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There’s a saying that goes something like this: The days are long but the years are short. When it comes to parenting, truer words have never been spoken.

As children grow and life becomes faster and more complicated, it’s easy to let the minutes spent in quality, engaging time with them turn into hours of hustle and bustle with little meaningful connection.

The good news is that you can deepen your bond. It isn’t hard, but it does take intentional effort. And, yes, it takes an investment of time, but the payoff from that investment will be well worth it.

These five tips will get you started. On your mark, get set, go!

Turn off the technology

The 8-year-old boy’s tears spilled down his cheeks as he approached his day camp counsellor. He was having serious trouble with a subject in school. He said he didn’t know what to do. The counsellor offered to help, but also suggested that he talk with his parents about it.

He replied, “I’ve tried, but I can’t get their attention. My Mom and Dad stay on their phones all the time, even when they’re driving, cooking dinner or watching TV.” Around that time, the mother walked into the room, phone glued to her ear, never speaking her son, but simply waving for him to gather his things and go.

“They talk to everyone else but me,” the son said. Out of the mouths of babes!

Cellphones, laptops and video games aren’t inherently bad. They become bad when they replace relationships. Parents and children need to regularly turn off the technology and be mindful about nurturing their relationships with face-to-face, uninterrupted conversation.

Children need to be fed not just with food, but with time. Spending uninterrupted time with your children communicates that you love and value them, and that they’re more important than the client on the other end of the phone, the TV show you never miss or answering your email.

I recommend that you make this rule: No technology before school in the mornings and no technology for at least one hour in the afternoon or evening. Take that time and talk, read to or play with your children.

Parents, remember that time is your only non-renewable resource. Don’t let it slip away.

Ask questions

Children want to know that their parents are interested in them. They like to know that you’re curious about their day, their dreams from the night before and their daydreams for the days ahead. They like it when you ask them to tell you their favorite colour, favourite song, favourite friend.

It’s best to ask open-ended questions such as:

  • “What makes you happy and why?”
  • “What makes you sad and why?”
  • “What makes you giggle and why?”
  • “What was the best/worst part of your day?”

When your children begin to answer, really listen to them. Don’t interrupt. Give them a wide berth to elaborate.

Note: This tip is about talking, not interrogating. This isn’t a license to probe, especially with tweens. If you interrogate, they’ll shut down, no question about it. Asking questions is simply a way to let your children know that the things they feel or think about are important to you.

Bonus: Spending time really talking with your children will improve their conversation skills, which’ll come in handy as they mature.

Invite them into your world

“Daddy, can I do that?” The 4-year-old girl eagerly eyed her father as he placed tomato plants in the backyard garden. She loved the way the spade was all shiny in the sunlight and the way it looked when Daddy used it to turn the dirt. He hesitated. “Please?” she said.

For the next hour, the two of them worked side-by-side. She alternated between being seriously methodical about placing the plants in the ground and giggling uproariously when the turning of the dirt revealed wiggly, slimy earthworms that dangled from the spade. The planting took twice as long as it should have, but this was time well invested.

Whatever it is that you do for fun or relaxation, considering sharing that with your child. Invite them to help prepare a special dessert, to decorate the house for the holiday-of-the-moment or to work in the garden. Ask them to help with routine chores like washing the car, collecting the mail or cleaning the yard (they can collect pine cones while you rake!). Sing along with The Beatles and Adele with them, teaching them words (when appropriate!).

By inviting your children into your world, you let them know that they’re important and appreciated. And suddenly, both your world and theirs become much brighter, shinier and happier.

Surprise them

Children love fun surprises! They love knowing that Mom or Dad took time to plan the surprise and make it happen.

Surprises don’t have to be expensive or elaborate. Surprise them on a school morning by crawling into bed with them and snuggling for a few minutes before it’s time to get up. Tuck little “surprise” notes or treats into their lunchbox or backpack. Put sticky notes that say “I love you” on the bathroom mirror. Hand them a bunch of balloons when you pick them up at school.

If their school allows it, show up for a surprise visit in the lunchroom. Use cookie cutters to cut their sandwich into a star or a snowflake! (These last two suggestions work best with kids from kindergarten to Grade Four. After that, most kids are a little “old” for lunchroom visits and silly shapes.) Take off your shoes while preparing dinner, put on fun music and “dance” with them!

The possibilities are endless and can be as simple or fancy as you wish. Every Friday, one Mom I know shows up in the car line at school wearing a different silly hat. Her daughters love it and the Mom has become the hit of the line. Half the kids want to go to her house!

The point is that surprises make your children feel special and celebrated. Surprises let them know you care enough to do something that’ll make them smile and feel loved. Will those feelings deepen your relationship? Well, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they did!

Play with them

With the plethora of toys, games and technology on the market, it’s easy to let something or someone else entertain our children. Sometimes, due to our own schedules, that’s appropriate and necessary. Most of the time, though, we can put down what we’re doing and play with the kids.

Seven fun and entertaining activities you can do together

  • Go into the backyard and throw a ball.
  • Set up empty soda cans and “go bowling” with oranges from the refrigerator.
  • Go to the park and push the kids while they swing, or play with them on the merry-go-round.
  • Play word games in the car (Try the alliteration game. Pick a letter and make a sentence with words that begin with that letter. For example, “Beautiful blue butterflies bounce busily!” Or, play the alphabet game by going through the alphabet and naming an animal that starts with each letter. For instance, “A is for aardvark. B is for buffalo!”).
  • Let them put your hair in barrettes or paint your toenails.
  • Throw water balloons or blow bubbles together.
  • Buy a disposable camera and take pictures of flowers or bugs.

Parent and young child holding hands on swings at park - Meaningful parentingYou don’t have to spend a lot of money or use a lot of energy to play. However, you’ll need to spend time, and be intentional and mindful about how you use that time.

Get started now

So, what are you waiting for?! Make a play-date with your kids!

Don’t let the years fly by without being intentional about making every hour count. Start with these five suggestions and then add your own ideas to them as they develop. Keep a journal about what you do so that you can chronicle the growth of your relationship.

Talk, ask, invite, surprise and play—that’s a pretty good start!

«RELATED READ» PARENTING WITH INTENTION: An introduction to intentional parenting by Rob Stringer»

Drexel Gilbert is a career TV journalist and relationship coach whose practical and fun-loving advice breathes healing, joy and life into relationships. As an author and speaker, Drexel’s books and speaking presentations change and enrich lives. Her book 30 Days to Better Love: A Guide for Men is used by couples’ counsellors and by men and women just like you. Find it on Amazon and at www.drexelgilbert.com.
image 1: Father and Daughter by Damián Bakarcic via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); image 2: Pixabay

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