For the dads (and mums) who are up for a challenge, here is one that will reward you in quality time with your little one.
Once a week, my eldest daughter and I have dedicated quality time together. Saturdays before lunch time, or Sundays after church, we try to go for a coffee or a milkshake. She always gets excited and screams, “I’m going for a coffee with Daddy.” She runs to her room, looks for her favourite dress and comes out twirling like a little princess. It’s endearing.
As time went on and the outing became habit, the more I became aware of how important this time together really was. Not just for my daughter, but for me as well. And now that our boy was turning two years old, a similar need for alone-time was starting to show face.
Why is it so important for a parent to spend quality alone time with a child?
My daughter enjoyed the fact that she did not have to share me with anyone else. She had my undivided attention. No fighting or screaming with other siblings. It was just the two of us. Every time we went out, I saw a completely different side to her.
And it became important for me because I felt myself relaxing. Or maybe I was recharging. This is difficult to explain. It was as though I was relaxing more during our together time than when I was completely alone, reading a book or drinking a beer with the boys.
I sat down and discussed it with my wife who confirmed that she was experiencing it the same way when she spent alone time with each child. That was enough to get me researching the phenomena of alone-time.
Group dynamic vs one-on-one
With three kids in the house, everyone is competing for attention. There is a bizarre group dynamic at play. If you take a step back and look at it all, you sense a type of tension in the house. Removing one child from the group, meant they had no reason to vie for anyone’s approval or seek an audience participation when they jump off the couch.
During a one-on-one “date” with your child, they quickly forego the repetitive calling of your name or the tugging on your hand to seek your attention. They know they have it. And with that out of the way, they blossom. They engage more easily.
Where our little story-teller normally took forever to convey a message, she suddenly delivered a more condensed version. One might say she was less distracted, more focused. She didn’t pull at my hands or bump me with her hands. She touched my hand gently or lightly poked me with a finger.
Have we become so distracted at home, that we no longer hear our children?
For a while we felt guilty that the children had to fight for our attention. But in a house filled with kids, it’s practically impossible to devote individual quality time to a child. There are so many things happening at once that you can’t help it. There is no cause to blame yourself.
Parent-Child Interaction Therapy is the evidence-based treatment for children with behavioural problems. The idea is that a therapist secretly observes a parent interacting with a child in a one-on-one playing session, during which the therapist will advise how to do problem-solving by means of interaction alone.
If parent-child interaction can be used for behavioural problem-solving, then it stands to reason that quality time with your child might just be far more beneficial than you can imagine.
What exactly is quality time?
It does not need to be a trip to a coffee shop. It can be a walk to the park. I love spending time with my daughter in the woods, looking at the heaps of leaves when Fall is in full swing. And the stuff we see during a fifteen-minute stroll along the train tracks keeps her mind going for the rest of the day.
Furthermore, it does not have to be on a Sunday. The importance of alone-time is not location-specific or day-specific. There is not even any indication that suggests the right amount of time to be dedicated to alone-time.
What matters, though, is the quality of the time spent together. The quality of parent-child interaction is one of the major predictors of emotional and social development of children.
According to Izak Malan, psychologist and counsellor, a short time alone with a child is of paramount importance. “Spending individual time with a child forms part of the 24/7 principles of parenting,” he explains. “Interaction is the sum of attention (eye contact), affect (vocal and other), orientation (physical proximity), and touch. These modalities could lead to a secure attachment. The child knows or feels that the parent wants to protect, comfort and take delight in him/her.”
I put forward this challenge to all dads (and mums) out there: one day, collect your child from school mid-day and take them for a milkshake or hot chocolate. Arrange it with your boss and explain to them why you need this short break. For 20 minutes, spend some time with them, then take them back to school. Or take them to the park after work. Anything that would entail quality one-on-one time. Send us pics and give us your feedback.
James Fouche is an author, travel writer, entrepreneur and silly daddy of three. He also writes about parenting and wine, whenever his kids allow him to.