By Lexi Walters Wright
No matter how hard you try, it can be tough to find time to bond with your child. That’s especially true if you have multiple jobs or work unusual hours. These ideas can help.
At the breakfast table—or via text message, if you’re not together in the morning—check in with your child about what’s coming up for her. Try questions like, “What are you looking forward to today?” and “What’s on your Worry List?”
Reflecting on what’s ahead helps your child anticipate the highs and lows of her day. It lets her ask you for troubleshooting advice, if she needs it. Plus, it gives you an idea of what you can follow up on after school instead of just relying on, “So how was your day?”
When you’re in the car with your child, she’s a captive audience. And tweens and teens may find it easier to talk about tough topics when they don’t have to look you in the eye.
Take advantage of your time together to calmly raise serious issues—an illness in the family, how her classmates are responding to her accommodations—in a nonconfrontational way. The intimacy inside your car and the time limit of your trip can help you both pack a lot of meaningful communication into just a few minutes.
Your child may protest a smooch in front of her friends. But science shows us that touch can go a long way toward showing her she’s cared for and supported.
Unless your child has sensory processing issues that make her uncomfortable about being touched, a high-five before you leave for work, a hug when you pick her up from an OT appointment and a snuggle in front of the TV are all affectionate ways to show you care.
Even if you have only 20 minutes of face time with your child after school, get out. Throw a football around, swing in the park or race each other up the street. If you only see your child at night? Bundle up together for a starry stroll before bed, when you can.
Being active outdoors together packs a lot of bonding into a short amount of time. It sets a great example for your child about the importance of exercise. And even in the winter, getting a few minutes of fresh air can make you both feel great.
Place a jigsaw puzzle somewhere in the house that you and your child pass often. Then take turns putting in pieces whenever one of you is home. Eventually, you’ll have solved it together. Or download a multi-player game app that your child likes—Words with Friends or Draw Something are two popular options. Then you can challenge each other throughout the day.
Whether you choose a high-tech or low-tech pastime, with each move, you’ll be showing that you’re thinking of one another.
If you can’t sit at the table with your child as she mulls over her math and history, there are still ways to support her. Maybe she could email you her to-do list so you could help her prioritize assignments. Or perhaps she could text you the title of the book she needs you to pick up from the library on your way home. You might even be able to instant-message or video chat with one another to brainstorm a project topic. Knowing that you’re a click away can reassure her that help is always there when she needs it.
You and your child don’t usually get to have dinner at the same time during the week? Then consider working together to make Sunday brunch, an afterschool snack or another routine meal.
Cooking together doesn’t have to be a chore. It can be a rewarding activity that lets you work as a team to plan and create something special you can both enjoy. Plus, it gives your child the chance to practice and display skills like researching, reading, math and following directions.
Leave knock-knock jokes in your child’s lunch before every test. Email each other goofy cat photos every Monday. Watch cartoons after dinner on the one Friday night a month you’re together.
Even playful rituals like these can reassure your child that you care—and create lifelong memories. Revisit these traditions regularly to see if they need tweaking as your child gets older. As long as you and your child enjoy your ritual, it doesn’t matter what you choose or how it evolves—just that you do it together.
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A veteran writer, editor and sometime librarian, Lexi Walters Wright is proud to serve families at Understood.org.
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