How To Maximize Quality Time With Your Kids on a Hectic Schedule

It’s the age-old question. Mom and dad hit the snooze button one too many times. They rush the kids out of bed, scramble to find clean underwear (or recycle, if all else fails), get breakfast in them, and hurry off to school before they’re late. Both parents have jobs. The commute home shrinks the time available for dinner before the whole family has to rush out again. The kids have soccer practice, swim lessons, Scout meetings, band practice, and after school activities. Weekends are taken up by fundraisers, volunteer work, competitions, and field trips.

With all that time already filled, how do you spend quality time bonding with — and having fun with — your children?

You know your kids need you. They need to have quality time with you. You need to bond as a family. There is simply no time to do that. Should you carve out time to do a big family activity now and then? Or, would it be more effective to take a smaller amount of time for one-on-one bonding with each individual child, one at a time?

The answer might come as a bit of a surprise. While time spent all together is great, it might actually be more effective — and create a stronger bond — when parents spend just a little time doing something special with one kid at a time.

Don’t get me wrong. Big family productions are great. Camping trips, family hikes, going to the movies, going out to dinner once in a while — all those kinds of activities create positive memories for parents and children alike. Even pizza and movie nights or game nights at home are great ways to get the family together and remember why you’re a family. Research shows, however, that one-on-one time with kids packs a powerful punch when it comes to forming and reinforcing bonds between parent and child.

A 2015 study showed that the amount of time parents spend with their children aged 3 to 11 had a negligible effect on their overall well-being and a minimal effect on teenage children. Parents often feel guilty about how little time they spend with their children, despite statistics that show that American parents spend more time with their children than in any other country on earth. The amount of time American parents spend with their children has actually increased over the past 60 years, with no correlation to improved outcomes in child well-being. In fact, if parents are stressed, overworked, and sleep deprived, the study shows that more time with children is actually detrimental to their development. (By the way, I will cover the surprising conditions that do lead to better outcomes in another column.)

What does appear to matter quite a bit, according to the study, is the quality of time parents spend with children. The number of hours is nowhere near as important as the quality of those hours. Meal time spent talking together; reading stories at bedtime; having a talk with them; a quick trip to the park, just the two of you; working together on some simple household chores; helping with homework. All these things demonstrate to each individual child that he or she is individually special, individually loved, and valued as an individual.

More and more, it seems that we are moving away from the quantity model to the quality model. Bloggers are advocating that, when you inevitably have to make a choice how to spend your very limited free time, opt for the one-on-one time with your kiddo. Obviously, spend time as a family as much as possible. The problem, of course, is that it’s not always possible, so you have to choose. It may be as simple as having one kid help with dinner, then asking the other one to help you fold laundry later on.

Another way to increase the time spent with your kids is to squeeze more time out of the day. Take a few minutes the night before to ensure that you nip morning time-wasters in the bud. When you are stressed out and rushing around in the morning, the last thing you need is to discover that the car keys are missing and there’s no clean laundry for the kids. Organize the essentials. Make it a family rule that everything gets put away properly so you know where to find it. You don’t have to do that entire mountain of laundry tonight (that would cut into essential wine time), but you should probably make sure the kids have clean school uniforms for the next day. A little proactive planning after dinner can save you from stressing out and swearing as you scramble to dry their underwear in the dryer on maximum high heat (not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with an occasional swear word around the kids). Even a modicum of organization — not asking for perfection here — can lead to a relaxed breakfast chatting with each kid about his or her new day, instead of stuffing cereal bars in their mouths while they run around gathering up what they need for school.

You’re not getting those ten morning minutes back. Might as well make the most of them and bond with your kids, instead of making it mommy or daddy’s stress time. Same goes for the odd 15 minutes here, bedtime there, or occasional block of free time in your otherwise insane family schedule. Make it a quality one-on-one moment with your child, and create memories and feelings of self-worth that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.