Time is a precious commodity when you're a parent. It's often a struggle to get through the day with your sanity intact and in the rare situation there's a sliver of time to spare, your first instinct is to snatch it for yourself.
Which is why the notion of spending 'quality time' with your children can feel overwhelming. With mothers reporting feelings of time poverty and guilt combined with fathers working long hours with schedules that are not family-friendly, quality time seems like an elusive concept for most of us, and for single parents, near impossible.
There's no doubt that cultivating relationships with children by spending time with them is important - it helps them learn about the world and makes them feel safe, loved and secure. It also discourages attention seeking behaviour. But have we set the bar unnecessarily high for ourselves when it comes to making it meaningful?
Dr Kimberley O'Brien, Principal Child Psychologist at The Quirky Kid Clinic, reassures parents that it doesn't need to be laborious. Everyday tasks present opportunities for meaningful connection - here's how you can seize them throughout a busy day:
1 Make hellos and goodbyes meaningful
Get down to their level, look them in the eye, hug them and tell them you're looking forward to seeing them or you've missed them. It only takes five seconds but a genuine hug goes a long way in making a child feel loved.
2 Car journeys
When you get the opportunity to take one of your children in the car on their own, do it. Even if it's as boring as picking up the dry cleaning - the fact you have asked only them to accompany you will make them feel special.
Find out what songs your children love have them ready to play in the car, dedicating the song to them.
Keep a few simple activities in the car for moments when you are out and have the odd 10 minutes to kill, e.g. a card game, a ball, pen and paper for noughts and crosses.
Instead of mindlessly sorting and folding, use this time as an opportunity to interact with your child, simply by engaging in conversation with them or by doing it together.
Kimberley explains how a boring and dreaded task has become a positive moment of connection in her household: "We put all of our clean laundry in a pile, sit in a circle and you grab your clothes and fold them… it's become a family activity."
4 Meal times
Make meals together a technology free zone so your children don't feel as though they are competing for your attention.
Start a monthly family meeting so all children feel they have a valued point of view and you get a sense of what's going on in their lives. Keep the agenda short and simple, like:
· What is something you're looking forward to?
· What is something that's been bothering or annoying you?
· What's something fun we can do together as a family? Then schedule some time in to do it.
5 Watch their favourite TV show with them
It's likely to bore you and there will be other things you could be doing to make yourself feel more productive but it does feel good to just stop for a while, put your feet up and be close with your child.
"Kids absolutely love this," says Kimberley. "Just by sitting with them and asking a few relevant questions or making positive comments about the show, you're reassuring them that they make good choices and you're not just wanting to tune out or switch it off."
6 Bed time
The benefits of reading to kids before bed are widely documented but in addition to the language development upside, bed time is the perfect time to connect as their guard is down: "Often they're a bit more emotional and clingy," says Kimberley, so take 10 minutes just to be close to them and wind down together.
7 Leave notes
Even if you're not there, they'll know you're thinking about them. A simple "I love you" or "Have a great day" in their bag or lunchbox will suffice. Draw a heart for children too young to read. Make it even easier by printing notes so they're ready to go.
So next time you have a sliver of time to spare, lose the guilt and take it for yourself, knowing that you have turned the mundane everyday moments into meaningful connections with your children.