Many parents feel guilty because they feel as though they should be spending more time with their children. No wonder why. The idea that you need to spend more time with your children pervades today’s parenting culture.
In addition to the notion that you should spend a lot of time with your child, there is also the view that time together should always involve special activities. Marketers have found a way to prey on parents’ insecurities that they’re not doing enough special with their kids. From resorts to expensive home entertainment products, many advertisers will try to convince you that their product or service will help you get quality time with your kids.
But there’s some evidence that spending the day with your kids doesn’t necessarily give them confidence. It also doesn’t make them feel more loved or give them an academic advantage. We will detail this shortly.
Of course, spending time alone with your child is important. Giving them personal attention is key to helping you develop a healthy relationship. It can also help children feel loved and it can help them build confidence.
And while there’s no right or wrong way to spend time with your child, here are some strategies that can help you create one-on-one for each of your kids:
Aim for quality over quantity
You’re better off giving each child 10 minutes of attention while queuing at the grocery store than spending 5 hours in the same room with separate electronic devices.
Worry less about being present for hours on end. Instead, make sure you’re always mentally present when you’re with your child.
Put your phone away and give your child your full attention. Your child will feel valued and loved when you provide positive, high-quality care.
Focus on listening to your child, eye contact, and healthy interactions during your time together, no matter what you’re doing.
Research and evidence
A 2015 study published in Marriage and Family Magazinefound that the amount of time children aged three to 11 years old spent with their parents had no measurable impact on their emotional well-being, behavior, or academic success.
The study doesn’t argue that quality of time matters, but it has found that quantity alone matters much less — at least during a child’s early years. It’s the difference between holding your baby in your lap for hours while on the phone and actively interacting with your baby for a shorter amount of time. The researchers found that teenagers who spent more time with their mothers had lower levels of delinquent behavior.
A 2016 study published in Expanded BMJ Focusing on fathers yielded similar results. Researchers found that fathers’ enjoyment of parenting was linked to a reduction in behavioral problems at school. The amount of time a father and son spend together has much less influence on the child’s behavior.
Schedule 15 minutes a day with each child
For some busy families, one-on-one won’t happen unless it’s on the schedule. If your day is busy or highly structured, you may find your best option is to set aside 10 to 15 minutes to spend with each child.
Plan your time according to everyone’s schedule — and their biological clock. Would any child benefit from some personal attention in the morning before school? Does any child appreciate quality time right after school? What about before sleeping?
Pick a time and mark it on your daily schedule. Once you start spending that time with your child, your child will quickly learn when they should be spending time with you.
Time Cycle or Spontaneous
If individual scheduling sounds too rigid, let your time together feel more natural — or rotate around to see who will spend time with you.
You can start one by one after dinner and let the kids decide who goes first. Or, you can make decisions based on what people are going on on a daily basis.
There is no right or wrong way to give your child individual attention. It is important to choose a strategy that works best for you and your family.
If you can’t try to take care of each child once a day, don’t worry. You may find it only practical to do three days a week or you may have some weeks where all you can muster is twice.
Join their activities or invite them to join you
You don’t need a formal activity for time together to be considered “quality time”. Instead, you can participate as your child builds blocks or colors a picture. You can also invite your child to join you when you clean the kitchen or go for a walk.
The key is to make your interactions positive and healthy. Don’t force them to do things they don’t want to do. If you make a child reluctant to help you prepare meals, clean the house, or run errands, your time together is unlikely to be of high quality.
However, if you have a child who enjoys helping with projects, cleaning the bathroom together can turn out to be quality time. Just don’t make time together a chore your kids don’t enjoy.
One-on-one with older kids can be as simple as talking. You can take a few minutes to review your child’s day, talk about issues related to friends, or discuss a topic you both enjoy.
Plan longer than once
You can also decide to have a monthly “day” with each child. Your date together can include anything from eating out at a restaurant to playing in the park.
For some families, there may be time to organize weekly days. For others, a longer one-on-one period may just happen quarterly. Again, decide what makes sense for your family and consider how it’s done in terms of time, budget, and logistics.
You can give your child the chance to have your input on what they want to do with you while you’re together. Another option is to take a child with you to do a regular errand. For example, Saturday could become a day for breakfast and grocery shopping, where you rotate which one goes with you each week.
Tips to make the most of your live time
Make sure your time together is positive and enjoyable for both of you. The goal could be to get to know each other better and to build and maintain a healthy relationship.
Like all relationships, your relationship with your child needs a mix of positive activities. Here are some steps you can take to make the most of quality time together:
- Keep the other kids busy. There’s a chance your other kids will interrupt you directly if they’re bored, jealous, or need to ask questions. Explain to them that everyone has a turn and that it’s important to respect each other’s time. You can experiment with assigning tasks to other kids or find an activity they can play together so you can comfortably focus on one child at a time.
- Praise good behavior. Praise good behavior during your time together. Saying things like “Oh, I really like how patient you are” or “You have a great imagination there” can help your child feel a lot more at ease.
- Don’t worry about teaching. Don’t quiz your child or ask him to do it. Ask questions like, “What color is that?” or “How much is this?” will affect the quality of your time. Instead, participate in or simply comment on what your child is doing in a positive way without putting pressure on your child to demonstrate his or her knowledge.
- Ignore minor misdeeds. If your child does something a little annoying or obnoxious, ignore it. Look the other way, pretend you don’t hear it and tune it out. As soon as your child begins to behave, return your attention. This will show your child that good behavior gets your attention, not misbehavior.
- Use consequences when necessary. If your child intentionally breaks something or becomes aggressive, use pause or deprive a privilege. Show your child that unacceptable behavior has consequences, even if it happens during your special time together.
- Don’t depend one on one on good behavior. There will probably be days when you think your child’s bad behavior doesn’t guarantee quality time with you. But those are the days when your child probably needs quality time with you the most. Negative consequences, like running out of time, only really come into play when your child has plenty of time.
- Mute your digital devices. While this may seem daunting, turning off electronics (or simply muting your phone) can help ensure your child gets your attention. It helps to let your kids know that 10 minutes a day is the top priority in your life, no matter how many work emails or text messages you get.
- Try to avoid using electronics. While playing video games can be a bit interactive, find things to do that don’t involve electronics. The goal should be to talk, make eye contact, and interact with each other, which is hard to do when you’re using device time.
A very good word
Don’t let the pressure of having to once with your child make you more stressed out in life. Instead, focus on the larger overall goal — spending time alone with each child when you can. And focus on the quality of your time together rather than the quantity.
You may need to experiment for a while to determine what works best for your family in terms of schedule. However, if you stick with it, you’ll likely find that taking the time to give each child one-on-one attention is a worthwhile investment.
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