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What Is Quality Time With Your Kids?

Updated on December 7, 2013
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Enjoying Your Time

"Quality time" - It's a phrase that's been thrown around for the past couple of decades to the point of becoming trite, but whether you're a stay-at-home parent, one with a paying gig, or something in between, you've no doubt thought about it. Have you ever had a day you spent entirely with your children - schlepping them to the park for a playdate, dragging them through the grocery store, gritting your teeth while they play in the lane ropes at the post office - and realized at the end of the day, despite your little ones' constant presence, you felt like you hadn't seen them all day? Have you ever had a moment when you came home from work or paused folding laundry for just a few minutes to sit on the floor and play blocks with your child and thought with a grin on your face, "This is great"? There are a variety of ways we spend time with our children, and there are time management skills we can use to maximize our enjoyment of that time and still have time to go to work, make dinner, fold laundry and mess around on Facebook.

Definition of "Quality Time"

According to Google:

qual·i·ty timenounnoun: quality time

  1. 1.time spent in giving another person one's undivided attention in order to strengthen a relationship, esp. with reference to working parents and their child or children.

Interestingly, almost every result I got when I googled "quality time" mentioned the parent/child relationship, even though the phrase, strictly taken, does not specify this.

Where Does the Time Go?

Recently, my oldest started kindergarten. Suddenly, he is away from me for seven hours a day, five days a week. It's been a rude awakening, mostly for me. In anticipation of having more time on my hands, I've added some things to my life - writing more, helping family more, volunteering more. In the wake of all this, I started to feel like I never got to spend any real time with my kids, especially my kindergartener. I started to ask myself, "Is taking him grocery shopping quality time?" "Is the time we spend setting the table and preparing dinner together quality?" When I thought about it, the answer seemed to be sometimes yes and sometimes no, depending on everyone's moods. But is mood really tied to how "quality" the time is? Is it only quality time when everyone's happy? Is it quality time when we all go together to get the boys' hair cut, or is that just an errand? I set out to answer these questions.

One-On-One Time

Obviously, this is time you spend with just one of your children. For the sake of this article, we are going to assume one-on-one time is child centered, meaning you are doing activities designed for your child's education and/or enjoyment (as opposed to something like taking them to the grocery store, because you're out of milk.) This time can be parent-directed or child-directed.

  • Parent-directed - You come up with an idea for something you and your child can do together and are in charge of the various steps of the activity. This is often the case with cooking activities, where you read the directions from the recipe and tell your child what comes next.
  • Child-directed - Your child decides what activity to do, and you follow your child's lead in play. An example is when your child decides to build a parking garage out of blocks. You help but take direction from your child, for example, handing your child the blocks at his request to build the ramp for the garage.

Both parent and child-directed activities can be quality and have their own benefits. Parent-directed activity allows you to introduce new skills to your child or share a loved hobby. Child-directed activities allow your child to use her imagination and give you a window into the inner workings of her mind.

One-on-one time can provide rich interaction between you and your child. You can bond over the activity you're doing and/or have some time to slow down and talk to each other. During this time, children might mention things that are bothering them at school or things that are particularly exciting or interesting to them. It's a good time for you, as a parent, to listen. But it's also okay if you don't talk at all. One of the benefits of being close to someone is the ability to be quiet together without it feeling awkward.

Group Time

Group time, as it implies, is time you spend with more than one of your children or maybe even as a whole family. Maybe you take both your children on a bike ride around the neighborhood or play football in the front yard as a family. Group time is spent when you go on your annual summer vacation. These are important times you can bond as a group or family. This is when your family develops it's own traditions and inside jokes - things that make everyone feel part of a group. It is a time for adults to model desirable behaviors in their interactions with each other and their children. Whether you are raking leaves together or having family game night, it's a chance for members of the family to learn about each other and learn how to interact in a group.

Doing yard work together can be productive, quality time.
Doing yard work together can be productive, quality time. | Source

Family Chores

Chores you can do with your child or as a whole family:

  • Empty the dishwasher. You know all those little plastic cups and bowls that fill the top rack? Get your child to put them away in a low cabinet while you do the higher and more breakable stuff.
  • Fold laundry. Have younger children match socks, stack underwear, or fold napkins. Even if your two-year-old folds the same napkin over and over, you're still working together!
  • Wipe down counters and tables with sponges and water.
  • Wash the car - my favorite! It's a great way to get the car clean, play in the water, and have some family fun all at the same time!
  • Trim bushes. While you use the garden shears, the kids trim small twigs with their scissors.
  • Clean the floor. Children can use a Swiffer while you sweep, vacuum, or mop. Tip: Swiffers' middle sections can be removed to make them short enough for young ones.

Time Together Doing Chores

Chore time can take place during one-on-one or group time. It's time not spent doing leisure or play activities but accomplishing some task, like cleaning or going to the grocery store. Children benefit from such time, as they learn where their food comes from or how to dust the bookshelves effectively. They discover what jobs have to be done to keep a household running smoothly, a lesson for which their future spouses will thank you. Hopefully, too, they will eventually learn there is internal pride in a job well done.

