Although the days with little kids often seem long, the years fly by. Use this practical and purposeful blueprint to savor the moments you have together. Enjoy!
- Practice Parenting Meditation When you’re overwhelmed with your responsibilities, it’s easy to toggle into automatic pilot with your kids. However, if your mind is elsewhere during the precious moments you’ve worked hard to preserve, you have lost your kids’ childhood just as surely as if you hadn’t spent the time with them at all. Instead, try to stay in the moment with a “parenting meditation,” in which you focus on seeing your kids, hearing them, understanding them, and really being amazed by what you’ve created—living, breathing miracles of nature who are learning like sponges and growing like weeds.
- Take Pajama Walks The hour before bedtime can be chaotic with young children. One of my favorite techniques to help them calm down—weather permitting—is an evening pajama walk. Not only will it give your kids gentle, mellow time to decompress, but it will also give you special moments with them that otherwise might have been lost to TV. The key to pajama walks is the pajamas. Get the kids completely ready for bed—teeth brushed, faces washed, pj’s on. Then put them in their stroller, or on their tricycle, or in their sneakers, and meander slowly around the neighborhood. It may take a couple laps, but by the time you arrive back home, your kids will be in a fresh-air trance and ready for bed.
- Have Taco Night Special dinner nights are also a unique opportunity to increase your kids’ involvement in cooking with you. When there are recurring themes for dinner, they can assume a bigger role in getting the food to the table because they’ll remember the routine from the last time. While they’re washing the vegetables, stacking the tortillas, mixing the salsa, grating the cheese, they may be gossiping about what’s happening at school. When they leave the house in the morning, be sure to remind them, “Taco night tonight!” They’ll look forward to it all day.
- Fix Things Together Never repair a leaky faucet, change a tire, paint the fence, or replace the furnace filter without your kids. Home improvements are a great way to spend time with them while teaching them about tools and life at the same time. The attic, the basement, and the crawl space are all classrooms for learning how things work and how to safely fix things. Give them a flashlight, and talk them through the job you’re doing. As they get older, hold the flashlight for them. Instead of dreading things that break, you’ll see new tiles, built-in shelves, and paint jobs as bonus chances for time with your kids.
- Don’t Drive Everywhere The minutes that we “save” by driving our children a short distance to the neighborhood park or a friend’s house are actually priceless moments that we lose in the name of convenience. The next time you need to take your children somewhere nearby, try to get there on foot. Walking with your kids is a great way to slow down the pace of your lives and to have more unscripted moments with them. Talk about where you’re going, what you’re thinking, what they’re thinking, what you see on the way, and who said what to whom in school today.
- Play Their Games If you decide to bring video games into your home, do your best to screen them and even learn how to play them so you can experience this part of your kids’ world. Why? This is one activity where you’ll never have to let them win, and it’s a good thing for children to occasionally see their parents as human and vincible. Some games have somewhat redeeming virtual reality, because they mimic real-world activities such as table tennis, bowling, baseball, skiing, and dancing (which are certainly much better than games where you blow each other up). But set time limits, lest their virtual realities take over their reality.
- Prepare A Special Treat Establish special traditions around fun treats—they become more special because they don’t happen that often. Hot summer Sunday-afternoon sundaes, cold winter family TV nights with hot cocoa, or popcorn on the day of the big game. Sprinkles make ice cream special, and cuddling goes great with cocoa. Now, please don’t go around telling people that a pediatrician told you to feed your kids ice cream with sprinkles; I do have a professional reputation to maintain. So, just for the record, baked apples with cinnamon and raisins, angel-food strawberry shortcake, and banana splits with fat-free frozen yogurt work just as well. The food is not the point—it just helps make the point. Fun foods and special treats are conversation starters and memory makers. Your kiddos will remember the occasions that merited the special treats and that they shared them with you.
If you find a way to make the most of every moment that you have with your kids, you will not only be a wonderful parent, but you will also be teaching your kids how to be good adults and wonderful parents themselves someday. Show your children how important your time with them is, and you will be impacting generations to come.