, and create those magic childhood memories.
Prioritising activities to make time
Parents often feel that they want to give their child every opportunity, and provide them with more than what they had. The result may be that children become overcommitted to too many activities and events. The result is a lack of time, and relationships being overextended.
Finding the right time
As a parent when you think back to your childhood, the memories that often shine relate to spending time and interacting with your parent. Two of my favourite childhood memories are: playing soccer in the backyard with my dad; and helping my mum bake bread. The memories are not of expensive presents, or amazing holiday destinations, but feeling loved by a parent who spent time with me as a child.
Every interaction of time creates the relationship with your child. From meal times, to grocery shopping, to bath time. These small pockets of time matter as much as time that is scheduled. A number of families have found creative ways to spend time together that was: interactive; filled with praise; with lots of physical and emotional affection and fun. Many of these familiar ideas came from their children:
- One-on-one date time: Create routine dates with your child that are a special time with them individually;
- 10 minutes of special play time: Children benefit from their own daily special quality time with you, that is just their time. Allow your child to take the lead by selecting an activity that you can complete together in 10 minutes;
- 30 sec pockets of attention: When you are busy and your child gives you a cue that they want to show you something or needs to connect with you – stop, go to their level and give them 30 seconds of time;
- Use a Calendar to schedule fun time: Writing dates down on a calendar shows your children you make this time a priority;
- Family Night: Designate a regular family time as part of your routine;
- Mealtimes: A great opportunity for the entire family to spend time together, with no TV. This is your cue to delight in their world, or comfort their wounds.
- Parents little helper: Children love to help with grown up chores around the house, and assist with fixing things. As a result these activities might be messier and may take more time.
- Delight in your child and the world: Integrate praise into the time you spend together by delighting in your child. Take the time to point out the positives and beauty in the environment around them.
- Go Outside: Walking with your child is a great way to slow down the pace of your lives and to have more unscripted moments with them. Getting involved in your children’s favourite sport or hobby makes them feel that their interests are appreciated.
- Bedtime Story: A time that let’s you engage their imagination and symbolises the end to the day.
- Electronics Free Time: Sometimes you just have to turn the TV off and have an electronics free period. This will open up opportunities for interacting.
- Hug Time: There is always time for hugs.
- Photo Journal it: Keep a photographic journal of your time together and the activities you do.
What you spend
Spending time with your child is often more important than spending money on them. Most of all, it provides you and your children with time to connect and build a relationship that will last into the future. It’s these connections that make your children feel loved. When you look back, you will be thankful for the memories, and so will your children.
Andrew Sozomenou is a Director and Senior Psychologist at the READ Clinic. He has worked with children, families and adults for over 15 years. He specialises in working with: children experiencing behavioural issues, developmental disorders; parenting and attachment; childhood and adult trauma, anxiety and depression; school related issues, and issues of bereavement.