By: Nina Malanay
There is an adage that goes “Children, marriages and flower gardens reflect the kind of care they get.” And this couldn’t be more true. Investing in regular bonding time as a family is not only the best way to show each other that you care, it also reaps wonderful rewards for your family. Spending quality time with your child gives you the beautiful opportunity to get to know them deeply and intimately, and marvel at what they have become as individuals. Children who are given regular quality time feel settled, secure and less stressed. They become more cooperative and more confident, and the relationship between parent and child greatly improves. By creating special moments of closeness for you and your child, you both become emotionally connected and this unveils opportunities for your child to open up and share their vulnerable feelings or talk about their deep fears, worries and hurts. Creating quality time with each child also minimizes sibling rivalry among your children.
But with an ever-growing to-do list and today’s fast-paced, modern lifestyle, it’ s easy to get caught up with the busyness of everyday life and let time with the family slip down to the bottom of your priority list. How can parents like us squeeze in quality time with our kids into our already overloaded schedules?
The essence of quality time is togetherness with focused attention. It involves active listening and a genuine conversation. The key aspects of quality time are: doing something your child wants to do, and being physically, mentally and emotionally present at that moment. Spending quality time with your child does not mean setting off on an epic adventure; any interaction can be quality time. We have gathered the best ideas for spending quality time with your baby, toddler and preschooler.
You may think that very young babies do not need special interaction with you, since they spend majority of their days just sleeping and feeding. But much is happening in your baby’s life even at an early age. Babies as young as 2 or 3 months become more alert and interested in their surroundings; they start to notice people and recognize voices and everyday sounds. Here are some things you can do with your baby:
1. Play games
Kids love to play games and babies are no different. Play classic games like peek-a-boo. Take baby’s favorite toy, cover it with a blanket and have your baby look for it. Play games that teach cause and effect like turning the light switch on and off and directing your baby to observe what happens. For older babies, you may play say and do games – parents give an instruction and the baby follows. For example, have your baby bring his favorite toys or common household items as you say their name.
2. “Talk” to each other
Babies begin to vocalize and babble at around 3 or 4 months. Have a “conversation” with your baby by responding to his vocalizations. Giving a positive response to his attempts to “talk” will reinforce the behavior and encourage him to talk more. It will also teach him the dynamics of speech and learn turn-taking in communication.
3. Reading time
Establish a reading routine with your baby early on. Nothing beats having your baby propped up on your lap as you point out pictures and read simple stories to her. You may even ask her to point to pictures of objects or animals as you name them aloud.
4. Care routines
Even simple, daily activities like giving your baby a bath or an infant massage can be a great bonding moment. The relaxing sensation of the warm water, coupled with your soothing voice and gentle touch communicate your love for your baby.
Toddlers are at a stage where they begin to develop a sense of independence. They are always on the move as they busily explore the world around them. The key to making quality time with toddlers is to respect your child’s emerging individuality and allowing her to take the lead. Here’s what you can do to make moments together more meaningful.
Toddlers naturally like to be helpful, and are interested in doing “grown-up” things, including chores. To us it may seem like a mundane task but to young children, it’s a wonderful chance to be part of what mommy or daddy is doing. Turn chore time into bonding time by involving your child. Make it purposeful by injecting learning as you do chores together. Have your child sort laundry by color or count the number of spoons needed for the table setting for dinner.
Get on the floor and play with your child. Allow mess, allow chaos, allow fun. Let your child’s creativity shine through by letting him direct your play. Build forts using cushions, race cars around the living room, or enjoy some good old outdoor fun.
Snuggling up with a book, especially if done as part of your bedtime routine, lets you and your child slow down at the end of a busy day and allows for a delightful, cuddly time to reconnect. Let your child choose a book he likes and allow story time to become a nurturing activity that you can both look forward to at the end of the day.
Bonding over meals is an important aspect of family life. It provides an opportunity for the entire family to catch up on each other’s lives. With toddlers and young children who may have difficulty sitting still for long periods of time, it may help to change the scenery or take your child on a “date” – go out for breakfast together or have ice cream on a summer afternoon.
5. Care routines
As toddlers become increasingly independent, they become more able to take a more active role in caring for themselves. Take advantage of this by making bath time more fun. Blow bubbles in the tub, “bathe” the plastic animals, or give the cars a “car wash”. Use this fun, relaxed time to connect with each other.
Preschoolers who form secure attachments with their parents develop an optimistic attitude towards life and greater resilience to stressful and traumatic events. Their brain development, self-esteem and emotional trust are also enhanced. Here are some quality time activities you can do to bond with your preschooler.
1. Have dinner as a family and use it as a time to reconnect and touch base.
2. Go on after dinner walks.
3. Pray together.
4. Make reading together a habit.
5. Play with each other.
6. Create art.
7. Cook or bake.
8. Go on “mom-dates” and “dad-dates”.
9. Have a family game night.
10. Have a family movie night.
11. Have a sleep over in your living room.
12. Go on a monthly family trip.
13. Sign up for a class and learn something new together.
14. Set up a tent and camp out in your backyard.
15. Pamper yourself at the spa. Or set-up a mini-spa at home and give each other massages and pedicures.
No matter what you do, your children want to be with you. Spend time together and be fully present. Give them memories to cherish long after they have grown. Remember that to a child, LOVE is spelled T-I-M-E.
What are some of your best ideas for spending quality time with your kids? How do you already spend quality time with each of them? Share your ideas and leave a comment below.
Nina Malanay is a mother to two rambunctious, affectionate boys, aged 7 and 4. Her husband-slash-best friend died in a tragic bombing incident in 2013. As she tries to navigate through life with her boys as a solo parent, she hopes to rediscover herself beyond the many hats she wears – mother, teacher, writer, baking enthusiast, student of life – and move boldly into her future.