Spending time with your child

By Michelle Fisher · 16 August, 2017

Why is it important to spend regular one-to-one time with our children?

In our posts What is a good enough parent and Positive attention and changing behaviours we spoke about how much children want and need your attention. It’s great to comment regularly on the good behaviours your child displays as this is a really positive form of attention and encourages more of the behaviours we want our children to develop. But let’s think now about spending time with your child. Children love receiving your undivided attention through play and one-to-one time. One-to-one time is an invaluable way to give positive attention and shows your child that you value them and really want to be with them. Here are the benefits of one-one-time:

  • Helps your child to feel special and important, raising their self-esteem and sense of worth.
  • Increases the understanding and strengthens the bond between parent and child. The more time you spend together, the better you get to know each other. This will have many benefits for your relationship in the future.
  • When a child trusts they will get time with their parents this can lessen frustration and promote calmness in them. Children who receive regular one-to-one time are less likely to behave inappropriately in order to get attention from their parents.

Are we really present when we’re spending time with them?

It’s easy when we are so busy to forget to spend time with our children or to think we have given them some of our time when actually that time was constantly interrupted by us answering phone calls, sending emails, hanging the washing out, feeding the dog! Our children may get frustrated when they don’t get time with us or when they get that time but feel that you are only half there with them. So what can we do to ensure that they are getting regular, undivided attention from us? One way to approach this is to build one-to-one time into our schedule on a regular basis so that it becomes an event and doesn’t get forgotten. Give it a name, I have heard parents call it fun time, special time, mum and daughter time, call it whatever you and your child want to call it. Build it in as regularly as you can and try and stick to the times you have planned so that your child trusts that it will happen. Ideally one-to-one time should happen daily for nought to ten year olds for 15 minutes and twice a week for one hour for children aged ten and over. This is just a guide and if you can’t manage this do whatever is realistic for you and your family.

How do we do it?

Setting up one-to-one time:

  • Tell your children what it is and why you are going to do it (because you love them and would like to spend time with them!)
  • Decide with your child, if they are old enough to understand, what the one-to-one time is going to be called, how long it will last, on which days of the week it will happen and at what time.
  • Every parent or carer (e.g. a grandparent) who cares for your children on a regular basis should have one-to-one time with each child. Time with mum is different from time with dad and it’s important your child gets one-to-one time with anyone who cares for them.
  • If there is more than one parent at home you could spend one-to-one time with one child each and then swap over and spend time with the other child so that both children are occupied at the same time.
  • One-to-one time can be difficult if you are a single parent with more than one child. Start by explaining that each child will have their own allotted time with you. Ask the child whose turn it isn’t to do something quietly by themselves. If they are very young then this will obviously have to be in the same room as you so that you can keep an eye on them, but create an area which is separate from the space where you are having one-to-one time. Help them choose what they are going to do before one-to-one time starts for the other child. This way they will be settled and occupied and hopefully won’t need to interrupt you too often. If they do interrupt you, gently ask them to continue with what they are doing by themselves and you will come and see/help them when your time with their sibling is finished. They might find this difficult at first so try and give them as little attention as possible if they interrupt and use lots of praise, explaining what they did well, when they do manage to spend even a few minutes occupying themselves. If you think your children are going to struggle with this, start by doing one-to-one time for very short periods of time, say three minutes (or even less if necessary). This way your children will learn what is expected of them and you can then start to increase the amount of time you spend with each child. Your children will get used to giving you that time with their sibling, especially once they realise that their one-to-one time is coming next with you and really start to look forward to it.
  • If you are busy you can incorporate one-to-one time into your daily life e.g.at bath time with bath toys, with one child while another child is at a club, if your child loves cooking set up a regular time when you will cook dinner together.

Each time you have one-to-one time:

  • Ask your child what they would like to do (give a choice of about five things if you think having an open ended choice could cause problems). Whatever the activity it should be something that your child loves to do, not something you would prefer them to do!
  • Set a timer for the one-to-one time so that the child has a visual or audible sign of how long this time together is going to last. Give a countdown for when the one-to-one time is coming to an end. Some children may feel disappointed that this time is over and a countdown will help them prepare for when it is going to end. If you stick to having one-to-one time regularly children will get used to the fact that it finishes and will accept this knowing that they will get more time with you soon.
  • Give them your undivided attention; no phones, t.v. or other screens.
  • Ensure the play is age appropriate for your child and let them set the pace.
  • Let your child direct and lead the play.
  • Use this time for play and nothing else (unless your child chooses to) e.g. don’t use the time to ask them about a problem they have been having at school, this can be done at another time.
    Never use taking one-to-one time away as a form of disciplining your child. They should get the one-to-one time with you whatever else has happened during that day/week. Remember that getting lots of your time and positive attention will help improve their behaviour and self-esteem. If you need to give your child a consequence for something they have done then this should be totally separate and the one-to-one time should still happen.
  • Use the one-to-one time as an opportunity for positive interaction and try and ignore any misbehaviour during this time if you can. Once children learn that one-to-one time is their special play time with you they will rarely misbehave during it. The only behaviour you can’t ignore is aggressive or destructive behaviours. If your child is aggressive or destructive stop the play, explain briefly why you have stopped and tell them that the play can’t continue until the behaviour stops. Describe the behaviour you want to see e.g. gentle, respectful.
  • If your child chooses not to do one-to-one time with you, matter-of-factly accept that choice and move on. One-to-one time will be available to him next as scheduled.

Give it a go

So if you have been spending lots of time playing with your children and giving them your undivided attention but feel that one-to-one time is something you would like to build into your lives on a more regular basis then give it a go. I’m sure you will both love it and after a few weeks will begin to notice the benefits to the bond and relationship between you and your child. Have fun!