Saturday, April 21, 2012

Connect for better relationships and improved behavior

Children crave focused attention from their parent. It is the deepest way to experience connection, love, and support. At Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting, we call this type of one-on-one time "Special Time". Some parents naturally enjoy the activities of a child - playing with blocks, throwing a ball, reading books or just being silly. So this is easy. Others of us have a harder time pulling our focus out of work or the task at hand and when we have time, we just want to enjoy some adult activity. Regardless of our natural temperament, our children need special time with us for their healthy development.

Special time encourages attachment, soothes anxiety, and provides a firm foundation for growth. It is about engaged calm communication and presence. And your child especially needs special time with you if he or she is is acting out and seeking your attention in negative ways.

So how much one-on-one time do children need each day? The ideal amount of time is thirty minutes per child. Thirty minutes! Most likely you are wondering how any parent today can find thirty minutes to spend focused on just one child. And, what if there are siblings? A family of four might require two hours in which no laundry, grocery shopping, or work would get done. This is not possible. Correct. Few moms or dads have two hours each day in which they are doing absolutely nothing. However, special time doesn't have to mean doing “absolutely nothing.” If your child is misbehaving, thirty minutes is an investment in a solution. If it seems impossible, start with just 10 minutes. What we find is that parents quickly see how doable it is and the many benefits - their child gets the focused attention he needs and feels better and behaves better, and the parent enjoys the time and the connection and feels like a better parent. 

Special time doesn't require forsaking everything for kid focused activities. It is not limited to coloring, book reading, exploring in the park or throwing a ball. Though these are great play activities, they are often a destructive parent trap I frequently see in my counseling office. Problems arise when family life is dominated by children’s activities. Little time or energy is left over for adult relationships or self. Special time can be integrated into the pattern of a normal day- whatever your “normal” may be. Normal life involves work and play.

One of the best ways to get special time with your child in a busy schedule is to be present in the moment. This concept is most easily understood if you think of the difference between “being at the grocery store with your kids” and “being with your kids at the grocery store.” The first perspective, being at the grocery store with your kids, focuses on shopping. The focus is on getting through the store quickly, keeping the kids near the cart, and trying not to forget anything. The second perspective, being with your kids at the grocery store, involves listening to their requests, training them to understand “no”, empowering them to get the can of beans off the shelf, and learning to read labels. Being with your family is the primary focus, the task is secondary. Grocery shopping is work. It is not kid focused play, but it can be an opportunity for powerful quality time in which children share experiences with you and learn about life. Certainly, grocery shopping or any other chore may take longer, but the payoff is much greater.

The concept of being present with your child can be applied to nearly any task such as folding laundry, doing the dishes, cleaning the garage, preparing a meal, driving to pick up the dry cleaning, etc… Most often we don’t engage our children in these chores because it is quicker and easier to do them on our own. Sometimes the children would rather not. However, special time is important and when we are lax about spending time with the people we care about, our relationships wither from distance.

Special time is one the most precious gifts we can bring to any relationship. The power of peaceful presence and focus is deeply nurturing. It may be the most difficult to offer considering the schedule, stress, and how often parents themselves may feel under-nourished. Thirty minutes per day is a lot. It will take practice to get that in. It is also a recommendation, not a requirement. Good parenting does not mean perfection. Be sure to label the time you spend with your child. Framing special time as it happens in your busy day may make it easier to provide and enrich your life. Most likely you already are spending at least thirty minutes with each of your children, but you may be multi-tasking so are not necessarily "present". Take the opportunity to connect.

Amanda Deverich (see profile below)
Willamsburg, VA


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