Time Doing Parallel Activity

Parallel activity is when you and your child are working or playing side by side but not necessarily cooperating in your endeavors. Maybe you are paying bills at the kitchen table and your son is playing legos beside you. You are making dinner, and your child is "cooking" with pots and pans on the floor. You are trimming bushes in the backyard while your children play in the sandbox. In effect, you are together in the same space, but not working together towards a common goal. According to whattoexpect.com, parallel play between babies is defined as this:

"As he plays, your baby is observing his companion. He takes note of what his pal is doing, even if he doesn't show it at first. Eventually, over the coming year, he'll begin to imitate what he sees his friends doing."

This also works with the parent/child parallel activity. Even though your child may not appear to notice what you're doing, she will steal glances at you to make sure you're still there and to check out your behavior, possibly imitating it later (so be a good example!) I also find a comfort in doing parallel activity, where the children are happily doing what they want and I what I want, but we are still together.


Quick Ideas for Quality Time

  • Get your child to help you make dinner. Have him stand on a stool and involve him in the processes of measuring, pouring, or reading a recipe.
  • Play games in the car - find alphabet letters in signs or sing songs.
  • Plan a regular bonding day, once a week or month when it can be just you and one child doing fun things together.
  • Three words - family game night!
  • Go outside and throw a ball around, play frisbee, ride bikes in that awful time around four o'clock, right before dinner.
  • Put together a bag of easy crafts - foam stickers, glitter glue,scissors - you can dump out on the table for impromptu one-on-one or group time.
  • Make use of rainy days! Build a fort together out of sheets and living room furniture. Then, read by flashlight inside it.
  • Share your favorite hobby - golf, gardening, sewing - with your child, but focus on what they can do at their age/level.
  • Teach your child how to clean the bathroom and do it together. Set it to music to make it more fun. You can spend time together and knock out a chore!

The Balancing Act

So which of these kinds of time is quality? The answer: all of them and none of them. While each of these kinds of time you spend with your children and family are useful and important ways we stay connected with, learn about, and teach our children, they are only quality if we make them so.

If you are staying present in the moment - making eye contact and talking with your child as you meander through the grocery store aisles - even this mundane chore can be quality time. If you are racing through the store trying to get everything you need in thirty minutes or less, it may not feel so "quality."

I, in no way, want to imply judgement with the previous statement. We all race through things sometimes. Life happens, emergencies come up, some days are hard. Not everything can be quality. Recently, I had an experience with my five-year-old that entailed his whining he was tired of being at the store, and my pushing the cart ahead of him, grabbing things off the shelf, and (probably a little irritatedly) admonishing him to keep up and quit complaining.

The point is, as busy as a lot of our lives are, it's important to stop and smell the flowers with your children from time to time, whether that's going on a day-long hike to search for butterflies, or spending five minutes playing "this little piggie," while you put his shoes on, just because it makes him laugh so much. And the counterpoint is, don't fret too much if a moment you planned as quality time falls short of your expectations. It happens, and it's a learning experience for everyone.

Quality Time At Home

Sometimes quality time is just sitting on the kitchen floor together on a lazy Saturday morning.
Sometimes quality time is just sitting on the kitchen floor together on a lazy Saturday morning. | Source

Setting Aside Time

Every family is different, so I can't tell you exactly how to budget your time, but you can make a schedule. Write it down, or keep it in your head, but if you plan quality time with your kids from 3-4PM, you won't feel so guilty when you ask for a little "me" time to relax or get a few personal chores done at 4:30. Quality time is not necessarily quantity time. You do not have to spend every waking moment planning fabulous activities for your children while you remain engaged and present at all times. No one's that good, and it's a positive for children to learn from you that it's okay to ask for time alone to rest or work. It's also developmentally good for children to learn to spend their own time, without constant parent intervention, directing and entertaining themselves. My advice is this: If you find yourself wondering what to do with a Saturday - do something fabulous with the kids, or finish reading that book - do both. Set aside some time to spend doing what the kids want to do, or something you've planned to do as a family, then go read your book. It's a nice balance.

And, "something fabulous" doesn't have to be Disney World or the beach. It can be throwing a ball around in the back yard, doing a puzzle together, or even just hanging out on the couch watching a favorite show and talking. The key ingredient to quality time is being present in the moment, and not off in your own head making "to do" lists or mentally composing your next parenting article (I never do that, I swear!)

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    • profile image

      arshiacom 4 years ago

      Thanks colleen.Your hub was really very sweet..

      Spending time with your children is the best thing in the world.

    • April Garner profile image
      Author

      April Garner 4 years ago from Austin, Texas

      Thanks, Colleen. There's no present like the time :)

    • Colleen Swan profile image

      Colleen Swan 4 years ago from County Durham

      Lots of good advice. The greatest gift we can give our children is our time. Nice Hub

    • April Garner profile image
      Author

      April Garner 4 years ago from Austin, Texas

      Peachpurple - I love gardening and sharing it with my kids, too. I know there's much in the media today about cutting down on tv and video game time, but I don't think it has to be the big, bad spectre we've made it out to be, if done in moderation and especially if done together.

    • April Garner profile image
      Author

      April Garner 4 years ago from Austin, Texas

      Thanks, Amie. Yes, this whole kindergarten thing has been harder on me, I think, than my son!

    • amiebutchko profile image

      Amie Butchko 4 years ago from Warwick, NY

      April, another great, well-written and expressive hub. You have written much of my heart here as a mom. It is so hard to see that kindergartner go off to school! I am going to take your suggestions to heart - they are filled with wisdom, love and will center any parent for sure!

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 4 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      my son and i spend most time together in the garden- watering flowers, doing homework and play computer games together.