Parenting experts everywhere talk about the benefits of one-on-one time with your kids.
From helping your child to feel important and developing their own unique identity, to warding off negative attention-seeking behaviours, one-on-one time between parent and child is a go-to parenting strategy.
For me, with three under wing, one-on-one time is something I’ve aspired to but generally found difficult. I manage the household solo on most weekday evenings and, by the time the weekend rolls around, all-in family time becomes the priority.
Recently I raided my friend Katie’s bag of tricks for one-on-one time ideas. If anyone would know, it would be Katie with eight kids ranging in age from 20 years down to nine years (with twin girls at positions six and seven).
Katie’s tips for one-on-one time are practical and insightful and I think bring one-on-one time within the reach of all families.
1. Make the snippets count!
Not all one-on-one time needs to be planned weeks in advance or involve expensive or elaborate outings.
Katie suggests making the little moments count too, like a trip to the shops, the doctor or the dentist, doing chores at home or time in the car.
“If you’re heading out to run errands, invite a child along and build in a quick stop at a coffee shop. Or make the most of your time on the sidelines at soccer or tennis practice – bring a book to read together or chat and have some cuddles,” says Katie.
“Car trips to and from sport and work, even driving lessons (there’s a whopping 120 hours of one-on-one time in that!) are great for engaging one-on-one with your child. Because you cannot make sustained eye contact, I find the conversations cover a broader range of topics, including things they may be embarrassed to raise at other times.”
2. Be bold and schedule more elaborate outings too!
This means that the child looks forward to their special time. It also means that the other children know about it and also know when their turn is coming up, minimising resentment and jealousy.
“When our family was younger, we took a more scheduled approach to one-on-one time. One child a month would get special one-on-one time with a parent. We would allow the child to choose the thing they wanted to do (and choose the parent they wanted to do it with). It could be a trip to the movies, lunch, a bike ride etc,” says Katie.
Katie finds their family plans these outings less and less now as their calendars are full and need to be more flexible.
“These days we prefer not to plan things as much. The danger with making plans is we may have to cancel or postpone them when things come up,” says Katie.
3. Notes, texts and other personal interactions
As your children grow, the ways you interact with them will change and expand. Katie considers that text messages with her children can count as one-on-one time.
What about a note in your child’s lunchbox wishing them well in the school’s speech competition?
Or what about a shared diary or notebook that can be used to communicate thoughts or ideas in writing just between you and them? Sounds kind of Elizabethan doesn’t it? But maybe it could help your child work through issues that are bothering them and that they don’t wish to raise in a spoken conversation.
4. Sign them out for a lunch or coffee date!
Sign your child out of school during lunchtime for a quick bite to eat or a coffee while the other children remain at school or in care.
“This works where all children are in care, kinder or school. It’s also a great strategy if it’s hard for one partner to cover the other partner with the other children. Years ago we had a babysitter for the younger children at various times. Having cover for the younger children allowed me to grab one of the older children from school or allowed me to take one of the younger children out alone,” says Katie.
“When we do take a child out of school at lunchtime, we’re really conscious to be back before the end of lunchtime so that the outing does not interrupt the child’s classroom. We also encourage our kids not to make a big deal of it with their friends and classmates as not all kids may get the same opportunity,” she says.
5. Call on a “sub”
One-on-one time doesn’t always need to be with mum or dad. Enlist trusted friends and family members to spend special individual time with your children.
In Katie’s house, for each child’s birthday, Grandma takes the child out for lunch and to buy a present.
“This has become a very special tradition in our family. Each child looks forward to their special time with Grandma around their birthday.”
And now that Katie’s eldest child can drive, he often takes one of the younger children out for a special treat too.
“Emma loves basketball and will accompany Luke to his basketball games (she scores the matches). This is a special time for both of them and I see it as strengthening their sibling bond.”
6. Be flexible and let it evolve over time
With serious parenting runs on the board as a mum of eight over 20 years’, Katie says it’s also important to acknowledge that what the individual child needs and what the family can manage will change over time.
Perhaps elaborate and planned one-on-one time is out of the question at the moment for your family because of work or other commitments or because flexibility in the calendar is key (as is currently the case for Katie’s family). But that may change down the track, so Katie suggests being open to change and also aware of your current limits.
7. Consider each child’s individual needs
Katie says that some of her children ask for or seek out one-on-one time with her. Others don’t ask for or seek it out at all. And some only need it some of the time.
And what they ask for or seek out differs between them.
“One of our children likes hanging out in the laundry with me. That child will often follow me into the laundry and we will chat while I do the washing,” she says.
Katie uses the walk home from school and those first minutes as her children enter the house after school as a time to gauge who might need some special time alone with her later in the afternoon and evening.
“I know when things are off and can generally tell when someone might need some attention later on,” she says.
“My advice is to go with what they ask for, seek out or otherwise need,” says Katie.
To me that seems to be the key to all of this. After all, one-on-one time is really all about treating your child as an individual.
I’ve tried out some of Katie’s ideas since first chatting to her about this blog:
- The lunch date during school lunch time idea turns out to be gold, gold, gold!
- A movie for two is also a winner!
To make those things happen, I’ve had to rethink how I spend my time when Jess our nanny is here. From now on its no longer purely kid-free time!
Speaking with Katie has also helped me appreciate the little and spontaneous moments I have individually with my kids every day (and the moments other important adults in their lives also have). The mornings when one child wakes first. Bath time when the other children are playing. A few kicks of the footy outside with our number one sportsperson Dames. Damien and Miss Gubby’s Saturday morning swimming lesson. And the wonderful moments that our children share one-on-one with their grandparents, their godparents, other significant adults and with Jess our nanny. These moments all count too!
I also feel like I now have permission not to always be planning the big, bold and elaborate one-on-one outings I’ve always aspired to but found hard to make happen – because sometimes in family life they just aren’t possible!