If you’re searching for the magic bullet to get your kids behaving more often than misbehaving, this just might be it! It’s what Amy McCready of Positive Parenting Solutions* calls Mind, Body, Soul Time. Focused one on one time with each of your kids is the thing that might just make all the difference!
Picture this. You’re in the kitchen trying to cook dinner while your toddler runs just under your feet constantly tripping you and whining for another cup of milk.
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Or you’re on the phone having an important conversation and all of a sudden your child, who’s been absorbed in their video games all day long, suddenly needs your attention right now.
Or you’re driving along the highway while listening to the deafening choir of crying, complaining, and bickering coming from the backseat.
If this sounds a little too much like your life right now and you’re ready for a change, I’ve got good news. There is a kind of magic that helps to get rid of all this nonsense and bring some peace to your life!
The trick is setting aside intentional, focused, quality time with each of your kids. I promise it’s not as daunting as it sounds!
Why One On One Time With Your Kids Is Important
Ok, so truth be told, there’s nothing in the world that will make your kids be perfectly well behaved all the time.
But if you can add this one little thing to your daily routine, I can almost guarantee that you’ll begin to see some noticeable improvement in the behavior struggles you’ve been having in your home. No magic necessary.
Why “the way we used to do it” doesn’t work anymore…
For many generations, we’ve been taught that children should be seen and not heard. Parents were expected to teach their kids to respect their elders and to obey without question.
This was done through punishments and power plays from the parent. Some of the time it was done using a system of rewards to encourage “good behavior.”
And at one point, maybe that worked well.
But our world today isn’t like it was back then. Children are not the same. Parents are not the same. And the society we all live in is just not the same.
So we can’t do the same things we used to do and expect it to work the same way it used to work.
What children today actually need
Children are people, too. They are smaller, and not as emotionally or intellectually developed as adults (well, some adults…). They don’t know how to communicate as clearly or effectively. They can’t regulate their emotions. In all reality, they’re a little bit, well, childish.
But they are still people. They have emotions. They get their feelings hurt. They have certain physical, emotional, and psychological needs. And if those needs aren’t met there will be lasting consequences, for better or worse.
Children’s needs are pretty simple, though, when you really boil it down. They truly just want two things: to feel like they belong and to feel like they are significant.
So what does that mean? Basically it means they need to know that they are worth your time and attention and that they have some control over their own lives, something to contribute to the world around them.
It’s when they sense that they aren’t that important and they don’t have any control or purpose that things start to get crazy.
What happens when their needs aren’t met?
Here’s the thing. Humans are hardwired to self-protect. That means that when we sense any form of danger, whether real or imagined, whether physical or psychological, our brains go into defense mode.
This is when we react with fight or flight behaviors.
In children, this typically looks like tantrums, whining, arguing, physically lashing out, etc. Or it may look more like your older child shutting down, isolating themselves, or acting defiant.
This is all a natural reaction to a loss of value and power that your child perceives. They are doing whatever they can to get the attention and power that they need. And as parents, we don’t know how to handle it.
Because, let’s be honest, we know we don’t really have any control over these little people we’re in charge of do we?
If they don’t want to sleep or do their homework or eat their vegetables, there’s really not a whole lot we can do about it. We can’t force them to do something they don’t want to do (at least not in a loving or moral way).
Sure, we can ground them, spank them, take away privileges, or any number of other punishments in an attempt to force them into compliance. But at the end of the day, they can still choose to do whatever they want to do.
That’s why it’s so important to do a little bit of preventative work upfront in order to fill up their buckets and reduce the need for them to seek attention and power in negative ways.
How To Implement One On One Time With Your Kids
All it takes is about 10-20 minutes each day to help your child feel completely filled up so that they can engage with other activities and people throughout the day in a positive way.
Of course, your kids will never be perfect all the time. They’ll still have tantrums and behavior struggles. But if you’re willing to add just a few minutes a day of intentional one on one time with each of your kids, I promise you’ll begin to see improvements in your home.
There are just a few steps to get started!
The whole point of this dedicated time is to get alone with your child free from distractions and give them your undivided attention while doing something they want to do.
So to begin, you’ll need to do a little prep work before you jump in for the first time.
Choose ahead of time a few activities you’re ok with doing for 10-20 minutes with your child.
These activities can be anything you’d like. I personally really enjoy activities that I wouldn’t normally let my kids do on their own, like painting, playing in our sensory table, or some other kind of messy thing I don’t trust my young kids to handle by themselves yet.
Depending on your child’s age and interests, you could choose things like arts & crafts, doing each other’s nails or hair, reading a book together, playing a short board game, doing a puzzle, or creating something together.
Make sure you choose activities that can be completed in 10-20 minutes or less. You can choose activities that will take longer as long as you have a way to put the items away and come back to them the next time.
(For instance, you could work on a puzzle a little bit at a time over several days, or play a board game for a few minutes each day).
The only requirement is that whatever activities you choose should be screen free. Watching a movie together or playing video games can be a great activity. But for this one on one time, we want to focus on activities that allow us to engage with each other face to face.
Set aside at least 10 minutes of uninterrupted time to spend with your child. It doesn’t have to be at the same time each day, but you should aim to do it at least once a day, twice if possible (or one longer stretch of time at least 20 minutes for older children, if you want).
