Ever had a conversation like this with your child?
Daughter: “Hey Mom! Let’s play ponies!”
Mom: “No thanks. I really don’t want to.”
Daughter: “What?! Why not? Don’t you like being with me?”
Mom: “Sure I do, honey. I like you . . . I just don’t like playing ponies. Ugh!”
Mom: “It just sounds very boring, and I’d rather look at my phone. Sorry.”
I’ll assume that you’ve never had this conversation with any of your children. And that’s a good start. But be honest: have you ever thought or felt something like this? If you were surveyed about your feelings regarding parental involvement, you’d likely be in favor of it. In fact, research shows that most parents feel strongly about the importance of parents spending time with their children.
But as the saying goes, easier said than done, right? And while many parents know that spending time with their kids matters, they may not know that the quality of that time matters too.
A study published in 2015 found that the quality of time a parent spent with their child had a more positive impact than the quantity of time. In other words, simply being with your child is important, but what you’re doing when you’re with them matters even more.
Let me give you an example. I wear a dress shirt, tie, and slacks to work everyday. Some days when I get home from work I change into more casual clothes, but most of the time I’m too lazy and just take off my tie. A few days ago, I arrived home from work and went into my room to change my clothes. My 9-year-old daughter, Molly, followed me into my room and asked if I was changing my clothes. Here’s how the conversation went down:
Molly: “Dad, are you going to change your clothes?”
Molly: “Yes!” (excitedly)
Me: “What’s so exciting about me wearing different clothes?”
Molly: “Because it means that you’re our dad.”
Me: “But I’m always your dad . . . it doesn’t matter what I’m wearing. If I was wearing a dress I’d still be your dad.”
Molly: “I know, but it just feels different when you’re not wearing your work clothes. It feels like you are here with us and not at work or doing church stuff.”
The moral of this story is not to be more mindful of your wardrobe around your children, but to be more mindful of your mindset when you are with them. As Molly taught me, your kids notice when you’re present but not present, if you catch my drift.
Pause and Reflect
Now it’s your turn to practice!
Map out a typical day in your head and think through every circumstance when you are–or could be–physically with your child. Then try to picture the kind of interaction you usually have in each of those circumstances. Now take it a step further and reflect on how you are typically feeling or what you often think about when you are with your children. How often do you actually play with your children? And by “actually,” I mean no screens (that includes phones) and being fully present.
In order to spend the quality time our children deserve, we need to take time to think about our current parenting practices. Doing this reflective exercise is a good start to becoming a more mindful, intentional, and playful parent.
Yes, I said playful.
Benefits of Play
Maria Montessori once said, “Play is the child’s work.” And truly, children gain so much through play!
The National Association for the Education for Young Children summarized 10 things every parent should know about play. Here are a few of them:
- Children learn through play
- Play is healthy
- Play reduces stress
- Play is more simple and complex than we think
Obviously, kids receive a lot of benefits from playing. While children need plenty of time to play alone, play with siblings, and play with friends, they also need time to play with you. It can be anything from playing make-believe to reading a book to playing board games. Whatever the activity, playing with your child strengthens your bond and allows your child to see a different side of you.
Let’s focus on pretend play for a moment. This kind of play really helps you get on your child’s level. Be silly and creative! Since you may feel a little out of your element, let your child take the lead. (And don’t worry, they’ll let you know when you’re doing the wrong voice for a particular stuffed animal.)
A friend of mine who is a family therapist told me about a father who came to therapy wanting ideas for how to “fix” his 5-year-old son that liked to play with dolls. This worried the father because he thought playing with dolls is girly. Instead, he hoped to play catch with his son. In response, my friend asked him to try playing dolls with his son for a whole week. After trying this for a week, the father reported through tears that he had never felt so close to his son. What’s more, his son even branched out to playing catch (the son’s idea) and other things as well.
How to Play
If you struggle finding the time or the desire to play with your children, here are a few tips to get you started:
- Set your phone down
- Turn your tablet off
- Put your computer to sleep (starting to see a pattern here?)
- Put your own wants on hold
- Clean a little less, play a little more (or you could always make a game out of cleaning)
- Don’t be in such a hurry
- Just go with it!
These tips may seem like little things, but little things can make all the difference! Start small with your goals to improve. Be willing to give up lesser pursuits if necessary. And when you’re struggling to make the time to play with your kids, remember what one mommy blogger said:
[Parent]hood is not a hobby, it is a calling. You do not collect children because you find them cuter than stamps. It is not something to do if you can squeeze the time in. It is what God gave you time for.
So take off your tie, put away your cell phone, and make time to play with your kids today!
For more ideas on playing with your children, check out The Child Development Institute’s tips.
With thousands of parenting websites, blogs, and books, it can be hard to know what to believe. Ever wondered what parenting advice you should actually listen to? In this brief video, Dr. Tim talks about five pointers for consuming online parenting advice:
Welcome to Family Good Things’s first ever video log! We have no idea what we’re doing. In fact, I don’t even know if you would call this a video log, or a vlog, or just a talking head… I don’t know! But we’re going to do it anyways. And what better way to kick this off than to give you advice about seeking advice online — about parenting, family, marriage, and anything else.
