9,467,000 minutes. 157,785 hours. 6,574 days. 18 years can seem like a long time. Yet childhood with our kids often feels like it will disappear ‘in the blink of an eye.’ To hold back its passage, don’t stop blinking. Instead, check out these five tips from parents and experts on how to prolong and savor each phase of childhood while it lasts.
1. Engage your child. Margaret Philbrick found reading aloud to her children to be a powerful way to slow down time. Sitting together snuggled on her bed created a cozy nighttime bubble. “It’s good because it chills them out and their minds stop running,” she explains.
For her oldest son (now in college) the habit stayed from infancy through high school. But her middle child only agreed to read with her through eighth grade. Then the two switched to weekly dates at a coffee shop where they take a half-hour to talk together.
“Engage with your child, no matter what age they are. Do something they love with them, not watching them,” advises Philbrick.
For your child, a regular touch point might come in the form of tossing a ball in the back yard or working together on a craft. What you do isn’t as important as finding a common interest in which you can come together over and over across the years.
2. Celebrate ‘lasts.’ “Any time there is going to be a ‘last,’ I make sure we’re going to be a part of it,” says Barbara Vetter, mother of three. “I can’t say I necessarily look out for them all the time, because some of them just happen and you don’t know it’s going to be the last time. So that makes every one that much more important.”
Being intentional about acknowledging the last time a child will experience something started for Vetter after reading Karen Kingsbury’s book Let Me Hold You Longer. In the book, a mother talks to her young son about how it’s not so much his ‘firsts’ that she wants to take note of (first tooth, first word, first day of school). She details instead the ‘lasts’she hopes to remember (last baby bottle, last day of Kindergarten, last time wearing a high school jersey).
Vetter points out that the end of an era marked by a ‘last’ creates an opportunity to talk with your child about what you remember. In fact, she believes that firsts are about the child, while lasts may be more for parents. “We naturally track the firsts. They are reaching a milestone, so you want to record it. But maybe with the ‘last’you are reaching a milestone - the milestone that they are going on to the next stage,” she explains.
3. Mark off rites of passage. Creating traditions around special dates, milestones and ages can help us to pause and notice more. Doing a specific activity on that occasion gives us a point of grounding, an anchor in time that slows us for a moment. One father created a tradition of making a particularly tough mountain climb with each of his daughters on their 13th birthday. The trip gave them time alone together and a great setting to spur contemplation.
Ann Kroeker, author of Not So Fast: Slow-Down Solutions for Frenzied Families, shares that on birthdays, her family encourages the person being celebrated to offer observations about themselves. “We try to ask questions - the same number of questions as the person’s age. And that has become a fun reflection on the past year and how their interests have changed or stayed the same.”
4. Create a time capsule. Map out the high points and moments of growth in your child’s life to date on a timeline. Or stash mementos from those occasions in a box for safekeeping. Go back occasionally to update and reflect. Invite your child to contribute their memories and keepsakes too.
Vetter does this with her children. They each have a container in which they store items that are meaningful to them. Periodically, she will look through the contents with the child. When her middle child completed elementary school recently, the two took time to reminisce about the highlights: his Cub Scout pinewood derbies, special papers he wrote and awards he’d won.
5. Live in the moment. Because we want to treasure our children’s accomplishments, we can become caught up in recording special events - we’ve all seen the ‘Mamarazzi’ lined up holding video and digital cameras during school performances. But a camera creates a buffer between the action and us. The event passes without us experiencing it.
Make a goal of capturing a few shots or select minutes of footage. Then put the camera down and enjoy. The same goes for editing and preserving what we’ve captured. “To spend all of one’s time scrapbooking, writing or photographing - in other words, to focus too much on chronicling life - could possibly steal from our actual life. That is, we don’t want the chronicling of life to become life,” says Kroeker.
Create a scrapbook page or two for each memory. Crop a few photos. Write a short entry. Then move on. No one will know how much more you could have done. And you’ll have enough pieces to trigger the memories of what you experienced.
The most important key to keeping your kid’s childhood from slipping away is to love them and enjoy the time you have.
“It’s all about the relationship. Having them take a piece of you with them when they go, when they’re done in your home,” says Vetter.
Lara is a parenting journalist and mom to three girls who seem to be speeding their way toward growing up.
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