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5 Ways to Make Quality Time Count with Your Kids

iStock_000000909343XSmallBy Elisabeth Grant (Washington, D.C.)

A recent University of Maryland study, cited in this Washington Post article, finds that moms today are spending more time with their kids (an average of 14.1 hours a week) than they did 40 years ago (10.2 hours a week). But despite reports that moms are doing better balancing their time at home, many working moms still worry about spending quality time with their kids.

Alleviate the concern by focusing on the time you have together, and aiming for quality over quantity. Read on for five ways to spend time with your children and make it count.

1. Eat.
Eating is, of course, a necessity, but eating with your kids can have more benefits than just relieving hunger. Research has found that meal time together as a family can have numerous positive effects. For instance, Purdue University’s Center for Families says shared family meal times can contribute to “improving dietary quality, preventing obesity, enhancing language acquisition and academic performance, improving social skills and family unity, and reducing risk-taking behaviors.”

Meal time is an opportunity to reconnect and learn about what’s going on in each member of your family’s lives. Sarah Hill, president of graphic design and publishing company Drewry Hill LLC, has two sons, aged 7 and 10. “Sometimes during dinner we take turns saying 3 good things that happened to us that day and if we want, 3 bad things that happened,” says Hill. “I can find out a lot about their school day this way and has potential to open up interesting conversations!”

Julie, a program analyst at a federal agency, has a 10 year old son and an 8 year old daughter, and has a trick for maximizing the time they spend together for dinner. She says, “I purchase pre-made frozen meals from a company called “Let’s Dish” and use those for dinners on nights that we are short of time. It saves planning, shopping, and preparation time and we get to experience different flavors.”

If you have time to cook a meal, maybe even just occasionally, include kids too. They may learn some skills in the kitchen, but more importantly, they’ll also just enjoy spending time with you.

Food Network has videos, recipes, safety tips, nutrition information, and more for kids online. Check out the For Kids and Cooking for Kids sections of the web site. There are lots of other kid’s cooking sites online, with recipes and ideas. For one example check out this section from Home & Family Networks’ site and the Cooking with Kids web site. And of course there’s always the library or the bookstore for Kids’ Cookbooks.

2. Listen.
While meal time is a great time to talk, there are other times throughout the day when it’s possible to stop, listen, and connect with your kids. Whether you’re in the car sitting in traffic, standing in line at the store waiting to check out, or just hanging around the house, take advantage of unscheduled moments to talk to each other. “My 10 year old, Allen, loves to be outside,” says Hill, “When it rains we take chairs out on the porch and talk and watch the rain. In those moments it seems like he really opens up and will talk about anything.”

3. Play.
Make having fun together part of your routine. Schedule a night once a week, or once a month, when you and your kids can all take part in an activity you all enjoy. You can have a reoccurring board game night, or a Friday night popcorn and a movie night, or friendly round of putt-putt. If your kids are old enough, include them on deciding what you’ll do. Let them take turns being the one to pick the game, the movie, or the outdoor activity.

4. Exercise.
Exercise relieves stress, improves sleep, controls weight, and contributes to a positive self image. But this is not only true for adults who exercise, but for children who exercise as well. Since exercise is important for both you and your kids, why not do it together? Get more flexible by trying out a yoga class together. Yoga studios around the country have classes for children of any age; check the class offerings of a local place near you.

Build your stamina while you burn off their energy by going for a run. Check out the Runner’s World Kids’ Running Guide for tips on what your kids should and shouldn’t be doing to become little runners. Or, create your own exercise program together. This video from the Livestrong YouTube channel gives some quick tips on how to exercise with kids.

Exercise is also more fun when it’s in game form. Play soccer in the backyard or at a local field. Or stay inside and play Dance Dance Revolution. You’ll be breaking a sweat super quick. Don’t have a game console? Turn up some music and dance the old fashioned way. Teach your kids some moves or see what crazy wiggles they come up with.

5. Unplug.
Cell phones, video games, TV, Internet. There seem to be a million digital strings pulling at us all the time, distracting us from the people around us, including our families. Turn them off and pay attention to each other. Have a pretend power outage and an unplugged evening. “Last winter when we had a power outage due to all of the snow I realized how fun it was without any electricity,” says Hill. “We lit candles, got under blankets and told scary stories. One of us would start the story and the next person would have to add to the story. We laughed so much doing this and it is something I never would have planned!”

Don’t wait for the next storm to put the lights. Turn off the TV and the computer, and why not, even the lights, and focus on something fun and unplugged.

It’s About Quality.

Your kids don’t always need elaborate activities and long segments of time with you. They just need you to spend the time you do have with them as well as you can. But, while you use these tips to increase quality time with your kids, don’t forget to work in time for yourself and your partner as well. “Children benefit from a break from their parents,” says Julie. “They also benefit from seeing their parents enjoy each other, and it serves as a good model for them when they become parents.”