So what I’m going to do is I’m going to give you five principles to do (or to avoid, however you want to interpret it) when seeking parenting advice online. I decided to kick this off this way because recently a friend of mine on Facebook asked the parenting question, “My toddler’s doing this and this and this, and how do we get him to stop doing it?” Well, I think it was an honest question, and it was a fair question. A lot of the advice had the same common theme. So. Let’s just start into it.
Principle number one: Popularity isn’t proof.
Just because everybody’s saying that you should do this with your child or this is a good discipline strategy doesn’t necessarily make it healthy, or accurate, or even evidence-based. Now, as Dr. Rob and I both have PhD’s in this, we don’t try to act like we’re smarter than we really are, we do understand the value of research and we do investigate it. So. Just because it’s been shared countless times or it has millions of likes or thousands of likes, or your best friend liked it, shared it, doesn’t mean it’s actually best for your child. Okay?
Principle number two: Education should come before entertainment.
We all like to watch stand-up comedy, cat videos, and anything else that is mind-numbing and is a good break from the day. I love it. I think if you’re seeking parenting advice, it’s okay that you’re entertained by it. However, don’t make that your primary goal, because entertainment is wonderful and good, but it can’t be a replacement for value and usefulness in producing real change in you and your child. So be careful that as you’re seeking parenting advice you don’t simply just become entertained.
Principle number three (I guess that’s six, because three plus three is six) . . .
So principle number three is beware how much misery likes company.
One of the reasons I like to watch Supernanny is because I go, “Oh, at least I’m not as bad as those parents because they’re doing X, Y, and Z and they’re messing up their kids. I’m not that dumb!” One of the reasons we like to seek out certain types of blogs, because maybe it’s a mom or a dad gushing about how much they’ve screwed up. And I think that’s good, we need to be authentic. We need to realize there is no such thing as perfect parents. However, that can become a crutch or a hindrance to our progress and our change in our own parenting — and in our marriage — when we go to those blogs to feel better about doing bad things.
The phrase “misery likes company” is true, because we like to be with people who are angry about the same things, like the same things, have the same struggles, and therefore, we don’t ever evaluate, maybe this is not a healthy attitude, behavior, or belief. So. Mommy blogs are good. We love them. However, don’t go to ones just to make yourself feel better about screwing up and then therefore never changing.
Principle number four: Google can’t change your child, as much as we’d like to think so.
You need to be aware of quick fix strategies. We love Google, because we get instant answers. We love credit cards, we love fast food, we love smart phones. We love all these things because they give us instant gratification. But they’re all replacing, in an artificial and quick way, something that actually takes time, persistence, and patience. A lot of popular parenting advice focuses on getting a child to start acting or stop acting in a particular way. They don’t even question the assumption of maybe the parent’s coming from the wrong premise.
Which is kind of a segway into principle number five, but not yet. Character development is the most important thing we could focus on in our children. Shaping their desires and their character. Why? Because their desires and their character are going to be with them long after we are gone. When they’re with their friends, when they’re at school, when they grow up and move out . . . Their character and their desires will dictate their attitudes and behaviors. So. Google can’t change your child. Beware of quick-fix strategies.
Okay, final principle, number five: Avoid confirmation bias.
Again, we like to look for things that make us comfortable. When we ask questions, like this I think honest seeking mom on Facebook, “My child’s doing this. How do I discipline my toddler?” Sometimes we’re coming from the wrong premise. We’re asking the wrong question. We may not realize that, but we at least need to check our assumptions and not go in. Because if you ask . . . The computers say garbage in garbage out. If you ask a question that has the wrong premise, you’re going to get answers that confirm your premise. I hope that makes sense.
For example, how do I get my child to sleep through the night? They’re age four. Or to stop coming into my bedroom. Maybe there’s a different question we could ask that would help solve the problem more appropriately, even though that’s not a bad question. I think we all want our children to sleep through the night. Nobody wants to be zombies and try to parent when you’re — I’ve tried that before. Doesn’t work too well. Plus my kids don’t really like the *zombie noise* sound that comes out of me when I’m really frustrated and exhausted. So avoid confirmation bias. It’s also very easy to search for stuff that is comfortable and familiar. Don’t reject an idea outright just because it’s not something you’re used to. That being said, you don’t have to accept everything that comes your way through the online blogosphere and social media about parenting.
So, those are the five principles. Now, there’s going to be more to come. Don’t forget to share and like this. Maybe you’re going, “All of your principles undermine you even putting a video online.” I don’t care. I still think it’s good advice. Why? Because it’s me, and I have confirmation bias. Don’t forget to like and share this video. Also, don’t forget to purchase and read and apply Dr. Rob’s eBook which is called “3 Things You Can Do to Create a Ridiculously Happy Marriage.” Ridiculously happy marriage. I have an eBook that will be coming out shortly on father-daughter relationships. Okay, we’ll see you next time.