Happier Kids – Fifteen Minutes at a Time

Each of my kids has presented me with their list of demands for the year – aka their “Christmas List.” Don’t get me wrong; I really love my kids! And I really do want to know what they think will make them happy on December 25th! That being said, I have also learned that no matter how many picture perfect presents they unwrap that morning, the thing that makes and keeps kids happiest is consistent connection. Our undivided attention and interest – on a small scale and a consistent basis – is the best gift we will ever give them.

Father with his son play with model railway near christmas tree

The most valuable piece of parenting advice I ever received wasn’t given in the form of parenting advice and, at the time, I didn’t know how valuable it was. About twenty years ago I was working at a pediatric hospital in the acute psychiatry unit and one morning, while discussing a patient with a social worker there, she said something along the lines of: “If her parents would spend fifteen minutes a day with her, most of their problems would solve themselves.” She was talking about consistent connection.

Since that day two decades ago, I have watched the wisdom of this play out in my own life and in clinical settings. The fifteen-minute a day idea is deceptive; of course we spend fifteen minutes each day with our kids, especially if they are young! Sadly, if you’re anything like me, you spend at least that much time just nagging them to put their electronics away, put their laundry away, or put the dishes away. So, I have put my time in and am providing consistent connection, right? Wrong.

Here’s how it works:

  • The first key to making those minutes count is engaging in child-guided activities. (Note: Reading at bedtime so that they can tally those minutes for school is important, but it doesn’t count as a child-guided activity!)
  • The second key is to engage them without telling them what you’re up to. That kind of ruins it.
  • The third key is to be completely theirs during that time. Adults squirm under these stipulations; we don’t necessarily want to play Uno forty times, or hear about Minecraft elements, or make bead necklaces for stuffed animals that we are expected to remember the names of! (Especially if we can’t check our phones or drift off to check on dinner during that time.)

Happiness is a tricky thing to quantify and therefore research, which means that I only have anecdotal evidence for this 15-minutes per day theory. I hope that you’ll conduct an experiment of your own though – try for a week or so and see what the results are. I’m not saying it’s time to break with tradition; go ahead and give them everything on that Christmas wish list! But do consider adding this new tradition; give them consistent connection in fifteen minute daily doses.

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