As a busy mother, I face the common problem of scrambling to set aside time to spend with my kids when I have a million other things to do. For us hard-working parents, time is very limited, and the temptation to use it to do errands, go shopping, clean the house, etc., instead of being fully present with our children is a strong one.
Besides finding the time, another challenge of constant multitasking is being able to slow down, turn off the disciplinarian mode, and just be with our children, enjoying them without demands or expectations. As a home schooling mother, I face the additional challenge of trying not to turn everything into an educational opportunity. I know this sounds ridiculous, but sometimes it is important to just spend time with my kids without making everything into a learning experience.
This is important because our children really benefit from every moment of our giving them our full attention and letting them know they are valued. I highly recommend a book by Oliver James, called Love Bombing: Reset Your Child’s Emotional Thermostat. It is aimed at parents who are struggling with their child’s behavior but can be applied to any child. He shares stories about parents who have successfully tried “love bombing” with children who have anxiety, autism, hyperactivity, temper tantrums, shyness, perfectionism, self-loathing, and a whole range of other issues.
The premise is that a child’s brain is malleable, and “adjusting” one small dial on a child’s emotional thermostat can completely change his behavior. Sometimes, however, the whole system needs to be wiped out and “reset.” The way to do this is to spend a large chunk of time (24 to 48 hours) completely focused on your child, away from everyone else in the family, where the child gets to make all the decisions about how the time is spent.
I actually tried this a few years ago with each of my two older boys. I picked a Sunday through Monday that worked for my schedule and allowed my son to choose somewhere within driving distance that he wanted to go. We booked a hotel room for the night and did activities that he chose. My sons are very different from each other. One chose to make his a history-themed trip to Philadelphia, where we went to places like Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, while the other son chose to have his weekend in Lancaster, where we went to an indoor water park, Pirate mini golf, and the Turkey Hill Experience. After each of these trips, I made a photo book, so my sons could look back and remember the fun we had. My children still talk about these trips years later.
The point of this intense time together is to clear the slate and start from scratch. It gives the child a completely encompassing experience of love and security and allows him to feel like he has some mode of control and some choice in decision making. Hopefully, these feelings carry over into day-to-day life, where the child can use this experience to fill up his emotional tank and react more effectively to challenges that may arise.
A whole night away may not be practical for every family, but there is definitely a way to implement the concept on weekends or winter vacations. We can all try to make the effort to spend one-on-one time with our children as well as carve out time with the whole family and give our children positive lasting memories.
Fortunately, we live in a city that has a plethora of exceptional venues at which to spend quality time with our children. I am frequently asked for ideas on where to go as I love to travel and take my kids on lots of adventures to new places, some off the beaten path.
Baltimore is full of museums, galleries, play spaces, jumping places, parks and playgrounds, nature centers, sports arenas, mini golf, arcades, fruit picking, petting farms, craft places, and children’s story times. It boasts of a terrific children’s museum, a very nice zoo, and the always exciting Inner Harbor. We have two great library systems and various children’s theater productions and symphonies in the surrounding region. We are relatively close to many factory tours, and Washington D.C., Lancaster, Philadelphia, Hershey, and the Chesapeake area are all a short drive away. Many of these activities are little to no cost and are fun for all age groups. Discount voucher websites, like Certifikid and Groupon, are constantly running deals for kid-friendly activities in the area. There are also many local calendars available with events that are specifically aimed toward children and families.
If you are unable to leave the house, board games and card games are also a good option for bonding time. I also love to share my love of reading with my children. We pick books that can be read a chapter at a time to the younger children and are also exciting for my older children. Many parents stop reading bedtime stories to their kids as they get bigger and are able to read on their own. Reading aloud is an almost lost art form. It is an amazing way to connect with our children, no matter what age they are. Even older children enjoy spending time cuddling on the couch, listening to a good book.
Playing sports in the yard, riding bicycles in the park, or taking a hike are good outdoor activities to do together. Arts and crafts projects, cooking and baking, building toys, puzzles, science experiments, or teaching a new skill are excellent ways to spend time together. Just turning on some music and dancing can become a giggle fest.
For younger children, even household chores can be an adventure if you are doing it together. Cleaning up can be turned into a game. Finding the matching socks in the laundry basket can be exciting and make a child feel accomplished. Toddlers and preschoolers love to feel helpful to their parents.
Sometimes, simply sitting down for a long talk is all it takes for a child to feel heard and valued. These talks can be great relationship strengtheners, as well as a good time to find out what is really going on in a child’s life. Oftentimes, unknown anxieties about peers or trouble at school will come out during these talks as our undivided attention allows the child a safe space to divulge and share the inner workings of his or her heart. Remember to let the child choose the topics – this time is about him or her. My own children love to tag along for walks, where they can babble as much as they want, and no one is too distracted to listen to them!
Other times our children merely need us to stop what we are doing and give them a hug. My two-year-old is a great example of this. He is currently recovering from a virus and repeatedly needed me to stop typing this article for a few healing snuggles! Turning our full attention to a child, even for just a second, tells him that he is important and someone worth paying attention to.
There are numerous ways to engage our children and show them they are loved. We just have to make the conscious effort to do so. It is not only about what you do with your children; it is also about simply being with them.