Yesterday afternoon I made banana bread with my four year old daughter. To be honest, I’m not much of a cook and she’s not particularly interested in food preparation either, but we had a great time anyway. I didn’t snap, she didn’t whine, and neither of us threw a tantrum. After it was all over, I took some time to reflect on why it had worked out so well. I realized that it had nothing to do with what we were doing; I think we could have had just as much fun reading books or playing with blocks or baby dolls. The key was that for that hour, I gave her my undivided attention as we worked on a project together.
In all honesty, this is not a regular occurrence in our house. Even though I am alone with my daughters for several hours each afternoon, I’m usually trying to get dinner ready, giving them a bath or putting them to bed. While we may be doing these activities together, I’m either multi-tasking or trying to teach them how to behave at the table or generally making them do something they would rather not do, like brush their teeth. Some days are more pleasant than others, but I wouldn’t usually call it fun.
While it may be possible to set aside an hour or half an hour each week to focus entirely on our kids, it’s not possible to do it every day (at least not in my house). The good news is that they don’t need that much every day; they just need a few minutes a few times a day to connect with us – to really connect, without other distractions. I like to think of it as fueling their tank (and mine, too). They tend to behave better and I’m more responsive and patient when we have even five minutes of solid connection, when I’m sitting on the couch or the floor with my girls (but always at their level) and just listening and being with them. I find that it’s most important and useful during transitions: first thing in the morning, or right when we get home from school and daycare, before we all get caught up in whatever is coming next, whether it’s breakfast or dinner, getting out the door or getting into pajamas. Those five minutes help me get a sense of how they are feeling so I know what to expect and I can be more attuned to what they need. In return, they tend to be happier, calmer, and more helpful. It’s a win-win for all of us, and it just takes a few minutes.