It would be great if we had all the time in the world to connect with our kids. We know this time while they’re little is fleeting. We know one day we’ll look back and wish we’d gotten down on the floor to play with the trains more, had read to them more or had lingered longer over their endless questions. But the thing is, there’s still dinner to make, baths to dole out, and work and errands and laundry and everything else.
When I asked earlier this week what type of pieces you wanted to see more of on Lifehacker, reader “Bekahcubed” came in with a specific request: How can I find time to connect with each child when life is already so busy?
As a parent of many young children (including foster kids) ... I can’t necessarily spend a half hour alone with each kid every day to make sure they know that they’re special, but what are some questions I can be asking myself to help me identify those little, less time-intensive things that are going to pack a big punch in letting each child know how special he or she is?
So I went on a mission to find some ideas, and I gave myself a limit of five minutes per connection. We might not have a half hour, but we probably do have five minutes to connect — and we might even be able to incorporate that connection into the routines we already have in place.
Sing while you brush
Bekahcubed herself started me off with this sweet suggestion: While you’re brushing your kid’s teeth, sing to them.
“One thing I really enjoy — and that I’ve found to be more useful than I could have imagined — is singing to each child as I brush their teeth,” she says. “I sing ‘You are My Sunshine,’ except that I ask the (verbal) kids what they want me to sing in place of ‘sunshine.’ It gives me a lot of insight into what the kids are thinking and feeling. My four-year-old wants me to sing ‘You are my baby’? She’s feeling a bit needy and needs some extra snuggles.”
Have a meeting
Every night before bedtime, Lifehacker reader Laura hosts a family meeting. “We call it to order and everyone states their new business,” Laura says. “My husband and I use it as the time to tell our 4-year-old (or each other) something that made us happy or that we’re grateful for or looking forward to. The 4-year-old’s new business is usually to do a summersault.”
There are lots of variations on this. You can do “highs and lows” or “rose and thorn” during dinner or at bedtime, where everyone shares both the best part of their day and the hardest. But I especially like the official feel of Laura’s meeting being “called to order.”
Jump in, jump out
You might not be able to sit down for 45 minutes for some elaborate one-on-one playtime with your kids. But it doesn’t always have to be a big commitment. Reader Anderson looks for little moments to join in on the action.
“I jump into the middle of whatever the kids are doing for 5 minutes, knowing that I’m short on time,” he says. “Be it playing tag at the park, watching TV, or playing games. Sometime, 5 minutes is enough for us to stay connected.”
Make it fancy
Reader Clovis says her husband is Jewish and she’s enjoyed the tradition of Shabbos. Whether you’re religious or not, her suggestions are a great way to make a meal feel a bit more special with little effort.
“Fancy place-settings, candles, special prayers and blessings, kids’ favourites for dinner alongside juice — which we don’t have in the house otherwise — in stemware, etc.,” Clovis says. “And we always use it as a time to talk about general things that don’t always make the daily rundown. How are their friendships going? Did they have a frustration that week? Are there any longer-term goals they hope to try for? That sort of thing. It doesn’t really take that long, but it feels special and like a good opportunity for everyone to hear each other a little better.”
Sneak them a note
Who doesn’t love to find a note from someone they love tucked inside a lunch bag, a suitcase or a back pack? It only takes a minute to do and it creates a moment of connection between you and your child when you’re not even together.
“I slip Post-it Notes in random places for both my kiddo and my partner — messages of thanks for things they’ve done, praise for something they worked hard on, random ‘I love yous,’” reader Jamie says. “They both LOVE finding them and when I haven’t left one in a while, I get complaints.”
If your child can’t read yet, you could draw a picture instead.
Set the timer
You might wish you could snuggle your kids all morning, but how often do we have all morning? Not very often. How often do we have a few minutes? Eh, once in a while; but when we do, we could take advantage of it like Jackie does.
“I’ve got a 5- and 7-year-old and a double papasan,” Jackie says. “We had three whole extra minutes this morning before we had to leave the house to catch the bus. Told Alexa to set a three-minute timer and snuggled.”
Create a secret handshake
This is something my husband does with our son (and also with one of our former foster sons) — create a special handshake with your kid. This is great with an only child, but it’s extra great with more than one child because each handshake will be unique and something you came up with together. Every few months, my husband and son switch it up and adapt the handshake or come up with something new entirely.
Do you have time for all of these ideas? Doubtful. But you probably have five minutes to give one of them a try today. (And if you have other ideas, please leave them in the comments; I like variety.)