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The Daily 15 - Spending Time One on One

Last summer, my husband and I combined our preschoolers’ two bedrooms into a joint bedroom to make the unused room a fun-filled play centre. Although our children adored sharing a room (and I adored designing my dream playroom), my husband and I felt something missing after only a day. We quickly realized the source of our discontent: less one-on-one time with our children.

Before the new sleeping arrangements, we spent time alone with each child reading stories, talking, singing and cuddling at bedtime, naptime and in the morning. Although we still engaged in the same activities after combining the rooms, the quality of our time when shared with both children left us feeling disconnected. In less than a week, we said good-bye to the new room arrangement, but all our work was not in vain. We came out with a newfound appreciation of one-on-one time, which lead to the development of a new tradition: 15 minutes of daily ‘special time’ with each child.

Here’s what a mere 15 minutes a day can do for a family:

Create balance. Parents of more than one child often get very little alone time with them, and unlike parents of onlies, interactions about their children’s interactions often dominate their time together. Unfortunately, many of these interactions arise from disputes. Spending one-on-one time with your children ensures they receive plenty of positive interactions with you to balance the negative.

Encourage bonding. Even when children allow their parents to engage in personal discussions with their siblings, the discussions take on a different quality with siblings interrupting, listening in, changing the subject, making requests, getting bored, etc. Without the competing interests of other children, you can move at a relaxed pace, explore individual topics of interest and follow conversations to much deeper levels. Knowing a child only as they are in the presence of siblings means knowing only one (and not necessarily the most favorable) side of them.

Increase self-esteem. They say actions speak louder than words. We can tell our children how important they are to us and how much we like them, but do our actions confirm our message? Planning time with your child alone when nothing short of a house fire can pull you away gives them a chance to fully experience being your top priority and proves you genuinely enjoy their company. According to the authors of Raising Resilient Children, “Setting aside times for each child individually [may be] the most powerful way of communicating appreciation” (Brooks & Goldstein, 2001, p. 101).

Reduce misbehavior. Children behave better when they feel better about themselves and they feel better about themselves when they receive positive feedback from their parents. Hence, the positive interactions and feelings of importance resulting from one-on-one time create a cycle, leading to improved conduct at other times as well. Attention-seeking behavior and clinginess also decrease when children know they can count on undivided attention. Mother of two, Wendy Saxton, says, “When I spend time alone with my children, it brings out the best in each of us and the positive experience gives us a foundation that helps us get through busy or frustrating times later.”

Make the most of reading. Unless you have twins, and often even if you do, it’s unlikely both or all of your children enjoy or get the most out of the same books. Last week, my husband found a rare treasure - a book about a truck (my three-year-old son’s favorite) and a dog (my five-year-old daughter’s favorite). However, the vast majority of books we get fall somewhere in between the two kids’ interests and levels. Further, the act of reading often becomes yet another lesson in turn-taking and sharing as they argue over who chooses the book, who answers the questions, who points to the something spied in an I Spy book, etc. While this constant compromising provides great social skill practice, it detracts from the full interactive and thought-provoking experience that comes from sharing a book alone with a parent.

‘Special time’ can take many different forms, from discussing daily highlights at bedtime to taking weekly trips to the bakery. Authors of Positive Discipline for Preschoolers say, “Even a trip to the grocery store can become special when you devote your full attention to being together” (Nelson, Erwin, & Duffy, 2007, p. 149). What makes it ‘special’ is that it’s defined as such and occurs with one child and without outside interruption.

During my daily two 15-minute shifts, I do whatever each child wants, paying no heed to the telephone, email or even my husband. Whenever I turn down an invitation to play, I remind my children of that wonderful time we’ll have together in the evening, giving them something to look forward to the whole day. This brief 15 minutes conveys how important they are to me, and how much I enjoy them each individually, in a way words alone simply can’t.

Laurie, mother of two, formerly taught early childhood special education and now writes children’s books and parenting articles.


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