The Gift of Time
By Jess Albright, LCPC
Summer is finally here, and since things are less hectic than during the school year, it is a great time to focus on an invaluable gift you can give your children – the gift of TIME:
Talk. While you may have a very busy schedule, you also need to set aside time for when your child needs to talk. Make sure to remove all distractions in order to be completely available to him. Pay close attention to activities and the names he mentions, as these topics and people are of importance and will most likely be brought up in future conversations.
While your child talks, be sure to actively listen to him. You can do this by showing your interest in his opinion and point of view, even if they differ from yours. You are more than welcome to share your opinion, but just make sure you respectfully allow him to finish what he has to say. Also, instead of just “uh-huh-ing” and “yeah-ing,” repeat what you heard him say to make sure you understood correctly. You can even ask clarifying questions along the way. Last, but not least, look for the feelings underlying the words he says. Feelings are never right or wrong, and emotionally supporting your child goes a long way in showing that you love and care for him.
It can also be helpful to ask your child what are his expectations from the conversation. Does he want advice? Does he just want you to listen and to be heard? Does he need help understanding his feelings? Or is he trying to solve a problem? It is very helpful to know what to expect from the conversation so that you can support your child in the way he needs to be supported and you don’t make detrimental assumptions.
Imagination. Children have a natural-born creativity that needs to be embraced all year long.
Children learn significantly from trial and error and from engaging their senses. Make-believe play is also a powerful time for your child to grow his vocabulary, understand cause and effect, learn real-world rules about sharing, and understand social interactions. All of these elements are vital because they help your child build the skills necessary to communicate and grow with his peers, and they promote problem solving skills he needs to become a successful adult.
Making crafts, writing or telling stories, reading, playing house, or putting on a show are all times when you can nurture your child’s imagination. And the best part is that you don’t need anything super fancy or expensive to do any of the above mentioned activities. In fact, by thinking and acting outside the box to facilitate these activities, you are modeling creativity to your child. After all, a used makeup compact can make a pretty awesome Turtlecom when playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles outside with your brothers. And an old broom stick with athletic tape makes a pretty cool bow for Donatello to use to fight off the Foot Clan. I’m just saying…
Movement. Turn off the TV, the Wii, and all other electronics and encourage your child to play. For that matter, don’t hold back – join the fun! Children actually crave time with their parents because it makes them feel special. And playing with your child builds a bond that will last forever. It lets your child know that you love and appreciate him. Playing with your child will also help you get to know, understand, and embrace the uniqueness of your child. And best of all, it is also a great stress reducer for you as an overworked parent. So, enter your child’s little world, let lose, be silly, and have fun with him!
Getting up and moving is also a great opportunity for you and your child to get much needed exercise. No more Couch Potatoes! You, as the parent, can be a great role model by going outside and playing along with your child. Together you can make healthy choices that will have positive, long-term health benefits. Throwing or kicking a ball back and forth, riding bikes, playing tag or hide-and-seek, or going on a nature hike are just a few examples. In being active, you can help your child develop motor coordination and learn good sportsmanship.
Eat. In sharing a meal with your child you can also spend time with him. However, with our busy lives and overscheduled children, this can be difficult. But it’s not impossible. Even if you can’t sit down together every night, a stronger relationship with your child is worth rearranging schedules to make it happen a few times a week. And when I say sit down, I mean at the dining room table, not in front of the TV or in the van driving through McDonalds. In fact, make sure there aren’t any distracting screens during dinner time (this includes cell phones for both you and your child).
Around the table you and your child can talk and share. Having meals together provides your family with an opportunity to catch up with one another, learning about the events in each other’s day. Additionally, this is a place where you can teach your child social skills especially manners. “Will you please pass me the butter? Thank you.”
Family meals also provide an opportunity for you to model good balanced eating habits and help improve his diet. You can introduce him to a variety of foods prepared in various ways. Also, family meals tend to have less soda and fried food and far more fruits and vegetables than meals that are easy to grab on the go (i.e. fast foods). So by providing a family meal, not only are you promoting a healthy lifestyle, but you are also growing a healthy relationship with your child.
It might take some time to settle into these new habits, but, I hole-heartedly agree with Louise Hart who stated, “The best thing to spend on your children is time.” And with this gift you will raise healthy, happy children.