It hurts to love someone as much as you love your kids and to feel as though you can’t always show it.
Life is busy, and as much as you want to say “yes” when your kids ask to play with you, you have a hundred other things that you need to do in order to make sure that you don’t all end up on the street with nothing but the clothes on your backs.
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So you keep saying “no,” feeling guiltier and guiltier each time, wondering if your kids are going to end up on a tell-all talk show in 20 years complaining about how they ended up in jail with a thousand felony charges because of resentment toward their neglectful parents.
Nothing will give you more hours in the day to spend with your kids or fewer things that you need to do, but the good news is that you only need a few minutes a day. Whether you call it “playtime,” like Dr. Lawrence Cohen, or “special time,” like Dr. Laura Markham, spending 10 or 15 uninterrupted moments with your child a few times a week can work wonders for your relationship.
How Does It Work?
The only hard thing about any time is actually finding the time to do it.
For your time with your child to be truly special, it needs to be just the two of you – no siblings, no devices and no distractions.
If you have more than one kid and no convenient time when all but one of them are at soccer practice, you might have special time while your spouse watches the others, or while the other kids are watching TV.
Of course, you’ll want to make sure that each child knows he or she will have a turn at special time.
Once you’ve carved out those 10 or 15 minutes with your child, which should be at least two or three times a week, but the closer you get to “daily” the better, let him or her pick an activity and do it together. It’s that simple.
As Low-Key As You Like
Your special playtime with your child doesn’t have to be anything high-pressure, although it certainly can be.
There will be days when your child wants to have a mini-party or bake and decorate outrageous cupcakes, and on those days, you’ll have to decide whether the headache of the activity outweighs your child’s disappointment at hearing “no” for a special time request.
As often as not, though, kids don’t want anything that elaborate. You’ll find that a lot of these play dates with your child just consist of giving him or her your undivided attention as you exclaim over his Lego creations or reading her favorite book to her 12 times in a row.
Parents usually think of quality time as being a grandiose gesture, but as often as not, kids just want you to play with them.
Remember the 100 times this week when your kid asked you to play and you had to say “no,” feeling guiltier each time no matter how valid your reasons were? Your special playtime is the time when you get to say “yes.”
All Play And No Work (Or Criticism)
One critical aspect of your special playtime is that it’s just for play, not for work or teaching.
Unless your child begs you to show her how to play “Jingle Bells” on the piano or some other teaching activity, your job during this time is to be your child’s playmate and cheerleader.
Praise him for shooting so many hoops, but don’t show him how he could adjust his stance to do even better.
Why Is It So Important?
Something so simple doesn’t seem like it should have a major effect on your relationship with your kids, but experts like Kathy Eugster agree that it does.
Special time strengthens the parent-child bond by showing your kids that you are there to give them 100 percent of your attention. This increased trust helps your children to be more willing to open up and communicate with you.
Unbelievably, spending more time with your kids also helps you get more time to yourself. If you can honestly tell your child, “I can’t play with you right now, but remember, we have special time in two hours,” that’s a more satisfying answer than “no,” and he or she may be content to let it be for two hours.
The best part? You won’t have that guilty feeling of saying “no” a hundred times without ever saying “yes.”