Year after year I have parents asking me what presents would be sensible for their children at Christmas, and every year they seem surprised when I say the best present you can give them is YOU.
Research commissioned by Highland Spring found that working parents spend on average just 34 minutes a day with their children undistracted due to long working hours, lengthy commutes and getting in from work exhausted. This toll of daily life meant that mums and dads did not feel like they spent enough time with their children.
“But I need to work, I don’t have the time… What can one do?”
The amount of time spent with your children in itself is not the answer, but rather, the quality of that time. There is no set time limit that says if you spend 45 minutes a day or 3 hours a day with your children they will receive the following benefits; rather it’s how the children feel, having that dedicated time with you, however long or short. Feeling loved and valued builds self-esteem in children and develops their sense of self-worth which is key to a mentally healthy and happy child.
It is important that children feel that, at least once a week, they have dedicated, Mommy and/or Daddy time as an individual, to be able to voice their thoughts and feelings. If parents don’t give space for true heart-to-heart, or a deeper level of discussion, many children can feel isolated and worried as their feelings are not seen as a priority to be heard.
In my classroom, I use journaling, something I learnt from Oprah years ago, where children write down, each day, how they are feeling, what their goals and aims are and I write back to them by the next day. This means that while I may not attend to each child immediately, each of them feels valued and heard and any worries are addressed timeously and in a personalised way.
In a home-based situation you can have a ‘feelings box’ where habitually, children place a happy, mediocre or sad face or ‘expression of their feelings’ into a box or onto a chart. You can create the feelings symbols with your children if they are too little to write, or have a few blank sheets of paper inside the box, or next to the chart for older children to write on.
Each night go through the feelings box/chart and have a chat with your child about why they feel that way. Let them talk freely and just listen, don’t always try to provide answers but rather ask them, what they think would help, or if there is something you could do to help them. This builds trust between you and your child but also it teaches them reasoning skills which are essential to conflict resolution. If you are always giving them the answers, children will always come to you to solve their problems, so give them the tools to make good decisions for themselves
It is important that children are encouraged to talk about their feelings, build their emotional vocabulary and become more emotionally aware in this time where mental health issues are on the rise. This quality time together helps develop a good relationship between you and your child and fosters a deeper level of trust.
But quality time is not just talking about feelings it’s also about doing things together. Some parents enjoy sporting activities which foster team spirit and help whole family bonding. Others prefer cooking or reading a book together. If you really want to go all out you can start a project together based on your child’s interests at the time, this helps develop a richer understanding of a subject and can lead to hobbies and interests being developed.
At the end of the day, all parents are trying to do their best, but smothering your child in guilt-ridden toys is not going to make them happier, it’s you they want, so make an effort to give them the time they deserve with you this festive season.