What is the single best gift any parent can give their child? Time! Isn’t it what we all want – more time?! For our children, this means setting aside at least 30 minutes of special, unstructured time together every day! The reward is a warm, trusting relationship that you will build with your child by sharing undivided attention, interaction, and communication together on your child’s terms!
For young children this special time usually takes place on the floor. Let your little one lead the way without any distractions or interruptions from work, chores, texts, emails, or television. Focus your attention on whatever it is that may be captivating your child for the moment and do exactly what she does or wants you to do! From the driver’s seat, your child may tell you just what the mommy cow should say to the baby cow. This is your opportunity to give your child a sense of control over her world and to provide unconditional acceptance. By following your child’s lead, you are sending her some very positive messages about the fact that she has good ideas, is fun to play with, is a good friend, and can communicate with and influence others. That’s just for starters, because there is a host of other positive outcomes associated with play that benefits your child’s cognitive and physical development! Most importantly, you are laying the foundation for a warm and connected relationship with your child for years to come!
As your child grows up and becomes more independent, the activities will obviously change, but the goal of spending time together focused on your child’s interests stays the same. So maybe sitting there while your son gives you the 15-minute tour of his new Mindcraft world is not at the top of your list when there are 100 other things that need to get done. But you do it anyway, because this is important to him. We can always muster up some enthusiasm or interested questions in order for our children to feel how we care! Plus, it’s a great opportunity to sneak in some snuggle time. My son hardly seems to notice how I wrap my arms around him as we sit together next to the computer looking at his latest Lego video finds on YouTube!
Tip: Set a Timer!
- Tell your child you want to play but there are also some things that need to get done.
- Set the timer for 15 minutes of playing time together, then set it again for 15 minutes of cleaning, emailing, or whatever you need to do.
- Your child can help you with chores, clean up his toys, do homework, etc.
- Return to 15 minutes of undivided playing time and alternate as necessary.
For very young children you can start with 5 or 10 minutes at a time. Playing with your child and then doing something else for short intervals will help him learn to play independently for increasingly longer periods of time.