It’s no secret: parents today are busier than ever before. In addition to juggling hectic career or volunteering schedules and household duties, we stay extra busy rushing our kids from one activity to the next. Why? Because we are laser-focused on helping our children thrive—which today often means tutoring sessions, music lessons, sports teams, and hours spent volunteering. But in the race to shuttle kids to their various classes and appointments, we often have no time left for simply loving and nurturing our little ones.
The good news is, even if yours is a super-busy family, you can still give your children the love and kindness they need. Small, meaningful moments that show you care go a very long way. Simply spending time with your child builds trust and fosters a relationship that will only grow stronger over the years. And like all the best things in life, these nurturing moments are free.
It’s an incredibly natural thing to nurture our children. But in order to do that, parents need to be fully in the moment and not distracted, frazzled, and exhausted. Here are my eight tips for spending quality time with your children and teaching them strong nurturing habits they can take with them into adulthood.
• Scale back their activities. If your children are overscheduled, you can bet that they don’t have time to connect with you or themselves. But making a little extra time in their day frees them (and you) to practice better self-care. So first of all, select one or two activities—or better yet, let your children select them—to trim from their schedule. This gives the entire family time to stop and smell the roses, enjoy the present, and reenergize.
• Teach them to search for the good stuff each day offers. One of the best things you can do for your children is to teach them to take an optimistic outlook on life. Helping them focus on happiness, kindness, and gratitude from a young age is key. Make a habit of asking your child to name five things that made him or her happy—or five kind things they did for someone or something—at the end of each day. You’ll benefit from this exercise too, as it reminds you to keep a positive mindset and helps you keep your focus on happiness.
• Limit the “things” and focus on simple gifts instead. Your kids don’t really need every new toy that’s on the market, the very best clothes, or the latest status symbol to be happy. Instead, focus on giving them experiences instead of material possessions. You can do this by taking them to museums, going on a vacation as a family, heading to a concert, volunteering at an animal shelter, or even going to the library to check out some new books to read.
There are so many simple gifts in life. When you focus on small wonders instead of the newest toy, it helps your children tune in to the world around them, and enables them to develop empathy and connection—important life skills for everyone.
• Embrace your children’s differences. Your children are not you, and that’s okay. Parents often expect their children to be just like them and may be upset when they begin blooming into individuals. Try not to force your children into swimming, for example, just because you loved the water as a child. Instead, let them choose their own interests and try not to judge them if they reject the activities you favor.
• Take them on adventures. Life shouldn’t be drudgery. At the same time, you can take them on low-cost or even free adventures any time! Set up a tent in the living room and explore exotic lands together from your own house. Or ask your kids to plan a meal of exotic foods and recipes from different countries. Tonight could be Greek night, or Italy night, or China night. This way, the whole family can enjoy international cuisine from home. To up the education factor, you can even make flashcards together, complete with interesting factoids about the countries whose food you’re sampling.
• Hug your kids every day. Hugs are a comforting expression of love, so hug your child or your children often. Hugging a loved one gives us a giant dose of happiness. Research shows that hugs given with pure, loving, appropriate intentions (“safe hugs”) have both physical and emotional benefits. Hug your kids even when they’re teens and pretend to resist you. Older kids are worried about looking cool, but they really crave your affection at every age. Further, make sure your young child has at least one furry friend like a teddy bear or stuffed animal to hug any time they need a dose of comfort.
• Read to them. Reading to your young children is one of the best ways to nurture them. My book, The Big Squeeze: Hugs & Inspirations for Every Grown-Up Who Loves Teddy Bears, is perfect bedtime reading for adults and kids alike because it’s full of life lessons, encouragement, and, of course, photos of adorable teddy bears.
• Teach them to “take a breath” with tech-free time. In our over-connected world, it’s all too common to see children preoccupied with phones, tablets, and laptops—or glued to the television. Teach your children to enjoy tech-free downtime and to savor the moment at hand. So unplug as a family and give your kids (and yourself) permission to take things easier. And if you’re looking for a rewarding experience you can enjoy together, try yoga or meditation classes for families.
Your children will be children for only a short while. The nurturing you show them now teaches them to connect with others and will continue serving them throughout their lives. And remember that while nurturing certainly benefits your kids, it is just as healthy and important for you. Instead of reducing your role to that of a taskmaster keeping your children on schedule, the meaningful, mindful time you spend with your children can bring you joy, alleviate stress, and deepen your relationship as parent and child.
Dr. Susan Mangiero is the author of The Big Squeeze: Hugs & Inspirations for Every Grown-Up Who Loves Teddy Bears (Happy Day Press, 2017). She also coaches financial organizations on using trust, kindness, and nurturing to develop their relationship-building skills and grow their brand and leads workshops for business professionals about leadership best practices and the importance of integrity and empathy in attracting and retaining customers.
The Big Squeeze is a sweet and uplifting gift book focused on the undeniable truth that kindness to ourselves, and others, matters. It is available on Amazon and can be purchased in bulk at a discount or customized for client or fundraising events. For more information, visit www.hugsandjoy.com.