Now that you know what quality time is and what quality time is not, what can you actually do with your own kids? Here are some great things you can do to have more quality time with your children and help them feel loved and close to you.
Ask open questions
Whenever you meet your kids after school and work, show interest in their day. Do not confuse asking questions with interrogating - one comes from curiosity and the other one from a need to control. So pay attention to the tone of your voice and to your intention and ask to hear the child's answer. If you expect some "correct" answer, it is not quality time and your child will not trust you next time to answer your question. Instead, gently explore with your child his or her impressions, reasons and feelings.
Tip: when you ask a child "How was your day?" the answer is typically in the form of a rating, e.g. "Good". To avoid this dead end, rephrase the question as "Tell me about your day" or "What happened to you at school today?"
Have a splash in the bath
With young children, bath time is a great time to be together. When they are really young, you should not leave them on their own anyway, so you might as well enjoy it. Try to extend this time as long as possible to create good memories.
Even if your kids can shower on their own, you can bring a chair or a stool, sit next to them and ask them about their day and what they need to do the next day. This helps them think and sort out their thoughts and they will appreciate it.
If you are not sure about the right time to stop sitting next to them in the shower, ask them, "Would you like me to come and be with you in the shower?" Noff, our 10-year-old daughter, sometimes asks us to read her a book while she is in the bathtub, because she cannot get the book into the bathtub with her. This makes bath time a lot of fun and gives us a chance to monitor and influence her reading.
Bedtime is also a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time with your kids. Reading a story and talking about the story, or about the child's feelings and thoughts about the story, can help you get to know your child.
Remember, it is not a test, so do not ask questions about the plot or who told who what, but find out how your child interprets the story and what he or she feels about it. Also, even when you put your kids to bed on a regular basis, make sure it does not like a routine you just want to finish and leave. Ask your kids what they want to do and mix things up a bit.
We sometimes play hide and seek before bed, we tickle one another, jump on the beds and have pillow fights and crack stupid jokes.
Involve kids in daily tasks
Anything that needs to be done can be done with the kids. Use your time together to ask questions, listen and learn about your children. Make cooking, cleaning and laundry family activities, where each person contributes what they can, and use this time to practice your curiosity.
Remember that kids learn by example, so rather than teaching them the best way to fold a shirt when they are 2, let them experiment and feel good about being "helpful".
Do the things you do not like doing or your kids do not like doing together in a fun way and use this time to learn about each other and feel good with each other.
I hate folding the laundry and so do other members of my family (no wonder). We came up with a solution that on Sunday evenings, we all do the folding together. We use this time to sing, listen to music, tell each other stories and discuss our families, our childhoods, our adventures and even philosophy. It is a time well used and no one thinks about how much they hate folding while they focus on the discussion.
Cooking together is a great bonding time for children and parents. Even 2-year-old children can pour things into a pot, bring things from the cupboard, stir and set the table. It makes them proud of themselves and gives them a feeling of accomplishment (even when you do most of the job).
When they start reading, get them to read the recipes and even let them be the chef while you are the helper. We have teenagers and they cook with us, they cook with each other and they cook on their own.
Make sure you are not upset when your kids are in the kitchen. Kids can tell if you love having them around or not. My mum is a chef. She did not like us in the kitchen, so when we came, she told us to clean the dishes or do the things she hated doing (like cutting and peeling). When she finished, she used to leave the kitchen and leave us (usually, that was one of us who dared to ask to be with her while she cooked) to clear everything. We hated it. It was not quality time. It was punishment.
Do not try to cheat it, because your kids will know. If you use this time together to lecture, to show them you know better, to make them do what you hate doing, to control them and tell them how exactly to wash the dishes, it is not quality time and do not fool yourself by thinking it is.
Do things together as a family
Sometimes, relationships between parents and children are tense, but the presence of another person eases that tension. In that case, doing something as a family can help and increase the quality of the time together. When we travel together, we consider that quality family time.
Being in the car together is a great opportunity to have quality time with your children. Make sure you do not use your mobile phone while driving and do not allow your kids to plug anything into their ears. Use this time to ask and learn about your kids' timetables, friends, fears and dreams. You can also play music and sing along, challenge the kids to navigate, count all the yellow cars and play other "spying" games (like Kiss Buggy).
Go to the movies
Pick a movie you both (all) want to see and make sure you go an hour before to allow you to be together. Sitting next to each other in the cinema is not quality time. The quality time is when you have time to spend together before the movie and after, when you remember and discuss the movie.
We sometimes go to a movie only with Eden, which makes her feel grown up. You can do the same and dedicate an outing just to one child for some extra special attention.
Do projects together
Build something, fix something around the house, plant a vegetable garden, renovate, plan a trip somewhere or organize an event together. Projects are an excellent way to be together and use your time effectively at the same time.
In the month before our new kitchen arrived, we spent the weekends and some weekdays removing the old kitchen, fixing and painting. We did it together and it was a great bonding time for everyone.
Quality over quantity
Although more quality time is better than less, it is important to remember that you do not punch a clock. If you think you have to spend an hour of quality time a week, you are on the wrong track. It is not the time that counts but the quality of that time. This is mostly important in situations when you are not seeing your child every day, like when you are divorced, working long hours or travel away from home. You have to consider the quality of your time with your kids rather than the quantity.
If you want to know better, ask your child at the end of every time you spend together, "How did you enjoy this thing we did together from 1-10?" It will help you understand how meaningful it was for him or her.
If you are far away, you can still keep in touch by emails, SMS, Skype or phone (no one writes letters anymore). I have family members that live on the other side of the world and we can spend great times together watching my nephews or talking to my sisters about them and about us, while the bond gets stronger and stronger.
Quality time is time spent together in an enjoyable way that contributes to a bond between two people. It requires undivided attention, curiosity about the other person and some creativity. As a parent, you must develop the skills of using your time well to strengthen the bond between you and your children from the minute they are born.
This post is part of the series Love Languages:
- Quality Time: The Gift of Your Presence
- Quality Time: How to Have Fun with Your Kids