Have you ever experienced peace and calm when even only one of your children is out of the house? I’m not sure why this is but so many parents I know can relate. Even though we have three boys it only takes one of them to be gone for our house to feel more peaceful. Not to mention, quieter as well! However, as soon as all three are back together, chaos ensues. Or as soon as you start talking to another adult, your child screams your name like his or her head is literally on fire and does not stop until he or she has your undivided attention. I recently just witnessed this at a playground and moments later my child started to do the same!
Experiences shape brain structures and make connections as the child learns and grows. I constantly remind myself of this when I catch myself wanting to yell or speak in frustration to any of my boys. Because when I do this, I know I’m creating brain structures that respond in a negative way and it’s usually not how I prefer my child to act. Therefore, when I'm having an interaction with my kids regardless of whether it’s positive or negative, I try to become aware of the moment and actually visualize their neural pathways firing and connecting. What I see is like an old-school Atari game all created in my own mind…complete with sound effects.
The connections being created by a child’s environment are why the way we interact and care for our children is extremely important. Even if you are working with a child that is not your own, you still have an impact on their development. All humans are born with a primary emotional need for significance and belonging. We all have a desire to feel seen, safe, heard, and understood. Attachment theory explains that there's an emotional connection between a parent and child that aids in that child's development into adulthood. And research tells us that it can be any caretaker or loving adult that a child can attach to, especially if a parent is physically and/or emotionally unavailable.
John Bowlby is one of the earliest attachment theorists. Very Well Mind states,
“Attachment is an emotional bond with another person. Bowlby believed that the earliest bonds formed by children with their caregivers have a tremendous impact that continues throughout life. He suggested that attachment also serves to keep the infant close to the mother, thus improving the child's chances of survival...While the behavioral theories of attachment suggested that attachment was a learned process, Bowlby and others proposed that children are born with an innate drive to form attachments with caregivers.”
Simply put, our children desire connection and are wired to want to be connected to you, a parent or loving caring adult who has an important role in their lives. When kids have to share the attention, rivalry or resentment can sometimes form without awareness. Or if you are giving your attention to someone or something else while the child’s attention bucket is empty, he or she demands it any way they know how to get it. Spending uninterrupted one-on-one quality time reduces tension and unwanted behaviors. Period.
With the busyness of life, you may not take the time that’s imperative in fostering a deep connection. It is proven that spending quality time with each of your children has many benefits. I also think this can be applied to students you teach or coach. When quality time can be carved out, children:
When a child gets uninterrupted one-on-one quality time with his or her caregiver, this cultivates a sense of feeling special and that attention bucket gets filled to the top! The result leads to misbehavior, poor choices, and sibling fighting reduced tremendously. There is no need to act out to get your negative attention because the child is getting enough positive attention. Or what we talk a lot about at Prenda is the adult is able to ignite greatness in that said child.
Quality time is very important and honestly makes life easier. You may be thinking, "How in the world can I squeeze in even more things when I don't have enough time as it is?" In reality, spending quality time with each of your children SAVES you time because you will spend less time on frustrating power-seeking behaviors. Also, your kids will become more cooperative the FIRST time you ask.
Sounds too good to be true, right?
The key is clarification and consistency.
Before coming up with a schedule or time to squeeze in quality time, name it. This would make for a great Family Meeting Agenda topic so your kids can be involved. Here are name ideas:
Dr. Jane Nelson of Positive Discipline breaks down how much time kids need at each stage.
Once you know roughly how much time your kids need, try to schedule it either daily or weekly. This is where we struggle especially during times when our daily schedule is inconsistent. What has helped me is that I put it on my calendar as I do with any other appointment or meeting. That way my brain tells me it’s something I can’t miss. It also helps that my kids never seem to forget!
It is very important that you establish what this time is and isn't with your child because expectations prevent disappointments. Discuss rules and guidelines with your child to get his or her input on what this time will look like. In "Me, Me, Me Epidemic" by Amy McCready, she lists the following basic guidelines after teaching parents this concept of quality one-on-one time which she calls, Mind-Body-Soul Time or MBST.
Your child will already feel special by getting your sole attention, but there are ways to make a lifelong impact. Below are tips to take this time you spend with your child more memorable. They are adapted from the "Joy Fixes for Weary Parents" by Erin Leyba.
