As a busy mother, I face the common problem of scrambling to set aside the time to spend with my kids when I know I have a million other things to do. For us hard-working parents, time is very limited and the temptation to use it to do errands, go shopping, clean the house, etc., instead of being fully present with our children is a strong one.
Besides finding the physical time, another challenge of constant multitasking is the ability to slow down, turn off the disciplinarian mode, and just be with our children, enjoying them, without demands or expectations. As a homeschooling mother, I face the additional challenge of trying not to turn everything into an educational opportunity. I know this sounds ridiculous, but sometimes it is important to just spend time with my kids without giving into the temptation to make everything into a learning experience.
However, our children really benefit from every moment we are able to spare with them, giving them our full attention and letting them know they are valued. I highly recommend a book by Oliver James called, Love Bombing: Reset Your Child’s Emotional Thermostat. It is aimed at parents who are struggling with their child’s behavior, but can also be applied to any child. He shares stories about parents who have successfully tried “love bombing” with children who have anxiety, autism, hyperactivity, temper tantrums, shyness, perfectionism, self-loathing, and a whole range of other issues.
The premise is that a child’s brain is malleable. Like a temperature thermostat, “adjusting” one small dial on a child’s emotional thermostat can completely change their behavior. Sometimes, however, the whole system needs to be wiped out and “reset”. The way to do this is to spend a large chunk of time (around 24-48 hours) completely focused on your child, away from everyone else in the family, where he or she gets to make all the decisions about how the time is spent.
I actually tried this a few years ago with each of my two older boys. I picked out two days that worked for my schedule and allowed my son to choose somewhere within driving distance that he wanted to go. We booked a hotel room for the night and did activities that he chose. My sons are very different from each other. One chose to make his a history-themed trip in Philadelphia, where we went to places like Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, while my other son chose to have his weekend in Lancaster, where we went to an indoor water park, pirate-themed mini golf, and the Turkey Hill Experience. After each of these trips, I made a photo book, so my sons could look back and remember the fun we had. My children still talk about these trips years later.
The point of this intense time together is to clear the slate and start from scratch. It gives the child a completely encompassing experience of love and security and allows him to feel like he has some mode of control and choice in decision making. Hopefully, these feelings carry over back into day to day life, where the child can use this experience to fill up his emotional tank and react more effectively to challenges that may arise.
The whole night away may not be practical for every family, but there is definitely a way to implement the concept into our weekends or winter vacations. We can all try to make the effort to spend one-on-one time with our children, as well as carve out time with the whole family and give our children positive lasting memories.
Fortunately, there are a plethora of exceptional venues at which to spend quality time with our children these days. I am frequently asked by others for ideas on where to go with kids, as I love to travel and take my kids on lots of adventures to new places, some off the beaten path.
Most cities are full of museums, galleries, playspaces, jumping places, parks and playgrounds, nature centers, zoos, sports arenas, mini golf, arcades, children’s theatres, factory tours, historical sites, fruit picking, petting farms, craft places, children’s story times, and libraries. (I’m sure there is much more that can be added to this list!) Many of these activities are little to no cost and are fun for all age groups. Discount voucher websites, like Certifikid and Groupon, are constantly running deals for kid-friendly activities. There are usually also local calendars available with events that are specifically aimed toward children and families.
If you are unable to leave the house, board games and card games are good options for bonding time. I also love to share my love of reading with my children. We pick books that can be read a chapter at a time and that are also exciting for my older children. Many parents stop reading bedtime stories to their kids as they get bigger and are able to read on their own. Reading aloud is an almost lost art form. It is an amazing way to connect with our children, no matter what age they are. Even older children enjoy spending time cuddling on the couch, listening to a good book.
Playing sports in the yard, riding bicycles in the park, or taking a hike are all good outdoor activities to do together. Arts and crafts projects, cooking and baking, building toys, puzzles, science experiments, or teaching a new skill are all excellent ways to spend time together. Just turning on some music and dancing can become a giggle fest.
For younger children, even household chores can be an adventure if you are doing it together. Cleaning up can be turned into a game. Finding the matching socks in the laundry basket can be exciting and make a child feel accomplished. Toddlers and preschoolers love to feel helpful to their parents.
Sometimes, simply sitting down for a long talk can be all it takes for a child to feel heard and valued. These talks can be great relationship strengtheners, as well as a good time to find out what is really going on in a child’s life. Oftentimes, unknown anxieties about peers or trouble at school will come out during these talks, as our undivided attention allows the child feels a safe space to divulge and share the inner workings of his or her heart. Remember to let the child choose the topics—this time is about him/her. My own children love to tag along for walks, where they can babble as much as they want, and no one is too distracted to listen to them!
Other times our children merely need us to stop what we are doing for a second and give them a hug. My three year old is a great example of this. He is currently recovering from a virus and repeatedly needed me to stop typing this article for a few healing snuggles! Turning our full attention to a child, even for just a second, tells him that he is important and someone worth paying attention to.
There are numerous ways to engage our children and show them they are loved. We just have to make the conscious effort to do so. It is not only about what you do with your children; it is also about simply being with them.