Investing in regular quality time with your child, especially when your child gets to lead the activities, can result in them generally feeling so much more settled, less stressed, more secure, confident and more cooperative. Creating quality time with each child also tends to greatly minimize sibling rivalry. Children crave quality time with their parents because they have such a deep innate and healthy drive for that attention.
A parent and child can spend long days together, yet the parent’s attention may be divided and the child’s frustration builds as they yearn for the love and warm connection they feel when they know they truly become the centre of their parent’s world for a period of time. Carving out the time isn’t easy in a parent’s busy life and can take some planning, but the benefits to parent and child alike of spending quality time, also often called special time, make it so worth the effort. Quality time often results in a beautiful deepening of the bond and hence plays a big part in helping children overcome frustrations, anxieties and even trauma. The child is learning about their world and forming their self-image and sense of themselves and their world through the reflection we give them throughout our days.
When a parent can carve out some time, preferably a couple of hours each week, but even ten or fifteen minutes in the day, to spend quality time with their child, there’s a kind of magic that happens as the parent’s attention really shifts into the world of their child. When we truly put all else aside, even for a few minutes at a time and really surrender to entering our child’s world, at whatever age, it’s as if our eyes open wider, our hearts soften and open and we can then really hear what our child is saying.
Quality time deepens our empathy for our child. When we give our full undivided attention and attune to our child, we can often really feel what they are feeling, we develop deeper empathy for their feelings, we can share their excitement, we reenter the world of imagination, we are reminded of the beauty of their innocence, we get to share those magic moments. As our child experiences our full attention, they draw from us whatever they need to learn, to strengthen, to grow, even to heal and to develop their full potential.
But I don’t get a minute to myself! Most parents of young children struggle to varying degrees with their child’s huge, and what can seem insatiable, need for their attention. When our children are young, the demands on our time, energy and patience can feel so overwhelming. The image comes to mind of how toddlers so often take the face of their mum or dad in their little hands and literally pull the parent’s head to face them despite (or because of!) their parent being deeply engrossed in a conversation with a friend.
We parents do need to be mindful of not neglecting our own needs to the point of being a martyr, as this fails to teach a child about other people’s needs, boundaries and limitations. What a tricky balancing act it can be! Parenting can really show up inner conflict and anxiety that was created in childhood if our rights to say “no”, protest and negotiate weren’t respected. If a parent didn’t get to practice saying “no” in the safety of their relationship with their parent as a child, their consequent struggle to say “no” when they need to gives their child mixed messages, as their words may say “okay” as their body language says “no”. When a parent struggles with boundaries and limits (i.e. saying “no” when needed), it can lead to resentments and hence make it difficult to meet their child’s needs with genuine love, willingness and an open heart. Our child’s demands on our attention can often touch painfully on our own unmet needs for the attention and support of those closest to us, our partner, our parent, our close friends and those unmet needs deserve special attention. Parents often reject or resent quality time with their child because they feel so drained, yet those unmet needs can and need to be worked through and resolved.
On the other hand, parents of teenagers often struggle with their teenager’s disinterest in spending time with the family. Parents can, understandably, feel rejected, powerless and shut out when their teen seems to want to spend most of their time with their peers, or if at home, they lock themselves in their room for hours on end, or choose to chat with friends on their laptop, the phone or spend hours texting.
Many parents of teens regret not spending more quality time with their kids when they were younger when their child still both craved their attention and demanded it. Yet, be assured that your teen has a place deep inside where they truly want you to win back their heart again, just start with smiles and warm responses and working hard to avoid the punitive approaches that cause such a huge disconnect between parent and child.
But I don’t have the time to play with my child, there’s too much to do! Parents of young children can feel trapped by the unending needs of their child. So how can we get the balance? Making time to spend quality time with your child can take a real shift in focus when the laundry is piling up, there’s always jobs staring at you around the house, crying out for your attention, when we have more than one child, when we’re working parents, when we have animals as well, when we’re worried and burdened. It’s so easy for a family to get into a vicious circle of each person not getting the attention they need, each person becoming more and more stressed, parents and children, each person competing for attention, each person taking their frustration out on each other. It’s not because we don’t care enough or love enough, it’s just hard to step off the roundabout of unmet needs and change the focus to being more present.
The upward spiral of meeting needs. It’s hard to remember the importance of quality time when we’re stressed and over-stretched. But when we do, when we really can put all else aside and properly give our child our full attention, when we can let go of thinking through all the things that need to be done and really surrender to our child’s world, when we enter into their world of play or song or imagination or nature or their big stories of excitement, imagination, curiosity, awe and wonder; we remember what they need, we deepen our bond with our child and often gain lots of little gems that really help us regain our own balanced and more centered state.
