My daughter loved the classic Curious George books when she was about two. Those stories are from another time when parents apparently had nothing to do. Each runs at least fifty pages. Fifty pages. To make matters worse, she had memorized the stories, which meant I couldn’t fudge it and skip over large swaths of text.
We’ve all been there, I’m sure, stuck doing the repetitive stories or imaginary scenes dreamed up by our kids. I have a love-hate relationship with these moments: sometimes I really need to get something else done. Other times, I am happy to spend time in a child’s silly world. But what was the difference? I wanted to figure out how I could enjoy that playtime more and still get dinner on the table in time.
Figure out what your child is asking for
All kid needs attention, affirmation, and love from their parents. Each kid is different in how they need to feel that love, though. Some children love being physical—wrestling, cuddling, or touching. Others need verbal encouragement. Still others want you to watch them as they accomplish something.
You know your kid best. When does she light up when you watch her draw? Does he keep asking for tickles? It doesn’t matter if it’s as mind-numbing as another round through Curious George. Choose to share a period of time when you play in their world, instead of asking them to live in yours.
Plan ahead to play
I know there are demands at work and home. But giving unfocused attention to your children is just as important. It’s also limited: I will be doing laundry for my entire life (ugh) but I only have a handful of years with these small kids who want to make messes of paint and playdough.
It sounds silly, but I schedule playtime with my kids. Doing so allows me to commit to focusing on them for a portion of my day. If I don’t designate protected time, my unending to-do list starts breathing down my neck. Other tasks seem so much more productive, seem so much more worthwhile than throwing a tennis ball on the roof. But when I pre-decide to play, I can shut up my to-do list for a little while. I’ll get back to it eventually.
Give 100% focus, and then go do your thing
The act of giving a child our attention is a generous gift. We can buy a toy or send them to a great school, but we can’t outsource sharing our attention with our children. But we have actual tasks that need to get done—dinner doesn’t appear magically at my house, either.
Once I given my child that pre-decided, focused time, I give myself permission to do what needs to be done. Too often, I have found myself giving 50% focus to my kid and 50% on what I’m trying to accomplish. That split focus leaves me irritated and unproductive. (I also tend to burn things.) My two-year-old tends to act up when I’m distracted, forcing me to give him my full, but negative, attention. When I have chosen to give him 100% focus, he feels loved. Then, thankfully, he is more likely to play on his own while I cook dinner or send an email.
Parents know, deep down, that they are often distracted while spending time with their kids. Sometimes it feels like we don’t have any other choice. Ultimately, though, we can choose to carve out specific windows of time during which we participate with our kids in their world.
This doesn’t happen accidentally. Deciding ahead of time becomes a commitment on my planner. Instead of my kids getting the scraps of attention that I have on the edges, they get all of me for a deliberate part of the day. The result? They feel loved and I feel like I am becoming the kind of parent I want to be.
About the Author
Laura Thrasher is the co-founder of HeartPlanner.com, a tool for parents to make small wins in the most important areas of life. She is passionate about helping others make the most of their time. Laura is a writer, marketer, and mom of two. Feel free to connect at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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