Life with young kids can feel chaotic. On top of parenting, work, meetings, and social events, there are all sorts of unexpected things that pop up unexpectedly, eating into the day. How can you slow down and make time for your kids?
According to Patty Wipfler, making your child feel special can be very simple and very inexpensive. Wipfler is the Executive Director of Hand in Hand, a California non-profit that fosters healthy parent-child relationships. She says taking just ten minutes, or less -- in the morning and evening – to connect with your child will make a world of difference in your family life. That means giving your child the chance to lead, in play and in conversation, even for just a few moments. "Children need large amounts of physical affection and closeness," she says.
This is often easier said than done—Wipfler says many of the parents she works with find it challenging to connect with their child during the three toughest times of the day: the morning, dinner, and bedtime. Here are her tips to turn these occasions into a chance to connect.
Pause that morning rush.
The morning sets the tone for the day. Wipfler encourages parents to set the alarm 15 minutes early: "Take five minutes for you to enjoy the quiet of the morning before the stampede begins. Then, 10 minutes is for pajama-clad special time before anybody has to rush anywhere. It doesn't matter what your kids want to do. Just look bright and expectant, and have an open mind." Ask your child: "I'll do whatever you want to do for five minutes. What do you want to do?" Then follow your child's lead: if she wants to snuggle, go for it. Or, maybe your child wants crash cars in the hallway. Or maybe she wants to be a dog -- and you need to feed "puppy" a bowl of water. “This undivided attention can bolster a young child anxious about the separations morning often brings," explains Wipfler. "When kids don't feel connected, they often can't bring themselves to go to school. Kids have to take direction all day long. So if you set aside this time in the morning when you can take direction from them, it sends them off in a whole new way."
Dinner on edge?
Dinner time is supposed to be the calm, happy, time when you're all together again, right? For many families, however, the dinner table is often a source of tension. When kids get home from school, "their body might be home, but their heart isn't home yet," Wipfler explains.
Before asking your child to dive into homework, take time to connect. It's often hard for children to talk about what happened at school, but their feelings are there. "If kids don't feel connected, they can't pretend," Wipfler says. "When you sit down to dinner, they might hate their food, or they might kick each other under the table." What your child is really saying is "feelings are running my mind."
Take this as the chance to make a game. "Go under the table, get down on the floor, play. If there's laughter and fun, then other feelings will follow. Rather than fixing it -- or requiring better behavior -- just stay and listen."
The evening wrestle.
For many children, night time is when their feelings rush to the surface. This is a good time to get physical, Wipfler says: "It's counter intuitive, but I recommend that at some point every day, you have a family wrestle." Whether you're having a pillow fight or a game of tag, "let your child have the upper hand." You might play "I've got 10 kisses for you! You try to take kid's sock off, and put kisses between his/her toes. Let your child keep you at bay."
Of course, many families have more than one child to pay attention to at the same time! If it's challenging to carve out special time with all of your children every day, Wipfler explains that you can trade off. For example, one parent can spend time with each child. Or, one parent can explain to each child that he/she has special days. That means that each child gets "special time" every other day.
If this is sounding like one more activity to add to your schedule, remember that connecting with your child can't really be measured by time. So, let those breakfast dishes sit in the sick. Leave the TV off. Those 10 minutes one-on-one with your child are well worth it.