Quality Time with Your Children: A Foundational Love Language By Quyn Lê Erichsen, M.Ed., RCC

Quality Time is undoubtedly the most important Love Language for children. Even if a child’s primary Love Language is not Quality Time, it is still extremely important, as it makes a child feel special, important and loved.

One form of Quality Time is Quality Activities, which are those during which you give your child undivided attention. Quality Activities might include going to a movie together, reading bedtime stories, playing a ball game, teaching a child to cook or showing a child how to do something. It is not the activities themselves that are important, it is your full attention that communicates love to your children.

Some parents feel very sad that their teenage children no longer want to spend time with them as they used to. Yet, this is a natural part of adolescence. When teenagers engage in other activities away from you, it gives them the opportunity to assert for their independence and to learn more about themselves in order to develop their self-identity.

Although spending time away from you is a natural and healthy part of growing up, it is also important for your children to maintain good connections with you. Make it very pleasant for your children to be around you. When they are with you, they get to receive your undivided attention, do activities that they really enjoy, and hear words of love, praise and encouragement. Soon they would be excited to spend time with you!

Those of you who have more than one child, make sure to spend Quality Time with each child, even if only for a short time. This can be very challenging for many of you, as lack of time is a common struggle for many parents. Yet, the Quality Time you spend with each child starting when they are young may prevent years of heartache to come.

Here are a few tips that may help you:

Let the activity be about the child, and not about the activity itself. It is the togetherness in spirit that is important. Many people nowadays are often busy texting and checking emails or Facebook while they are around their children. One child was deeply disappointed because during her piano recital, her mom stepped out of the room to talk on the phone. This child had practiced her piano piece for weeks before and really wanted her mom to see her performance.

Involve your children in the planning process. If you plan a trip out of town, ask your children, “What do you want to do on the trip?” Or if your son doesn’t want to join you on the trip, ask him “ “What would make the trip interesting to you?”

Take note of your child’s interests and plan activities accordingly. My teenage sister loves food. So every now and then, I take her out to eat so we have a chance to spend lots of Quality Time together. While doing those activities, talk to your child to get to know him. Ask him, “What do you think of…?” “How do you feel about…?”

Here is an example of how my husband learned about Quality Time with his son. This is his story in his own words:

“When my son, Nick, was in grade two, he had a very hard time reading. I read to him at home every night. But when I tried to help teach him to read it was not working out like I hoped. I became very frustrated that Nick could not do it the way I wanted him to. I would read, point and get loud and try to bully him into doing it my way….doing it right! All this did was isolate him and make him feel terrible. He cried, lashed out at me, and I made our “Quality Time” some of the worst times of his childhood.

As with many other kids, our family doctor wanted to put him on Ritalin. But I wanted to be sure. After several weeks of testing, it was determined that he was quite dyslexic and needed special help to read. We were blessed to find a tutor who specialized in Nick’s type of learning disability. Soon, he began to blossom as his confidence grew. Our relationship also improved greatly, as he saw I was on his side now. I was giving him the type of Quality Time he needed and not forcing my way on him. Nick struggled to finish high school. However, he knew that whenever he grew frustrated and sought advice, I would focus first on his needs and well being. We had some tough conversations and a few more tears. But the lessons I learned in grade two paid off in ways that I am still grateful for today.”

Another form of Quality Time is Presence. Those times when you attend your child’s soccer games, recitals, birthday parties, high school graduation ceremony or the like, are all memorable for your children. Many of us are bombarded with professional and personal demands, and it is easy to miss these activities. Yet, not making time for these important moments in your children’s lives can be very disappointing to many of them and affect them years to come. One man sadly recalled, “I didn’t feel loved by my dad because he was always too busy to come to any of my football games.”

The third form of Quality Time is Quality Conversations. These are some ways to help you talk to your children more effectively:

Have a family meal together at least once a week, if not every day, during which TV, phones or laptops are off. All family members are encouraged to share three things that happened to them, and how they felt about those things.

Teach your children about etiquette, such as saying Thank You and Please and treating everyone as you want to be treated. Equally important, model these behaviours, as your children see you every day.

For very young children, be patient in answering their endless “Why” questions. It can be frustrating to be bombarded with these inquiries. Some parents might be tempted to yell at their children, “Stop asking so many questions! Go play and let daddy finish this!”

Rather than asking closed questions like “Do you like your classes this year?”, ask open questions like “How do you like your new classes this year?”. Closed questions do not encourage conversations with children because you can only ask so many of them. Open questions encourages your children, especially teenagers, to think for themselves as adults. It also fosters their intellectual growth and stimulates their brain development.

Listen, listen and listen some more. As adults, we are often quick to give advice, offer solutions and tell kids our perspective on things. However if you listen first, then your children will be receptive to your ideas and perspectives more heartily. Questions that you can ask your children to encourage their problem-solving skills: “What do you want to do about this?” “What will happen if you do that?” “What are some other ways to approach this situation?”

When your adolescents challenge your rules and question your beliefs, you may perceive them as being argumentative and react to their questions defensively. However, view these times as opportunities to teach them about assertiveness. Ask them, “What is your opinion on that?” Children who accept everything their parents say without any questions may later on be easily influenced by peer pressure or by controlling partners/spouses. It is not criticizing, yelling, shaming, arguing, instilling fear, control or aggression that can change people’s behaviours and attitudes permanently. Rather, It is love, compassion, acceptance, appreciation, awareness and gentle guidance that have the capacity to transform people’s attitudes and behaviours in profound and lasting ways.

It is very important for parents to share their opinions with their children and to offer guidance, however, the manner in which you do so can make a huge difference. In sharing your perspective, you could say, “I see why you think that way. However, I believe that…”

Use your non-authoritarian, calm, gentle or positive tone of voice to talk to your children. Doing so can activate the emotional engagement parts in their brains and can make it much easier for them to listen to your words. When you use a harsh tone of voice, cutting remarks or physical force, you inadvertently activate the fight-flight-freeze response in your children’s central nervous system.

Use stories and examples to offer guidance, especially your own stories and struggles. Hearing your stories makes it real for your children and easier for them to relate to you. It also reminds them that you are human too. You don’t have to share details that you are not comfortable with.

Living in the refugee camp during my teenage years, we frequently witnessed many men mistreating women — beating, sexualizing and verbally degrading them. My mom would talk to us about these things, helping us understand that those behaviours were absolutely unacceptable and must not be the norm in our lives. She let us know that we as women deserve respect from everyone, including men, and should never settle for less. Later on in my love life, I’ve learned to expect respectful treatment and accept nothing less from any man, including my husband.

In summary, Quality Time is a foundational Love Language to express love to your children and to fill their emotional love tank. Make time to do meaningful activities with your children, be present during important moments in their lives and engage in open dialogues with them. Your children will definitely feel very special, important and loved.

When your children are young, you have much control over how much time you spend with them. Make the best of those times! When your children grow older, they control how much time they want to spend with you. Make the best of those times too! We get what we give in life. The Quality Time you spend with your children, and the love you communicate that they can feel during those bonding moments can leave an imprint of love in your children’s hearts forever!

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