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 behaviour problems have been linked to this type of affection.
So, remember to look into your child’s eyes, hug and listen to her. Make the time to connect with her. 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 him. Ask how he slept and let him know the plan for the day.
2. Changing her 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 her a big cuddle when you put her down on the change table (or floor, or mat) and again when you pick her up.
3. Making and eating breakfast – Even if he is too young to talk, you can ask your child what he’d like for breakfast: toast or porridge, for example. Talk about what you will have before sitting down together at the table.
Once he’s finished breakfast, you may need to have a toy ready for him 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 him dressed – A great time to have a tickle, talk about what to wear, point out the colour of his socks, etc. You can also squeeze in a little cuddle.
This is one of my favourite 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 change 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 Mum a bear hug.
6. Walking to the car – Take your child by the hand (or carry her depending on her 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 his seat belt – This is a good time to connect, talk to your child about his body and what you are doing. Pick him up and give him a squeeze as you put him in the car. Say clip! as you buckle him up and you might find he will copy you. Give him a little kiss and cuddle when you get him out again.
8. Drop-off – Get down to your child’s level and say goodbye, give her a hug, say, “Have a lovely day,” and ask her who she is going to play with today.
9. Pick-up – Pick up your child, tell him you missed him and give him a huge hug and kiss. Ask about his day: Did he create/draw/paint anything? Who did he play with? Did he 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 colours of the food, why they are 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 practise gratitude.
12. Brushing teeth – Talk to your child about her teeth and all the parts of her mouth she needs to brush. It’s a good chance to get down to her level and look in her mouth and her little face. Kids need help brushing their teeth until they are 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 is happening on each page, what he can see in the illustrations and what he thinks will happen next. As a bonus, it’s a great literacy exercise.
14. Having a bottle – if your child has a bottle before bed, you can hold her in your arms and get her to relax. This is a good time to sing softly to your child, look into her little face and enjoy her. Or simply hug her and breathe deeply, holding her 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 he is feeling and talk about what will happen tomorrow (e.g. school, a party). Again, a big kiss and a cuddle and remember to tell your child how much you love him. You may want to start a ritual like tracing his hand with your finger to the rhyme Round and Round the Garden, or laying with him for a few minutes.
Written by Kristen Dias. Kristen is a mum, teacher, former expat (she taught in India for six years), corporate education professional and entrepreneur. Kristen recently started Travel Karma, a business that provides travel activity kits for kids. Kristen’s family is all about adventures, new experiences, and creating unforgettable memories. Follow Kristen’s family adventures on Instagram and Facebook.
^Source: Lauren Libbert, Are you spending enough one-to-one time with your child? The Telegraph, February 2019