fbpx How to Find Quality Time with Your Kids
Authored by Nexus Family Healing on February 22, 2024

Our youngest daughter was acting out at school, and she is usually our most angelic child, the one we rarely worry would misbehaving. She has a big heart, a kind soul, and a perpetually joyful demeanor. Naturally, we were concerned for her. Was it trauma rearing its ugly head? Was it a bullying problem at school? Was she struggling with school work, and acting out to cover up her insecurities? Was it her teenage siblings that were stressing her out?

And then it hit me… How would I know the answer to any of these questions if I can’t even remember the last time I had concentrated one-on-one time with her?

A-ha. Quality time. This critical element feels impossible to get when home can sometimes feel like a treatment center for youth struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mental health, and learning to be a kid or teen in this world. And yet, it must happen. We know this, all of us – and we wonder how to make it happen because life moves at warp speed already, let alone all the paperwork and social worker visits and therapy appointments and sports schedules and school events and…!

My husband and I have four children at home, and three grown children. Three of our four children at home are either former foster youth or current foster youth. The order of ages goes like this: 18, 17, 16, 10. You can correctly conjecture that we have our hands full (I bet you do, too!), and some of the teens bring extremely challenging and unique behaviors. Because of this, it’s critical for my husband and I have to be intentional with our time and energy for both us and our kids.

The busier life gets, the more I need to zoom in with each of the kids. Realistically, whichever kid presents with the most urgent or emergency-type needs will often get immediate attention and time. After one of our kids’ hospital stays, I realized I could not live so reactively. I was not trying to do this, but problems occurred so rapidly and haphazardly that my feet weren’t on the ground much. The child who went to the hospital was the one who had gotten most of my attention because she was the one in crisis most often. I learned to build in time for coffee dates and every preventative measure I could think of to help her feel seen and heard… but the “break” with her in the hospital gave me an opportunity to check in and see what each kid was desiring in our relationship and what they needed.

Finding Quality Time In Every Day Moments

With our particular dynamics, in which our children are never left home alone, one-on-one time cannot be fancy or extravagant. Dare I say it needn’t be, nor should it often be! It’s as simple as a nightly ritual of braiding my youngest daughter’s hair before bedtime and asking her open-ended questions. Or going to my oldest teen’s room while he’s relaxing and joking around or telling him about my day and asking about his. Or folding laundry alongside one of my kids while chit-chatting or watching a show together. Sometimes my husband will offer to take one of the kids to run an errand with him, or will take time to teach a certain life skill or outdoor chore.

I think it’s best to make it natural, but always be on the lookout for how you can build this into your daily life. I have found that consistent one-on-one time of just five to ten minutes does more wonders than a far-off full day together (especially since that’s easier to put off and can take a lot more coordination!). This does not mean to not schedule a full day together – definitely do that if you can! But don’t feel pressured to do that if your current circumstances don’t allow. 

Here are some simple ideas we use that are almost all at home:

  • “Laundry party” - Fold laundry together while watching a show and talking
  • Brushing my girls’ hair for them (even the teen!) while talking about our day
  • Coloring together - Barnes & Noble also has books for “Mom & Me”
  • Watch a show or movie with one kid while the others have different activities to do
  • Take time with one child to show them how to do a certain chore or activity (e.g. shovel the sidewalk, start the snow blower, blow up their bike tire, lift weights, bathe the dog, etc.)
  • Paint nails
  • Throw a ball/play catch
  • Challenge to a push-up contest or some other fun physical challenge
  • Play a simple game – we loved Candy Land for the longest time!
  • Groom a pet together 
  • Make a new flavor of hot chocolate or flavored milk and sip it together
  • Read a chapter of a book or Bible or other text (e.g. poem) and talk about it
  • Cook something simple with one of the kids – my boys loved learning to cook steak!
  • Let one kid choose which takeout to order and bring them with to pick it up
  • Go for a drive and let them choose the playlist (nothing explicit!)
  • Together, make a list of fun things they want to do this season and plan for some of it
  • Make a fort in the living room or their bedroom
  • Decorate a room for the next holiday 
  • Build something, anything from Legos to furniture
  • Do a few Mad Libs together
  • Let them choose dessert and make it together
  • Have them choose a sibling to do something kind for, and help them do that
  • Make cards, write letters to family, or make art to give to someone special

This list is very brief, but it gives a framework for what we have done to make sure we are building one-on-one time into our very busy and chaotic lives where intense needs abound alongside the everyday needs. Often, another child is in the vicinity, but I will make sure to let them know I need five to ten minutes with their sibling, and then I can tend to them. Clear is kind. This way, when they get their time, they also know it’s sacred.

As for my daughter I mentioned at the beginning, the one-on-one time revealed that two things were stressing her out and causing her to be anxious and “acting out” at school: her teenage siblings and their problems (of course!) and a girl in her class who told rumors about her. How much undivided attention did she need before she told me this? About two minutes.

Keep it simple. We’ve got this, parents! You’re doing so great!

This blog article was contributed by Cherie Johnson, Foster and Adoptive Parent at Nexus-Kindred Family Healing.

Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health servicesfoster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 50 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.