During this time you’ll want to put away your phone, turn off the TV, and give your undivided attention to your child.
This time is all about being with your kids and spending quality one on one time together.
You’ll want to have a seperate time for each child. So if you have two kids, you’ll need to plan 2 seperate 10-minute periods of time when you can be entirely focused and not distracted by anything else.
For those with more kids who find it hard to have one on one time with every child every day, it’s ok to split the days up between your kids. Just make sure they all know they will have your undivided attention at least once a week (preferably more if possible) – and actually follow through on it.
It’s helpful to schedule this special one on one time ahead of time and mark it in your calendar. Writing it down will help you make sure you stick to it!
Let your child choose.
When it’s time for your special time together, give your child the choice of activity from the list you created previously.
There should be at least 3-5 activities on your list that you’re ok with participating in and that won’t take longer than 10 minutes (or that can be stored away until your next time together).
For younger kids, it may be fun to create picture cards of the activities and allow them to choose from the stack of cards.
For older kids, a simple list will work just fine. Or, if you only have a few options, just letting them know the choices and allowing them to pick one.
Letting them have the say in what you do gives them that sense of power they so crave and need in order to feel like they have some control over their lives.
And the 10 minutes of undivided attention gives them the sense of belonging and value that they also need.
Other Important Info & FAQS
Adding 10 minutes of special time (or whatever you want to call it – seriously, get creative and give it a name!) doesn’t have to be difficult. I promise that no matter what your days look like, you can find 10 minutes to devote to your kids individually.
Here are some tips and answers to common questions about implementing this practice into your routine.
What if I don’t have time?
I hear you. Many of us work outside the home or have crazy schedules or a big family and finding 10 minutes for each kid every day sounds completely overwhelming. I totally get it.
If you’re struggling to find the time, start with bedtime (or wake up time, if you’re schedule doesn’t allow you to be available for bedtime).
Try staggering bedtimes and spending 10 minutes with each child in their room (or your room, if they share a room) before they go to bed. You can snuggle, read stories, or even get out all their giggles and sillies before it’s time to lay down.
You can also split this with your partner, if you’re able. So you take one child and your partner takes the other. Then switch the next night.
If you have more than 2-3 kids and devoting 10 minutes to each kid every day would take hours, feel free to split the time between the days.
For instance, devote Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to two of your kids and Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday to another two.
Just make the schedule work for your family – as long as each child is getting at least 1-2 blocks of time with your undivided attention each week.
Can it be more than just me and one child?
Many people wonder if it’s ok to include both parents or to let more than one child join in the activity, particularly if one child asks their sibling to join.
While group family activities are certainly great and definitely a necessary part of healthy family life, this particular exercise is intended to be only one adult and one child.
The point is to be able to give your undivided attention to your child without the distraction of another person (even if it is your partner or your other child).
You want your child to be the center of focus for that 10 minutes and that’s just not possible if there are other people involved.
What if my other children won’t leave us alone?
When you first begin implementing this special one on one time with your kids, it will be difficult for them to understand that they need to give you time.
It’s only 10 minutes, but for very young kids, that can seem like forever!
Be patient and offer lots of grace, especially for the first week or so, as everyone gets accustomed to the new routine.
Before long, everyone will understand that their turn is coming and they will be content to entertain themselves while they wait.
Another common problem is children who all of the sudden have every “emergency” imaginable as soon as you begin your time. For this, have older children write down whatever they need and tell them you will address it once the time is over.
For younger children, just continue to say something like, “Mommy is spending some time with brother right now. I’ll come help you when the timer goes off.”
Speaking of a timer, feel free to use one to help your children understand when their time (or their sibling’s time) starts and stops. And also to help you not lose track of time.
For those of you with little babies, try to schedule this special time with your older kids while your baby is napping so that you aren’t interrupted for a diaper change or feeding.
Also make sure to give your baby their own special one on one time as well. Even just 10 minutes alone to nurse them or have some quiet snuggles counts!
For the children who must wait their turn, try having a special activity set up for them that they can do by themselves. This will help keep them busy while you spend time with each of them.
What if my child doesn’t want to spend time with me?
If you have older children and this hasn’t been a part of your lives before, you’re likely to get some pushback at first. This doesn’t mean your older children don’t need the time with you, if just means it’s new and different for them!
I strongly encourage you to keep trying every single day. Offer up activities that you know they would enjoy. Whatever gets your kids excited, ask if you can join them in it.
Maybe even ask them to teach you about it (this can be especially enticing for some kids and gives them even more of a sense of power – they get to be the teacher instead of the student for once).
Video games can potentially be ok for older kids or teens if it allows you to engage and give your undivided attention to them while you play together.
Kids will act like kids. There’s just no getting around that. But if you are willing to invest just a little bit of time to focused and individual attention for each of your kids, a lot of their behavior problems will start to improve.
You’ll begin to notice that when their buckets are full, you’ll be able to find more time to fill your own buckets too (without the kids beating down the bathroom or bedroom door). It’s such a simple thing that makes a world of difference in a family.
Do you practice having one on one time with your kids regularly? Share in the comments how you incorporate this practice into your routine. Or, if you don’t yet do it, share how you might incorporate it this week!!