This article appears in the Press Democrat on Friday, October 6, 2012.
Two weeks ago I wrote about the importance of dating your spouse. Hopefully this resulted in some kid-free, uninterrupted conversation, and perhaps even a few steamy moments…. If not, let this serve as a note of inspiration to book a sitter for a much needed night out with your other half.
This week, however, I want to talk to you about the importance of dating other people – your children. That’s right, those little crumb grinders that are constantly hanging around your ankles looking for something to do would love to have some one-on-one time with their favorite person in the whole world – YOU*.
*Note: Level of strength in the word “favorite” as it relates to you directly depends on their age and whether they are going through puberty or not.
There are many sensible reasons to spend solo time with your child. Making time for your child tells them they’re important, helping to boost their self esteem. It gives you a chance to get to know your child as they grow, and also allows the opportunity for them to talk about anything they’re hesitant to mention in front of other family members. Feelings of jealousy and sibling rivalry are lessened as they learn they don’t have to compete for your attention.
Dating your child is an important practice to make at every stage in their life, not just when they’re young. As they grow older and start exerting their independence, it’s especially vital to insist on time spent with them to remain a positive influence in their life. By the time your child is a teenager, you will be in direct competition with your child’s peers, the media, and the community you live in when it comes to instilling values in your child. Every time you lessen your involvement in your child’s life and fail to spend quality time with them, you are taking yourself out of the equation during important value building years. But when you make it a point to spend time with your child, you are ensuring your voice is heard among all the other voices your child hears when making life-changing decisions. Even when it seems you have to fight your child to hang out with you, insist on at least one specified amount of time a week when the two of you can spend quality time together. It gives them the message that you genuinely care, even if they won’t say this out loud.
Here are a few tips to take with you as you plan some one-on-one time with your son or daughter:
Turn off all distractions, and ask them to do the same. This especially includes your cell phone. Unless you have a job that requires you to be on-call for emergencies, ensure that your child doesn’t have to compete with anyone else to hold your full attention. By making this a hard and fast rule, you are also teaching your son or daughter proper etiquette when they are spending time with anyone – whether it be you or somebody else – that it is important for them to treat the person they are with as their priority and not the person that is texting them on their phone.
Let your child take the reins on what you two will do. All too often we are guilty of dictating family activities. Sometimes we even choose things we’re interested in, but are totally boring to our kids. For one-on-one time, give your child the power to choose what the two of you will do. If they have trouble thinking of something, offer them a few choices to pick from. A date night can be as elaborate as dinner to a nice restaurant, or as simple as playing catch in the yard. The important part is spending time together.
Keep the conversation flowing. Ask them to share the best parts about the latest videogame they’re obsessing about. Play the “What’s your favorite” game when you both get to list your favorite things, from places in the world to things to eat, and everything in between. Learn more about them by taking turns listing the five worst things about the week so far, and then end with the five best things that happened this week.
Listen effectively. Listening requires more than our ears, but our eyes and our brains as well. When your child is speaking, pay attention to their body language. Are their movements saying something deeper than their words? When it’s natural, paraphrase what they’re saying so it’s clear they are being heard. As it becomes clear they’re being heard, it will be easier for your child to cooperate in conversation with you, as well as modeling proper listening skills for them to give you in return.
What are some things you like to do with your kids? Leave some suggestions in the comments.