When you are spending quality time together, give your child responsibility. You can also turn normal daily routines and errands into quality one-on-one time by making your child feel useful. Kids will also want to cooperate because it makes them feel important when you put them in charge of a task. For example, let your child use one of the huge vacuums at the car wash to help clean the car. My kids love cleaning the car and then ending the time with a little sword fight. Shhhh, don’t tell the car wash owners.
Another example is to let your child pick out all the fruits and veggies and let them weigh them at the grocery store. Even a toddler can do this! Or for older kids, allow them to create the grocery list and find all the items without your help. My homeschooled son does this a lot especially since we live within walking distance of a grocery store.
This is part of our guidelines. As I mentioned above, the child may not know what to do with you. Giving options works well as long as your child has the final say. Have your child use this free printable!
When kids pick the activity, they become more invested. Ever since reading, “Self-Driven Child” by William Stixrud and Ned Johnson, I realized that our kids need to have a sense of control (with direction from us, of course). When we hand over the control by giving our kids choices, they slowly build up a stress tolerance that will positively affect their lives into adulthood.
Give yourself permission to enjoy yourself during this time. I talk to many parents who dread playing and this is usually because their play was hindered as a child. Dig deep inside and find that inner child and guide your child to pick something you truly enjoy! For me, I can’t get myself to enjoy playing with superhero toys, but give me a cape and allow me to “act” like a superhero and I’m all in. For special time, I allow my child to choose but I can also encourage or influence what activity he picks.
Find special ways that sprinkle a little extra fun. Connect by locking eyes making sure your child knows you really enjoy him or her.
If you are heading out of the house, talk about what you are going to see. Then, when you are at the location, seeing those will be more meaningful. It may also bring out the inquisitive side of your child. Since they know it’s coming, they will be more apt to ask questions.
Pull out your phone, camera, or video camera to capture the time together. Limit how many photos you take, though. Possibly only pull out the phone once. I’m guilty of being more concerned about taking the pictures than enjoying my kids and it may be because I happen to be a professional photographer. I just can’t help myself! However, I’ve realized this started to make my kids loathe getting their pictures taken. Now, I hand them my big camera, and they LOVE capturing what we are doing-especially if we use the wireless remote.
It also helps that they enjoy looking back through old pictures truly appreciating being able to relive memories. Don’t keep the photos on your phone either! You can use your special time to create scrapbooks, make wall murals, or custom frames to hang on the wall. Also, note that you should still have quality time WITHOUT capturing it. Just because you don’t have a photo of it, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
Use pretend play to tap into your child’s imagination. Play is the foundation of creativity. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development.” Play allows kids to experience a sense of belonging in this world.
If you can’t stand making a horse go round and round and round a stable or pretend to be a little girl lost in the woods who is calling for her horse to come to save her, use play in a way that is more natural to you. If you go to a zoo, pretend to be the animal you see or if you’re staying home, play store or use a felt board to create a little scene. Incorporate your interests into play with your child.
Recall specific memories of one-on-one time you have spent together. Talking about these memories will allow your child to bring them up on their own. For example, we use a felt board during FOCUS time to play together. My son often recalls the stories we created. He mentions the characters and the funny things they did.
Brains are shaped by experience. The more we remind ourselves of specific memories and experiences, it moves into long-term memory. And the more positive experiences kids store in their long-term memory, the more impact it will have on how they interact and react with their own families when they are older.
You may be in a season right now where it is impossible to be consistent with individual quality time with each of your kids. I get it, I’m in that season right now with a full-time job, a homeschooler, and two other kids who are in activities and go to school. If you have more than one or two children, the time commitment to do this may not be in the cards. The thought of needing to spend daily uninterrupted time with each of my boys sometimes stressed me out. I have had to throw that mama guilt out the window! And realize I have options.
Now, the question is, "What activities do we do for Quality Time?" I'm so happy you asked! I’ve created a printable with over 60 activities you can do with your kids. The activities are sorted by things to do in the house and out of the house. Some may require more than 10-20 minutes but can be incorporated into your daily tasks and routines.
Grab your free printable here!
Stop, attune and lean into your relationship with your child which will build a strong connection and I promise, will result in less unwanted behavior and a securely attached child.