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You’ve heard the old saying “quality time” versus “quantity time” haven’t you? Well, when it comes to spending time with kids, this old adage speaks loud and clear. Most invested parents do their best to spend time with their kids and hope that those times together will be cherished moments in the minds of their child, but how a parent spends time with a child is what it’s all about. One characteristic of all children is that they crave the attention of their parents. It is something I call “love fuel”. It assures them they are important, valued, loved, respected, and liked by you. Pretty important stuff for a kid especially if they’re young. In fact, development teaches us that the kids who “get enough love and attention “ in the early years – the first 3 to be most specific – the better chances they have to stay mentally healthy. Such “critical” periods are from years 0-3 and then again 12 – 14. I have always viewed the teenagers as large toddlers. Just take off the first number of a teenager and this mirrors how they act sometimes. During these time periods, the parental attention need factor is at an all time high, but between these times, the attention from the parent remains needed for kids to develop healthfully. And, once they get their “fill”, they calm down.
Once kids feel liked by their parents, they like themselves and assume that others will like them also. This gives children the push towards socialization. But, it still gets back to how parents celebrate their child’s personality which is necessary as children change throughout the years.
Family-time is also essential but is separate from the one to one. I always suggest a combination of both for every child savors that moment alone with either mom or dad. Many parents get nervous that it make take up too much time to do both, but the perception of time for a child is different than that of an adult. For example, 15 minutes for a 5 year old feels like 2 hours for a 10 year-old. Once again, it’s not the quantity, it’s the quality. That 15 minutes for the 5 year old makes their day.
Finding things to do alone with your child is also not that complicated. Ask them what they want to do with you for that slice of time. If the request is too much, then ask them to pick something else. If they can’t come up with something, be creative yourself. You know your child. Pick something fun.
If you have multiple children, then the other factor is keeping your other kids busy doing something else when you are alone-timing with another. Take turns with your partner or consider arranging some sort of play time with one of their friends. Or, just tell your other kids that you are taking turns and their turn will be delivered shortly. As long as it’s fair, most kids will tolerate some frustration as long as it’s not too long.
Family time sets the stage for future family relationships, but nothing replaces the one to one time a parent shares with their child. These are the moments that kids remember more than any others.
Dr. Keith Kanner is a Licensed and Board Certified Clinical Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychologist and Psychoanalyst. In addition to running a full-time private practice, he is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine at the University of California San Diego where he teaches both human development and also trains medical students how to better understand and relate to their patients. He also serves as the Director of Clinical Counseling for La Jolla Country Day School in La Jolla, California, and is a Clinical Professor at The San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Dr. Kanner also sits on the National Board of Directors for Kids Korps USA, which is the largest organization in the country that teaches children and adolescents the importance of volunteering to help the community at large. As a father of three children, he is also a dedicated baseball, football, and soccer coach.