Quality counts in parenting. COVID restrictions might mean you’re spending more time at home, but how do you ensure you’re carving out quality time with your kids? Here are 15 ways to help you connect with your children every day through mindful acts. The ultimate reminder for working parents — especially when you work full-time.
Ideally suited to children aged under seven years, many of these tips can also be applied to older children. Try them out and watch the connection grow.
There’s a lot of research on the amount and quality of time that parents spend with their children and how it affects their relationship and future outcomes.
“It’s about having a warm, physical connection, talking to them, playing with them, being responsive to them. You don’t have to be at home all day to do that,” says Dr Laura Markham, founder of Aha! Parenting. “Children have to feel they get enough of you, whether you’re in the house or not.”^
Oxytocin is a chemical in the brain released during times when a person feels love and connection. It’s been shown to help parents bond with their children, as a boost of oxytocin will encourage children and parents to seek further contact with each other. As the bond of trust and support grows between parent and child, our brains continue to produce and use oxytocin, causing children to feel more positive emotions.
A 2013 study from UCLA found that unconditional love and affection from a parent can make children emotionally happier and less anxious. This happens because their brain actually changes as a result of the affection.
Researchers remind us that we need five positive interactions for every negative interaction, to keep any relationship healthy.
A full-body hug stimulates your nervous system while decreasing feelings of loneliness, combating fear, increasing self-esteem, defusing tension, and showing appreciation. Higher self-esteem, improved academic performance, better parent-child communication, and fewer psychological and behavior problems have been linked to this type of affection.
So, remember to look into your child’s eyes, hug and listen to them. Make the time to connect with them. Here are 15 times of the day when you can find a few minutes to talk, engage and enjoy the connection with your child.
1. Getting your child out of bed in the morning – Start the day with a big kiss and cuddle. Tell your child you missed them. Ask how they slept and let them know the plan for the day.
2. Changing their nappy –
This is a great time to have a little chat, tickle, or sing a song with your child. It’s also a great time to give them a big cuddle when you put them down on the changing table (or floor, or mat) and again when you pick them up.
3. Making and eating breakfast – Even if they’re too young to talk, you can ask your child what they’d like for breakfast: toast or porridge, for example. Talk about what you’ll have before sitting down together at the table.
Once they’ve finished breakfast, you may need to have a toy ready for them to play with while you finish yours, but you can continue to talk, play and sing songs together. Try playing peekaboo to make your child laugh.
4. Random dance time – After breakfast (if you aren’t running late to your desk), I like to put on a song, and dance around the kitchen holding my child and singing to her. She usually finds it very funny if I spin her around and sing. Do this in the evening before dinner or bathtime.
5. Getting them dressed –A great time to have a tickle, talk about what to wear, point out the color of their socks, etc. You can also squeeze in a little cuddle.
This is one of my favorite moments with my two-year-old son as I get to hug him with just his nappy on and hold his whole body close to me as he’s standing on the changing table.
I always make sure to be the last to let go and sometimes I notice he hugs me for quite a while, maybe a minute or two. Other days it’s just a few seconds, but I think we both get quite a lot out of it.
I feel very connected to him in these moments and can’t help but think about how he’ll be a teenager one day and feel too old to give his mother a bear hug.
6. Walking to the car – Take your child by the hand (or carry them depending on their age) and count the steps together, or look at the flowers in the garden or the clouds in the sky. Have a quick chat on the way to the car.
7. Getting in the car and doing up their seat belt – This is a good time to connect, talk to your child about their body and what you’re doing. Pick them up and give them a squeeze as you put them in the car. Say clip! as you buckle them up and you might find they’ll copy you. Give them a little kiss and cuddle when you get them out again.
8. Drop-off – Get down to your child’s level to say goodbye: give them a hug, say, “Have a lovely day,” and ask them who they’re going to play with today.
9. Pick-up – Pick up your child, tell them you missed them, and give them a huge hug and kiss. Ask about their day: Did they create/draw/paint anything? Who did they play with? Did they go outside? etc.
10. Bathtime – Young children need to be supervised in the bath, so this is a great time to spend a few extra minutes connecting with your child. You can play with ducks and boats, or use bath crayons to draw on the bath and your child.
11. Dinnertime – Similarly to breakfast time, you can discuss what you’re going to have for dinner. Talk about the colors of the food, why they’re healthy (e.g. carrots are good for your vision, protein helps build muscle, etc.). Tell your kids a little about your day too, or use this time to practice gratitude.
12. Brushing teeth – Talk to your child about their teeth and all the parts of their mouth they need to brush. It’s a good chance to get down to their level and look in their mouth and little face. Kids need help brushing their teeth until they’re eight years old, so use this opportunity to connect while you can.
13. Reading a book before bed – For many families, this is a really special time to connect. Ask your child to choose a book and read together. Rather than simply read the book, it will be a much more interactive and enjoyable experience if you encourage your child to explain what’s happening on each page, what they can see in the illustrations, and what they think will happen next. As a bonus, it’s a great literacy exercise.
14. Warm milk before bed – If your child has a bottle or glass of warm milk before bed, you can hold them in your arms and get them to relax. This is a good time to sing softly to your child, look into their little face and enjoy them. Or simply hug them and breathe deeply, holding them close for an oxytocin hit.
15. Hopping into bed – Finish off the day with a little chat, and if your child is old enough, ask how they’re feeling and talk about what will happen tomorrow (e.g. school, sport). Again, a big kiss and a cuddle, and remember to tell your child how much you love them. You may want to start a ritual like tracing their hand with your finger to the rhyme Round and Round the Garden or laying with them for a few minutes.
Written by Kristen Dias. Kristen is a mother, teacher, former expat (originally from Australia, she taught in India for six years), corporate education professional and entrepreneur. Kristen’s family is all about adventures, new experiences, and creating unforgettable memories. Follow Kristen’s family adventures on Instagram.
^Source: Lauren Libbert, Are you spending enough one-to-one time with your child? The Telegraph, February 2019