Quality time is something we strive for in all our dealings with people. It refers to special moments in our lives which become part of our emotional base even if we don't remember every detail of them. It's the unforgettable look on your mother's face when she unwrapped a flawed piece of embroidery you had made for her. Or the way you felt when your dad let you hang out while he did his wheeling and dealing prior to buying a new car. When he said to you, 'I think that guy was trying to take advantage of me,' you felt like a full partner in the enterprise. That was quality time.
In today's somewhat frenzied world, often with both parents working outside the home, making certain that quality time is available for you and your children is more important than ever before. And, to be sure, it is as important for you as for them.
What is Quality Time?
The essence of quality time is a locking together of interest and attention between the people involved. With our children, quality time involves active listening and genuine conversation. If we just listen with one ear and keep the other tuned to the phone or to a pan that might be getting ready to boil over, it doesn't count as quality time. There doesn't have to be a special chair labeled 'Quality Time Chair' or an alarm clock that signals 'Stop everything—it's 'Quality Time' time.' Almost any interaction can be quality time if the following four conditions are met:
1. It involves something the child wants to do. Sometimes we go to a great deal of trouble and expense to take our child to a place or event we think will be a worthwhile experience—a parade, a museum, the theater. That, we think, is sure to be quality time. Yet sometimes it turns out to be a disappointment or a disaster. When you ask about it later, all the child remembers is the revolving door at the museum or the accident you passed on the way. It wasn't quality time because it wasn't something the child wanted to do.
2. It involves active listening and talking. We can get by without paying full attention to our children some of the time. But listening with one ear and answering only with a nondescript 'Uh-huh' won't work during quality time. For that, we have to tune out other thoughts and really listen, really answer.
3. Only brief and unavoidable interruptions should be allowed. If the phone rings, let the answering service handle it. Or else speak briefly and say that you will call back.
4. Make it one-on-one. Quality times can occur for family groups, but the kind I am talking about is strictly for two people. At such times, our children are more likely to talk about things they might have been reluctant to bring up that they need to talk to us about. They need one-on-one time with us.
No special props are needed for quality times. They might either be arranged, or simply occur, at bedtime, lunchtime, on trips to the supermarket, or even while watching television.
In future articles I am going to describe some simple quality time activities that will enrich the child and strengthen your bonding with that child. Then, after you have read a few of my suggestions, I hope you will be willing to share with other readers some of the things that have worked for you. Details of how to do this will appear in future issues.
In the meantime, find time for quality time.
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.