Spending quality one on one time with your child is usually the medicine that’s needed when things become chaotic or out of balance in the family. Spending a whole day, or even half a day, or just an hour of quality one on one time with a child that is genuinely child focused (preferably following the child’s lead) will invariably bring a parent back to be more in touch with their child. The parent slows down their pace, puts the rest of the world aside and gains a valuable little perspective of life through the eyes of their child. When their child is creating a huge story around a particular flower or stick and a parent really stops to listen and become involved, it can serve as a reminder of the child’s innocence, goodness and beauty. We’re reminded of the beauty of the child, that they can be so filled with happiness and excitement one minute and so distraught the next because their little project fell asunder when their whole world, their whole focus was totally and utterly absorbed by that particular flower or stick and then it broke or blew away. Children feel so deeply, experience life so passionately. How beautiful is that!
The relationship between parent and child can transform when kids are given quality time. Whining voices become calm and strong again as your child regains strength and confidence through your accepting presence. When I tell one of my kids, ok let’s have some quality time today, they are always so excited and immediately fill with enthusiasm about all the possibilities of how we could use that time, they never tire of quality time, it’s always new and exciting for them. What’s that saying that goes something like, giving someone your full presence is the best present you can give.
The difference between divided and undivided attention. It’s easy to think that we’re giving our kids heaps of attention because we’re spending lots of time together and we are giving them attention and communication all the time, but the difference is in the quality of that attention. Our children know when our mind is elsewhere, which of course it will inevitably be so much of the time understandably. The difference is also about giving ourselves over to their world for that time and for more than a half an hour at bedtime (not to ever underestimate how incredibly that nighttime attention is). It actually takes time to shift our head space and energies over to our child’s world completely.
As I write this, my kids are milling around and I respond to them as they ask me questions or listen as they talk to me. This is all fine and healthy, I’m happy and managing to do what I want to do, even if it’s just in short bursts, and they’re happy enough amusing themselves in various ways, but it can’t be compared with giving either one of them my full undivided attention for a sustained length of time over a whole morning, afternoon, day or weekend or even ten minutes.
During one on one time, the child becomes the centre of our world for that short time and they thrive on it, they need it. Don’t we all need it, all crave it? We meet up with friends, acquaintances and relatives and chat to people all the time, but two people giving each other their full undivided attention and interest is absolute gold in relationships. It’s in these moments that the bond deepens and the experience can be incredibly profound and can unleash huge joy and love, deep insights and understanding and often release deep pain and grief.
Deeper fears or wounds can heal when a child feels our closeness. Children can carry deep fears, worries and hurts that can be resolved, offloaded and healed, but they need our help. Kids often don’t easily pour out the things that are really scary for them unless they feel truly emotionally connected to, valued, listened to respectfully and really heard. When a parent enters into the child’s world and gives them their full attention, the child can sense that it’s a safe time to open up and share their vulnerable feelings or talk about the more difficult things they have experienced, be it that day or years earlier, that are still affecting them. Parents who begin to give their child more quality time and improve their empathic listening skills regularly give me the feedback that they’re just blown away by the absolute gems that their child comes out with, they’re amazed that the child opens up and shares feelings and fears that the parent didn’t realize were there.
Our inner wisdom and intuition. I completely believe in our ability as human beings, and especially as mothers, to be attuned to our innate knowing and wisdom. I believe that there is always a voice inside us that whispers the truth to us, a voice that carries our natural wisdom of what’s needed to bring balance back to our close relationships. However, there may also be the voice of the “inner critic”, perhaps our internalized parent voice instructing us to show those kids whose boss or accusing ourselves of not being a good enough parent.
You may deep inside know what’s needed, but just feel too guilty and powerless to have the energy to do what’s needed. You may know that change is needed, but may not know how to change things because it looks too scary or because it will bring up such painful feelings from your own childhood or you may not have the backup and support from your family or community that you need. We all need to somehow create times of solitude, times when we can listen to our deeper feelings and needs. We gain so much energy, confidence and strength when we regularly practice listening to and taking action based on our inner wisdom.
Are we spoiling our child by giving them more attention? Fear often arises when you courageously communicate or take actions based to your inner knowing that may appear to be in conflict with the different parenting approaches of family or friends or your culture in general. We’ve largely been conditioned to believe (in our society in general) that giving our children the attention that they need will “spoil them”, or that we’re just giving in to them and letting them manipulate us. Yet we now have a huge body of science that backs up the parent’s instincts to be truly caring in their parenting of their child, that even the limits don’t need to be accompanied with a harsh tone and are more effective when we can be serious but still show care and consideration of our child’s feelings. We now know from decades of attachment science (the study of the parent child relationship) that overall consistent warm responsiveness to a child’s needs (different from their wants) is the foundation of secure attachment. And that secure attachment is a very strong indicator of raising an overall well rounded secure, confident and compassionate child.
The fears that giving a child too much loving attention are based on outdated beliefs that neglect to honour the child’s innate goodness and a lack of trust that meeting a child’s needs is healthy and that it’s the child’s success in meeting their dependency needs that creates the foundation for a stronger and healthier balance of independence and access of support from others throughout life.
If you need support in your journey of adopting peaceful parenting strategies in your family, contact Genevieve about some one on one parent coaching or holistic counselling or both combined.
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