By Harley A. Rotbart, M.D.
Over my past 30 years as a pediatrician, I have learned that there is a single truth that applies to any parenting philosophy: Your children need to spend meaningful time with you. When you add up all the time your kids spend at day care, in school, asleep, at friends’ homes, with babysitters, at camp, and otherwise occupied with activities that don’t include you, the remaining moments become especially precious. Try these ideas to optimize the time you spend with your kids.
1. Practice Parenting Meditation
Try to stay in the moment with a “parenting meditation,” in which you focus on seeing your kids, hearing them, understanding them, and really being amazed by what you’ve created—living, breathing miracles of nature who are learning like sponges and growing like weeds.
2. Take Pajama Walks
The hour before bedtime can be chaotic with young children. One of my favorite techniques to help them calm down—weather permitting—is an evening pajama walk. Not only will it give your kids gentle, mellow time to decompress, but it will also give you special moments with them that otherwise might have been lost to TV.
The key to pajama walks is the pajamas. Get the kids completely ready for bed—teeth brushed, faces washed, pj’s on. Then put them in their stroller, or on their tricycle, or in their sneakers, and meander slowly around the neighborhood. No snacks en route (their teeth are already brushed!); don’t kick a soccer ball along the way; postpone animated conversations until tomorrow. It may take a couple laps, but by the time you arrive back home, your kids will be in a fresh-air trance and ready for bed.
3. Have Taco Night
Your kids will be eager to sit down together when your meal has a theme. You can have taco night, pizza night, Chinese night, egg night, or pancake night. Special dinner nights are a unique opportunity to increase your kids’ involvement in cooking with you. When there are recurring themes for dinner, they can assume a bigger role in getting the food to the table because they’ll remember the routine from the last time. When they leave the house in the morning, be sure to remind them, “Taco night tonight!” They’ll look forward to it all day.
4. Fix it Together
Never repair a leaky faucet, change a tire, paint the fence, or replace the furnace filter without your kids. Home improvements are a great way to spend time with them while teaching them about tools and life at the same time. The attic, the basement, and the crawl space are all classrooms for learning how things work and how to safely fix things. Give them a flashlight, and talk them through the job you’re doing. As they get older, hold the flashlight for them. Instead of dreading things that break, you’ll see new tiles, built-in shelves, and paint jobs as bonus chances for time with your kids.
5. Don’t Drive Everywhere
The next time you need to take your children somewhere nearby, try to get there on foot. Walking with your kids is a great way to slow down the pace of your lives and to have more unscripted moments with them. Talk about where you’re going, what you’re thinking, what they’re thinking, what you see on the way, and who said what to whom in school today. Hold hands if your kids haven’t gotten too cool for that yet.
6. Serve Ice-Cream Sundaes and Popcorn
Establish special traditions around fun treats—they become more special because they don’t happen that often. Hot summer Sunday-afternoon sundaes, or cold winter family TV nights with hot cocoa, or popcorn balls on the day of the big game. Sprinkles make ice cream special, and cuddling goes great with cocoa. The food is not the point—it just helps make the point. Fun foods and special treats are conversation starters and memory makers.
Reprinted with permission of Andrews McMeel Publishing from No Regrets Parenting: Turning Long Days and Short Years Into Cherished Moments With Your Kids, by Dr. Harley Rotbart. Copyright by Dr. Harley Rotbart.