Parents today spend nearly three times as much time with their children than in the past. However, new research shows that the quantity of time spent with your children is not as important as the quality of the time spent together. The importance of family time cannot be emphasized enough when it comes to the mental health of children, but how you spend that time is what makes the difference in their wellbeing.
Quality Not Quantity
Parents often spend a lot of time with their children rushing them to school, to sports practice, to the mall, to the doctor, day after day. However, this is not the kind of family time children need. Spending quality time with your children is much more important than the number of minutes you are together.
A distracted, stressed-out parent in hurry makes for a stressed-out, anxious child. Child psychologists urge parents to make time to just be with their children, not rush them around from one thing to the next. When you are relaxed and directly engaging with your child, not checking your email or nagging them to hurry up, but making it a point to just talk to them you will give them the chance to voice their thoughts and feelings in a safe environment.
Related: Signs of Depression in Children
Children need meaningful time and attention from their parents. This means that 15 minutes of casual chatting while you drive to school is worth more than an hour distracted by electronic devices and other people at their basketball game.
The Child-Parent Bond
When your children are talking to you, put aside distractions and really listen. Get down on their level, look them in the eye, and ask questions when appropriate. Then set the expectation of the same from them when you are speaking. Not scolding, nagging or arguing with them, though. Ask them to turn off the computer, put down their cellphone and listen to you. You don’t need to ramble on for an hour to make it a meaningful conversation, either. Five or ten minutes of fully engaged communication is vital for a healthy relationship.
This is especially true of adolescent children. Research shows that teens and tweens who have good communication with their parents and feel important to the family tend to have better grades and do not engage in risky behaviors like smoking or drinking.
Strong child-parent bonds are formed through consistent communication, meaningful time spent together directly engaged with one another, When children are allowed and encouraged to voice their thoughts and opinions about their environment, the family, school and parental expectations of them, they have an outlet for sharing how they really feel and what may really be going on in their lives.
Talk Really Is Cheap
You do not have to spend a lot of money or time planning elaborate ways to spend quality time with your children. There are endless ways to spend meaningful time with your children that are low cost and even free.
This is the perfect opportunity for the entire family to gather, put aside electronic distractions and engage with one another. Make meal time a priority to engage your children in meal preparation (at the appropriate age) and to spend that time encouraging them to talk about their day and sharing something about yours. Setting an expectation for using good table manners and cleaning up afterwards models desirable social behavior and engages them in the family dynamic.
If your child likes to collect things, help them find the items for free or show them how to save their allowance or birthday cash to further their interest. More importantly, show your interest in their hobby by asking questions about it and offering your insights when appropriate.
A ten-dollar board game can provide many hours of fun and quality family time. There are games for all ages and levels from short games that are a few minutes for younger children to more complex games like Monopoly or Battleship for older children. Engaging in some fun competition sets the stage for lots of laughing and a way to get your child talking about what’s on their mind, while reinforcing the message that you enjoy being with them.
People who spend time outdoors regularly are generally happier and healthier according to science. Nature has a way of helping us relax and put aside our worries for a short time. Kids especially benefit from being outdoors because it promotes physical activity and exploration of the world around them. From a short hike or bike ride to the park to a weekend-long camping trip, being outdoors engaged with your child is an easy way to get in some quality family time and much needed fresh air. Look into the theory called nature deficit disorder. In his book, The Last Child in the Woods, author Richard Louv argues that kids are so plugged into television and video games that they've lost their connection to the natural world—and it’s not just children!
Something as simple as reading to or with your child can have a much more profound and positive affect than enrolling them in an abundance of often expensive activities. Parents who establish a reading habit with their children tend to have a closer lifelong relationship with them, and their kids are more likely to get better grades in school. Reading to and with your child is a win-win for everybody.
The Time of Your Lives
The importance of family time on your kids’ mental health is profound. Children who feel connected and engaged in their family dynamic are less likely to threaten their siblings or parents, are more sociable, do better in school and other activities and have less behavioral issues. It’s simple and easy to spend quality time with your children no matter how demanding your career or other obligations. Engaging your children in brief but meaningful conversations, including them in the daily chores of everyday life and emphasizing how their contribution to the family matters does not cost a lot of money or time—and the payoff is priceless.