Many divorces, and some post-divorce situations, involve parents who have good intentions and motivation, but just aren't sure about what they can do to create the ever elusive “quality time” when they are with their kids. The reality is that when families split up, most things are going to be different. On top of that, the kids are getting older all the time, so their needs, interests and relationships are changing, independent of their parents' situations. We really have two worlds changing in different ways at different speeds at the same time.
Parents can't stop their kids from getting older, but they can adapt their own approaches to spending time with their kids. We all know that spending time is very important, but how to make the most of the time is what parents sometimes need help with. Following are some ideas about how to change time from a quantity to quality.
1. Participate with kids – be active. Don't leave the kids alone to always entertain themselves, and don't just sit around with your children. Do active things, such as: go somewhere interesting (to the kids), play outside with them, play games inside with them, visit friends, go camping, ride bikes, walk, hike, run or do other sports. Don't just watch and supervise; interact and play with the kids.
2. Share interests with the kids. Either become interested in what the kids are doing or develop new interests with the children in sports, hobbies, art, reading, computers, movies, collecting things, etc. Your kids might even adopt some of your activities if you show how they can have fun.
3. Praise your children. Be sincere and don't go overboard, but give positive recognition whenever you can, especially to reinforce good behavior or activities. Help them study and praise good work and good grades.
4. Look for opportunities for growth. Find activities that can be physically or mentally challenging. Some kids will respond positively to challenges and competition, so keeping score of things may be helpful. Create a competition for book reading (# of books or pages read), exercise, sports or any other activities that interest you and the children. Encourage your children to put forth their best efforts.
5. Develop routines. This applies to whichever home they are in. It helps in many ways to develop routines. Kids will expect and look forward to activities they enjoy. It's easy to find fun things like movie time, pizza night, a favorite TV show to watch with you, a visit with favorite cousins or friends, going to garage sales, or taking periodic short trips. While not as appealing to the kids, it's a good idea to have some other things scheduled that are necessary, but less fun, such as doing homework, chores and practice time for music, sports, dance, etc. Doing those necessary activities will help develop responsibility.
6. Help others. There are always opportunities in communities of any size to help others. Volunteers can help in litter clean-ups, food drives, clothing drives, park projects, serving meals at holidays, working at a library, zoo, museum or other public place, doing fund-raising, etc. Children can actually accomplish good things and feel good for their efforts. It's also a good way for kids to learn about new things and make new friends. On a more personally pragmatic level, children interested in going to certain colleges or in obtaining scholarships are evaluated on their volunteer hours and efforts. It's never too early to start.
7. Enjoy your time. Think of things that are fun for you and the kids. Be creative. Research and find new activities by checking on the internet and by reading magazines and newspapers for new ideas and new activities.
As families go through divorces and other changes, parents need to develop new ways of spending time with their children. Trying to maintain or recreate old ways of spending time with kids will not work for long. As the kids keep developing their own lives and move toward more independence, parents have to adapt and be creative in order to share fun and meaningful time with their kids. You can make a difference with your children by planning new and fun activities with them, and you'll enjoy it, too!