It occurred to me this weekend that it’s entirely possible my sister has spent more quality time with S than I have, over the last month. Between moving house, trying to fit packing and unpacking in around work, and a bunch of other stuff I won’t go into, my time with S lately has involved a lot of “in a minute, let me just finish this…”
When my sister comes round, she will happily sit on the floor and colour in pictures for an hour, or play doctors or dress up teddies. I’m sad to admit it’s been a while since I did any of those things.
When I talked to a friend about this, he asked me: “when’s the last time you took a walk past the furniture shop down the road, to count the wooden animals in the window?” when I responded that we do that almost every time we come to town, he told me: “that is quality time; relax.” I get what he means; a lot of parents don’t have the time to stop and say hi to wooden animals in shop windows. And I suppose I am a bit “different” when we go to town, in that I’ll often walk out of a shop with S and ask, “which way to you want to walk?” As long as I don’t have to be somewhere or do something, our trips to the shops are usually led by the toddler.
Still, I’d like to think I can do a bit better at quality time than making a shopping trip a little less boring. She’s only two; shopping means nothing to her, aside from maybe getting a banana and a special drink while we’re in the supermarket. That may well be a bonus, but it’s hardly quality time.
I’ve been slowly making my way through a great parenting book called Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen. It’s all about building a better connection with your child through play. The chapter I’m reading at the moment is all about following your child’s lead. All too often, we say no to something without even considering it, but what happens if you say yes? Cohen encourages us to follow the child’s lead from time to time, and see what happens.
He also introduces the concept of setting aside Play Time – not the capitals there. This is not play time as in “it’s play time, go play over there” but rather “it’s Play Time – let’s play together; what would you like to do?” The idea is that you set aside an hour or to and put the child completely in charge – no suggestions from you as to what should be done in that time, even if they are slow to come up with an idea themselves. So you basically say, “you’ve got me for an hour, let’s play. What shall we do?” During that time, you don’t switch the TV on (unless their choice is to spend the hour watching TV together); you don’t answer the phone or the door; you don’t Tweet; you don’t Facebook; you don’t Instagram.
I’ve a friend who has temporarily deactivated her Facebook, after feeling that she was spending too much time on there, and it was taking her attention from her children. I have been trying to only use my phone/social media when S is otherwise occupied, but often as soon as she sees me on my phone, she comes over wanting to play. It’s especially difficult at the moment, since we don’t have a sofa so really the only place for me to sit is in my desk chair – and often it’s too tempting to just take a quick look at what’s going on.
I really like this idea of, rather than half-arsing it with bits and bobs of attention here and there, giving a child a dedicated hour where they know they have your undivided attention. At the moment, S is probably a little young to understand the concept of “you’ve got an hour; what shall we do?” But I’m sure she will find plenty of ways for us to play together, even if it’s an hour of “row, row, row your boat!”
Here is a little quote from Cohen:
When children choose what to play and how to play, their cup is refilled. This refill boosts their confidence and fosters their relationship with you.
What I like the most about this idea, is that Cohen also admits that it’s bloody hard work; he often gets “stuck” playing Barbies for an hour, or being “the baby” in a roleplay game where he has to “be in bed asleep” but not actually fall asleep and start snoring.
My plan now is to be more strict with myself. S finishes nursery at 4 two days a week, and she has 3 days where she doesn’t go to nursery at all. I have no excuse for not spending quality time with her during those days. And really, with 24 hours in a day it’s not unthinkable that I should be able to set aside at least one hour to devote to my daughter, when she’s the person I love most in my life any way.
I’d love to know if any of my followers have tried this sort of thing. How did you get on? Did you find it hard, or is it fun once you get into it?