It’s one of those questions that can keep a parent up at night: Am I spending enough quality time with my kids? Of course, you spend plenty of literal time with your kids – getting them ready for school, shuttling them to and fro, helping them with their homework, and tucking them in at night, but that doesn’t exactly count as quality time they’ll remember fondly when they look back on their childhoods…does it?
Stressing out about quality time with the family is one of those universal worries, but most parents don’t even know where to start when it comes to doing something about it. Are you supposed to schedule it on the calendar? Does it have to be one-on-one? Can you do anything to make some of that car time or those homework sessions more special? Exactly how much quality time do your kids even need?
In HelloJoey’s “Quality Time with Our Kids,” we take a look at what counts as quality time and what makes it so important for your relationship with your child. Then, the experts share simple strategies for building more time with your kid into your already busy schedule, relieving a little of that parental guilt in the process.
What counts as quality time?
It’s normal to worry you’re not spending enough quality time with your kid – but you can reduce some of that worry by understanding what qualifies as quality time. In fact, that can be a huge relief, because kids and parents actually have very different perspectives about what quality time involves, when it happens, and what makes it matter.
Parents often think of quality time as specifically designated or scheduled events – like trips to the beach, family movie night, or daddy-daughter day. Seeing that family vacation on the calendar in big red letters can make you feel like you’ve successfully “made” quality time and have managed at least some semblance of work-life balance.
For kids, quality time can be any moment when the two of you connect – whether it’s preplanned or not. That means the quick chat while you’re walking the dog, the school-day recap driving to practice, and even doing dishes together after dinner not only count, but they’re often enough to satisfy your kids’ cravings for your attention.
Hand-In-Hand founder Patty Wipfler says, “Quality time is really just devoting time to your child,” and you can do that with a combination of both scheduled special time and unscheduled, everyday interactions. Mixing and matching those in quantities that work for your unique family helps to determine the strength and security of your relationship with your child.
How much quality time is enough?
When it comes to quantity, parents usually think that more is better. After all, you’re more likely to worry that you’re not spend enough time with your kids than worry about the quality of the time you do spend – but the experts suggest focusing on both. “We tend to start leaning too much on the quality piece that we forget that quantity,” says Dr. Christine D’Alessandro. “It varies on a spectrum. We need to give quantity its value, too.”
The good news is that quantity adds up quickly when you factor in those day-to-day opportunities to spend time with your kid. Laughing together while you fold laundry or set the table for dinner helps you meet that need for connection on a regular basis – eliminating some of the parent guilt you feel over whether you’re spending “enough” time.
When it comes to the scheduled moments, child psychologist Dr. Neha Navsaria recommends focusing on consistency rather than a specific number. “It could be five to 10 minutes once a day or three or four times a week. That is such a huge investment – those 10 minutes – for a child to know that this happens consistently, whether it's every day or four days a week. That consistency is way more important than the actual length of time.”
How do I spend quality one-on-one time with my kid?
While day-to-day interactions help to satisfy your kid’s desire for connection and attention, carving out special time specifically for them is still important. “What children need is for us to be as unburdened as we can be, at least some of the time,” stresses Patty. It doesn’t mean you have to take an expensive trip to the amusement park or spend an entire day planting a backyard garden; it just means giving your kid your full attention for a designated amount of time.
“When I say ‘special time,’ I want them to expect 100 percent of my attention – no multitasking, no talking to other people, no answering my phone,” says Patty. “Special time is saying, ‘I have time for you. It's this much time, we're gonna do it tonight, then I'll be free and I'll do whatever you want to do.’” Designating time like this can help your child feel seen and heard – and since you’re clear about what you can give and when you can give it, you don’t have to feel bad when time is up.
No matter how you spend quality time with your kid – in planned adventures or spontaneous tickle fights – the most important factor is being present and engaged. Having your kid crawl under the sink to help fix that leaky faucet is more impactful than half-watching the game or checking email on your phone as you pretend to listen to their stories. “Engage your child,” urges Dr. D’Alessandro. “Have your child help you do the cooking. Let them stir the pot. It's engaging your child in the activity with you.”
When you’re present and engaged, quality time becomes less about counting the minutes – because every minute really counts. Splish-splashing at bath time or helping out with homework, taking them to see the Wiggles or Taylor Swift, if you’re really there and focused on the experience, you help your child build trust and a sense of security. Ultimately, that’s what will determine whether they look back on the moments you spent together as quality time or not.
Want to learn more about quality time with kids and how to make the most of the everyday moments? Start your path to a solid parenting foundation in just 10 minutes a day. Check out the HelloJoey app.