The Gift of All Gifts

December seemed to sneak up on me this year.

Maybe it’s because I had been enjoying the unseasonably mild weather we’ve been having, giving me the false sense that December was far far away. Or maybe I was just caught up in the frenetic pace that is my life, where one day on the calendar seems to flip into the next and the next.

Caught unaware, I felt ambushed by December and now face a barrage of to-dos and stress bombs. The attack is relentless: Holiday flyers! Christmas decorations! Cheery carols! School concerts! Exams! Party invitations (Do I really have to go? What am I going to wear?)!  Planning for two weeks of no school!!! “I want…I want” wish lists…

And then it hit me. I haven’t given any thought to what I’m going to get my son for Chanukah this year. I could just surrender and buy him the items on his wish list: another video game or some kind of beanbag cardboard Angry Birds game that he’ll either tire of or break after five minutes. And he’s always happy to receive money…

I know I’m not the only parent who wracks his or her brain trying to think of gifts that 1) don’t support bad habits; 2) are meaningful and long lasting; and 3) don’t break the bank.

Don’t despair; I have the answer for you, and it meets all of the criteria above. The greatest gift that you can give your child during the holidays and always is…

YOU and your TIME.

I know what you’re thinking. “I can’t wrap that up and stick it in a stocking!” “How’s my kid going to react when I say, ‘I’m your present for Chanukah this year, Dear!’”

Before you accuse me of leaving you high and dry, hear me out.

In all honesty, how much quality time to do you spend with your children? Of course you spend time with your children, but how much of it is spent where you’re 100% present and connecting with them on an emotional level?

As a parenting coach and RDI™ Consultant, when I first start to work with parents, I ask them this very question. And typically, the answer I get is in the car, driving from point A to point B.

It’s true, we seem to spend an extraordinary amount of time in the car driving our kids to school, extra-curricular activities, therapies, tutoring, play dates, birthday parties, and so on…And when we’re not fighting traffic and arguing about what music to listen to and how loud the volume should be, we’re helping our kids with their homework, implementing therapies at home, making dinner, taking care of the house, our family and pets, running errands and working at our own jobs. I realize that this is only a partial list; we do waaaay more than this.

The truth is that there never seems to be enough hours in the day to accomplish everything that we want to. The result, unfortunately, is that quality time with our children takes a back seat.

And the typical response that I get from parents is, “Okay, lady, you show me where we can fit this time in with everything that we have to do!”

It’s actually easier than you think, but it’s going to take some mindfulness and planning.

The first thing that I want you to know is that the quality of time that you spend with your children is more important than the quantity. The second thing that you should know, and hopefully this will alleviate any guilt, is that the amount of quality time and how you spend it with your children can differ between parents in the same household and other families.  There is no magic number. It has to work for you and the unique needs of your family. 

Here are three ways that you can create more quality time with your children:

1. Put down your Blackberry and iPhone. We cannot be 100% present with our children and give them the message that they are important to us if we’re texting, tweeting and checking our Facebook status. Give them your full attention when you’re having conversations and during mealtime and family outings as well. You will be surprised how much more your children will want to share with you.

2. Make quality time a priority and eliminate non-essential activities. If you were spending less time travelling to programs and therapies, you would have more opportunity to spend with your children. We put our kids into extra-curricular activities for various reasons: they enjoy them, to broaden their horizons and learn new skills, for social opportunities, to experience things that we wished we could have done when we were their age, etc. However, far too many kids are over-programmed these days and don’t have enough downtime to just hang out and be kids. Is it necessary to have them in programs everyday afterschool? Do they need to play basketball three times per week? Are they in some programs that they don’t even like or do not participate fully?

Think about what you can eliminate from your schedule so you can create more opportunities for quality time. This can also include putting off doing certain errands (ask yourself if you really need to do it today) or leaving certain chores like folding laundry for another day. Better yet, get your kids to help you and it will go faster. You can have unexpected fun when sock balls are involved!

How much time do you and your children spend watching TV, surfing the web or playing video and computer games? According to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day. That’s 28 hours per week or two months of nonstop TV-watching per year. That’s a lot of time that you could convert to quality time with your children.

3. Schedule quality time. It’s important to plan quality time with your kids and actually put it on your calendar because it’s not going to happen on its own. If you work long hours, try to arrive home at least 15-20 minutes before they go to be so you can talk about their day. Make it a weeknight ritual, and each day read a chapter together from an interesting novel, maybe one of your favourites from when you were a kid.

 

Another ritual that you can establish is a weekly family night. Pull out your favourite board games and introduce new ones. If your child is too competitive, you can play collaborative games where you work as a team and there are no winners or losers. Karaoke is a lot of fun or maybe hoops on the driveway and road hockey are more your speed.  This is something that the entire family can look forward to each week. You can take turns planning what activity you will do as well as what food you’ll eat, the music you might listen to or the décor you might need if you are going to create a theme.

Also, think about sharing your hobbies with your children and including them in what you are already doing. Do you like to bake or build models? Have them choose a recipe or a model that you can build together. Is there a project that you need to get done around the house like clean out the garage or build a shed? You and your children can work on them together at your own pace; they don’t need to be completed in one day. In the process, your kids may even learn to share your passions and discover their own.

Writer P.D. James eloquently said, “What a child doesn’t receive he can seldom later give.” In addition to feeling loved and secure, children learn many critical life skills from these interactions with their parents, including how to problem-solve, self-regulate, manage uncertainty, develop resilience, collaborate and communicate effectively with others, to be empathic and many more. They, in turn, will be able to pass on the same love and knowledge to others throughout their lifetime.

Many parents don’t realize that spending quality time and being present with their children is the best and longest-lasting gift that they can give their children. Remember this as you plan your defensive strategy for conquering the malls unscathed this holiday season.