I’ll admit it, I was that guy. The one who judged parents whose children sat around, glued to a tablet, smartphone or portable DVD player. Now that I have a son of my own, I find myself in that awkward situation where he is now the child watching a show on my wife’s iPhone while other diners sit around judging us. It’s not a good feeling. And to all those parents I’ve judged before for letting their children play online kids’ games, I apologize. It is harder than it looks.
I am conflicted every time I turn on “Little Einsteins” or ”Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” On the one hand, it’s a welcome escape, and I know Bennett relishes every opportunity he gets to catch up on his stories. At the same time, I also know that every minute he spends entranced in front of the Kindle is, in some way, a minute lost. The fact is, Bennett won’t be 2 years old much longer (or 3, or 4, or school-aged for that matter). Sometimes it feels like my time with Bennett vanishes one episode at a time.
Don’t get me wrong, the right kind of media certainly holds learning value for children. However, watching screens, checking email or scrolling through social media on our phones is unfortunately how most of us adults spend the majority of our down time at home. Instead, we should make the effort to put down our smartphones to spend more quality time with our children and spouses.
Let’s face it: in real life, parents are also providers, cooks, errand runners and shower cleaners. Fortunately for us, not all time spent is created equal – a new study suggests that quality trumps quantity when it comes to time spent parenting.
So how do you make your non-working hours count when you spend them with your children? Here are a few parenting tips I’ve picked up on to maximize the time I have with Bennett:
- Put your children to work. I’m not talking child labor here, but tasks such as sorting laundry, putting things away or stamping your holiday cards are appropriate. Children love to help; I remember fetching the odd soup can or spice while grocery shopping with my mother. You’d be surprised at how much you can knock off your to-do list while getting in some quality time with your son or daughter. You can even keep track of how much your child is helping by making this fun and engaging chore chart!
- Fix stuff together. I don’t repair things around the house without involving Bennett. This doesn’t mean you have to give your child part of the job to do – it works just as well when your son or daughter is just watching you fix something. When I call Bennett to come watch daddy put the batteries in his flashlight, he comes running and watches with great intensity. Bennett is too young to ask questions about positive and negative ends of the battery, but he’s engaged nonetheless. It helps if you narrate as you go: “First, let’s go find the batteries in the closet. Now, let’s find the right size battery. Does this one fit? How about that one? Let’s count how many we need.”
- Don’t lean on big-time experiences. A lot of parents (myself included) put a lot of effort into creating memories for their children. Disney World immediately comes to mind. There is nothing wrong with this – it’s a lot of fun! – but the everyday moments can be just as memorable. During downtime, do something together as a family – read a book, play a game or go on a walk.
- Take your time. How many times have you lugged your son or daughter with you while running errands? Nothing drags out errands like a toddler. Think you can pick up the dry cleaning, pop into Macy’s and then pick up something for dinner before noon on a Saturday morning? Forget about it. Instead, accept that it will take a bit longer and use this built-in time cushion to talk with your child, or walk funny together, or play Which One Would You Buy in the store – anything that piques your child’s interest and opens the door for a little you-and-me time.