Almost every parent worries about whether they are spending enough time with their children, and for working parents whose time is often more limited, this concern can be exacerbated. In fact, one of the most common causes of parental guilt is the worry that we are not involved enough in our children’s lives. There have been several studies into how much time we should ideally be spending with our children, and the majority suggest that it is the quality of the time that we spend with them, rather than the quantity that matters. However, such studies have only focused on the mother-child relationship, and there are few that have explored the ways in which the paternal relationship can influence a child’s behaviour in later life.
An article published in The Guardian, ‘How much time should you spend with your children?’ discussed a study that was conducted by BMJ, in which researchers devised a questionnaire to try to discover more about paternal attitudes to parenting, and the ways in which the paternal relationship can influence a child’s behaviour in later life. More than 10,000 parents took part in the questionnaire, which included questions such as ‘How confident are you as a father?’ and ‘How much time do you spend playing with your children?’ and asked fathers how much they contributed towards housework and how much they enjoyed the various aspects of childrearing. Then when the children reached the ages of 9 and 11 respectively, their mothers were asked to score their behaviour, focusing on specific areas such as how kind and compassionate they were towards others and their levels of clinginess and anxiety. It found that the children of fathers who took pleasure in the various stages of their child’s development were 28% less likely to have behavioural problems at the ages of both 9 and 11.
So, what the researchers discovered is that whilst it’s important for fathers to be as involved as possible in all aspects of raising their children and to spend as much time with them as possible, what’s even more important than the quantity is the quality of the time they spend with them. The study also showed that in order to make the time that they spend with their children truly count, fathers need to adopt a positive attitude towards all aspects of parenting. Because the study suggests that it is the emotional connection that fathers have with their children and their attitudes towards parenting that will have the biggest influence on a child’s short-term and long-term development.
So if the quality of the interaction is more important than the quantity, what can parents do to help strengthen the emotional connection they have with their children, and maximise their chances of growing to become happy and thriving adults? Well this is the subject of our most recent book The Working Parents’ Guide [NS1] so it is difficult to summarise it all here ;-). However, one thing that is really crucial is to improve the family dynamic so that children feel a sense of belonging despite the little time we are able to spend with them. A family unit functions far more effectively when there is a sense of shared purpose and when each family member feels that they are united in working together towards a common goal. This helps to foster a spirit of togetherness and encourages cooperation, trust and connectedness.
Here are some more ideas on how to build and maintain a strong connection with your children as they grow:
- Reducing Opposition
Research shows that parents of toddlers give 34 orders per hour on average, which unsurprisingly creates opposition and power struggles between parent and child. So instead of giving so many orders to your children, which are quite demotivating, share the control on your terms by offering Limited Choices that suit you (e.g. “Would you rather leave the park now or in five minutes?”). And engage your child into ‘thinking mode’ rather than ‘opposition mode’ by asking them questions (e.g. “What are you supposed to do before going to bed?” instead of “You haven’t brushed your teeth yet, why do I always have to be behind your back reminding you all the time!”).
- One-on-one Time
Parents spend way too much time feeling guilty about whether they spend enough time with their children. We can alleviate some of this guilt by ensuring that the time that we do get to spend with our children truly counts, and one of the ways to achieve this is through special one-on-one time. Giving our children our full, undivided attention for as little as 20 mins a week (depending on their age) might not sound like much, but it is one of the most effective ways of strengthening the connection and sense of trust and understanding between parent and child.
- Have Fun!
One of the most important things to remember when spending time with your children is to have fun! It may sound like simple advice, but as parents we can often become so consumed in trying to do the best for our children that we sometimes forget to simply have fun and enjoy the parenting journey. Of course it’s important to set rules and establish boundaries and expectations, but it’s equally important to balance this out with a healthy dose of humour and fun.