The importance of spending time with children
Parenting, today, has become a widely challenging role. Parents are bombarded with social expectations through media, peer pressure and various social standards about how a parent is supposed to parent. There seem to be higher expectations to reach in today’s society in order to be a ‘good’ parent. Within this context, there are conflicting views amongst parents and others who are entrusted with children’s care. Considering all the other obligations of parenting, finding time to play with children may seem like a luxury to some people, and they try their best to make some time to spend with their children; while to others, it may seem like a complete waste of time.
The whole aim of spending time with children is to have fun and enjoy time together. An important thing to keep in mind is that most probably these moments will be the most treasured memories in his or her adulthood. Hence it is important that the atmosphere is a positive one, aiming at enjoying each other’s company. It seems that parents who manage to work towards a positive attitude towards playing and having fun together may find it easier to play with their children. Inevitably for most parents, this calls for some personal reflection:
- on one’s own beliefs and values of parenting;
- on one’s views on children in general and,
- on one’s own views of how to spend time with children.
Parents may find it helpful to reflect on some of these questions:
How do I view parenting? Do I perceive it as a burden? Something imposed upon me?
What are my beliefs around spending time with children? Is it a time to have some fun, or a duty that must be carried out?
Do I need to be productive all the time when with children? What happens if I slow down and just watch them play?
How easy or difficult do I find it to participate in the children’s activities?
How easy or difficult it is to involve children in the daily household activities?
Do I manage to make my presence felt by the children when in the same room with them? How?
What helps me to connect with children while playing?
Recent studies on parenthood and parental bonding highlight the importance of physically spending time together. Just like when a couple is building that special bond with each other and seeks to spend time to get to know each other better, so parents need to spend time with their children to understand and get to know them well. One needs to keep in mind that children have their own thoughts, ideas, personal characteristics, different views of the world around them, and so on. Looking at a child as a person in his or her own right may be one of the first steps in helping parents spend and enjoy their time with their children. In order to build a relationship with one’s child, one needs first to observe and learn how the child understands the world around him or her. Some parents who manage to move away from the idea of moulding a child according to one’s expectations, may find it easier to spend time with their children. Consequently, children’s behaviour may improve when they feel ‘accepted’ and ‘acknowledged’ by their parents the way they are.
Learning through Play
Recent studies carried out abroad revealed a contrast of 38 minutes a week of parental conversation with their children, compared to 21 hours spent per week by children watching television. Researchers on brain development also emphasise that a baby’s brain is shaped by experience, and therefore suggest that parents make some quality conversation time every day through play.
Involving children in small daily chores such as cooking, going shopping and cleaning up their rooms may also be opportunities for both parents and children to learn and build relationships. The more time parents spend with their children, the easier it is to perform tasks together as the child grows, especially if parents invest in these efforts early in the child’s life. This is because the more time spent together with children, the easier it becomes to communicate and understand each others’ thoughts and feelings. As a result a special bond starts to form between parents and children that may last a life-time.
Effective parent-child relationship: communication and interaction
Those that spend time with children and young people know that these are deeply touched by honest positive feedback and constant encouragement. Hence, while playing or sharing an activity with a child, it is important to make a constant conscious effort to observe what the child is doing and comment on what you like about it. A conscious effort at accepting that whatever the child is attempting to do, is a learning experience for him or her, is very important.
Children need and deserve constant praise in order to develop all their resources. It doesn’t matter if the activity is not carried out to perfection or does not meet our expectations of how it should be carried out, especially if it is the child’s first attempt. Children deserve to be acknowledged for their brave attempts at trying new things. Some parents might have experienced how most clinging behaviour stops when children feel important and are constantly praised and encouraged at all their attempts to learn new things. Honest feedback by parents helps children feel accepted, safe and secure in the presence of their parents and eventually by themselves.
It may be argued that if parents truly understand the enormous benefits of investing in conscious efforts to communicate and interact with their children, finding time to relate, undoubtedly becomes one of the most important daily priorities. Ultimately effective parenting is about being able to ‘tune-in’ to the child’s inner world, namely what are his or her thoughts, how does he or she feel in particular situations? The following are some points to keep in mind when spending time with children:
Make time – give priority to communicate and interact with your child, evaluate each day the amount of time you spend giving attention to your child.
Children are precious and they deserve to feel important – this statement may be a daily reminder of how best to prioritise your time during the day. Spending time with parents makes children feel that they are truly special.
Know your child – observe each child’s ways of being with you and others. What are his or her likes, dislikes, talents, character, ways of relating etc… There is no right formula or quick-fixes in parenting; it’s a parent’s job to re-invent the wheel for each and every child because each child is unique.
Choose something that both you and your child enjoy doing and make time to do it regularly, such as reading together, or doing some physical activity.
Lower expectations as a parent– praise yourself when you feel that you succeeded as a parent. Make a list of times when you did something together and it was fun. Surround yourself with other parents or people who understand and support your point of view on parenting.
Find out more about the stages of child development and how children’s interests and needs vary according to their ages. Internet, books documentaries etc…The way you communicate and what activities you do during your time together generally depends on how old the child is.
Seek help or advice from professionals in the field if you feel that you need it. You may call on Supportline 179 where professionally trained volunteers are ready to help and refer you to a more professional advice.
Work daily towards a positive outlook as a parent.
Be good to yourself – children learn also by imitation so taking care of yourself may also go a long way in teaching your child to respect oneself and others.
Sunderland, M. (2006). The Science of Parenting: how today’s brain research can help you raise happy, emotionally balanced children. DK Publishing, New York.
Charmaine Mifsud Cardona
Family Therapist / Senior Practitioner