Sometimes work schedules stretch mothers and fathers to the breaking point with little time left for the people who matter most: children. Thankfully, spending time with family is more than ticking away the hours of a dull day; it is about quality interaction between parents and children. Even though it may seem like the twenty-four hour day needs to be lengthened, it actually provides plenty of time to accomplish the most important mission of all—time with family.
Schedules, including work, travel, and possibly continued education, often seem like the enemy. They appear to rob parents of valuable time with children during their formative years. This seemingly dark cloud does have a silver lining, however. Work provides valuable resources for the family in terms of food, shelter, health insurance, and savings. Additional education enriches the parents' lives, broadens their horizons, and can lead to more rewarding careers. Beyond the obvious, these necessary activities outside parenting provide parents with a very important reminder: Time is precious.
In parenting, as in life, it is vital to remember the value of your time varies by how you spend it. If a parent spends all day at home watching television, obviously the child is not benefiting from their presence. On the other hand, if a parent spends just fifteen minutes devoted to interaction with their child, that parent will have done wonders for their little one. Quality, not necessarily quantity, is the main feature of a healthy parent-child relationship.
Presence is more than a physical state. Love and care are involved in the selection of childcare, clothing, and feeding children. Every aspect of a child's world exists because of the efforts put forth by the parent or caregiver. The parent sustains the life of the child. This vital role does not evaporate when the parent dons business attire and continues on their morning commute after dropping their child off at school.
Children whose parents work are not always suffering souls. Involvement in extracurricular activities and preschool as a result of parental work schedules often benefit the child. High quality, loving daycare and preschool settings enrich children's lives and provide a solid foundation for the future. In fact, in a 1996 study entitled The Five to Seven Year Shift: The Age of Reason and Responsibility researchers found, "Children with extensive preschool experience tend to adjust to kindergarten more easily than those who spent little or no time in preschool. Children who start kindergarten with peers they know and like generally do better."
Part of being there for a child is letting that child know they are in your thoughts; it is a matter of doing little things that show you care. Small remembrances like sending a note in your child's lunch or bringing them a healthy snack or something to drink when picking them up at the end of a long day at school or preschool are a token of affection your young child will treasure. Older children may also appreciate hearing a retelling of a joke heard by the parent during the day, the chance to engage in a conversation about their school day, or a discussion of plans around the table in the evening. In all cases, showing that a child's feelings matter and they are remembered even in their absence is an important part of family bonding. These small acts do not require vast amounts of time; they only require small continual acknowledgements by the parent.
In an effort to build a strong bond and fond memories, set routines can be a benefit to hurried, harried parents. The morning rush out the door can become more pleasant through planning. For younger children, getting an early start each day, with a morning book reading as the child is waking, sets a nice tone for the day and makes waking up less of a chore. Reading to children, for as little as five to fifteen minutes each day, at a young age provides children valuable skills for the future. According to Gabrielle Simcock, author of a recent study related to children and reading published by the American Psychological Association, "…research shows that very young children can learn to perform novel actions with novel objects from a brief picture-book reading interaction. This common form of interaction that takes place very early in children's lives, may provide an important source of information to them about the world around them."
All the way out the door and up the steps to school, through reinforcing and comforting routines, parents can work to create bonds that will set the stage for strong family ties. For example, children love to play games in the car. Younger children can enjoy play games of I-Spy and variations of the License Plate Game to pass the time on the way to class. Encouraging words from the parent as the drive goes along can help the child learn about the world and experience the affection of the parent.
Later in the day, routines can be a blessing as well, dinner at the table—even if it is a fast food meal picked up on the way home—can provide quality family time. Discussing the day's events before dispersing for homework, housework, or bed gives families the opportunity to check in with each other and show that they care. Reading a book at night, before tucking the child into bed is a tried and true parenting routine beloved by generations of children. Time conscious parents will be happy to note that story books listing the average length of the story in minutes can be found in the children's section of the bookstore. Some titles with this handy device include: Disney's 5 Minute Bedtime Stories by Catherine Hapka, A Treasury of Bedtime Stories by Linda Yeatman, and Three Minute Tales: Stories to Tell When Time Is Short by Margaret Read MacDonald.
On the weekend, when more time is available, scheduling a regular family game time every other weekend-as an important meeting-gives everyone something to look forward to on the day off. Finding and collecting board games can be fun for the whole family and offer a variety of entertainment that transcends the focus on gadgets, gizmos, and time in front of the television or computer screen common in this modern life. Parents can try such classics as Clue, Sorry, Monopoly, or branch out into new realms with the family board game with such emerging classics as Khet: The Laser Game—a blend of checkers and chess that involves laser light—or Cadoo: Family Fun—an inventive game which, as the name suggests, is fun for the whole family.
There are many ways to play an active role in family life, but parents do not need an extra hours in the day to do it. All it takes is a kind word here and there, a brief remembrance, or fifteen minutes to an hour set aside in time pockets throughout the week. Children are adaptable and appreciate the time that parents give them. The only requirement is that the parent demonstrates they care and are tuned in to their child through positive interaction. Parents should also remember that quality time and parenting in general are not about perfection but about persistence.
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