I’ve talked to many people about the Family Peace Foundation’s initiative of spending at least 8 minutes a day with each child in a one-on-one capacity. Not surprisingly, a common response has been a sheepish and mumbled “I don’t think I actually do that.” That’s fine. Welcome to the world of parenting which comes with a healthy sprinkle of guilt and a good dose of second-guessing oneself from the day you leave the birthing suite of the hospital.
Yesterday has gone but today brings new opportunities to connect and share with our children. Let’s just assume that one of the barriers to practicing this behaviour is a lack of knowledge about the potential benefits this simple practice can bring to a child’s sense of security and wellbeing. Now that we know better, we can do better. So how can we convert our newfound knowledge into a sustainable habit to create a nation of parents who spend at least 8 minutes a day with each child, just like they brush and floss, use seatbelts, or drink adequate quantities of water daily.
Forming a desired habit is a choice, and spending at least 8 minutes a day with each child is just that. When creating a new habit, it’s important to focus on the long term benefits the newly created behaviour will bring to your life. Before embarking on the change process, visualise how your life will be if you develop a stronger connection with your children. Once you have even the smallest runs on the board, write down the specific benefits of time spent listening, sharing, laughing and just being with your kids. If a day goes by, and you drop the ball, refer back to the list when you are struggling, feeling crazy-busy, or perhaps even a little rejected or unappreciated by the little people in your life.
It also helps to be realistic about the timing involved when creating new habits. There is no magic formula to create and maintain a new habit, and contrary to popular belief, habits do not miraculously develop after 21 days.
Families are busy units of people with inevitable conflicting schedules, commitments, personalities and needs. It’s normal for any change-process to involve a few steps forwards and a few steps backwards so it’s key to find time to acknowledge and celebrate the successes made instead of focusing on the slip ups. A combination of self compassion and accountability are helpful ingredients to move towards meaningful behaviour change.
Forming new habits is also easier when the desired change is personally meaningful rather than because we feel pressured to change at the request of someone else. Consider what would be different for you and your child if you prioritised short periods of time to your child and the relationship you share. Questions to ponder pre-habit change may include – How would daily brief but potent interaction and attention with your children change the way he or she feels? How would setting aside purposeful time together, even for just 8 minutes, impact on the relationship? How would your sense of connection change? How do you feel when someone you care about gives you undivided and non-judgemental attention? What are some of the things you look for to feel truly seen and heard by others?
In a practical sense, you can set up some triggers to remind you to follow through on your new 8-minute habit. Place a number 8 sticker on your bedside light as a reminder to commit to time together or cut out a number 8 and stick it on your fridge. Be kind to yourself too. The Family Peace Foundation’s initiative is not prescriptive but an invitation to join the journey. Allow our initiative to serve as the catalyst to be more present and patient for short bursts of time with your children. This regular authentic contact is more powerful than any trip to Disneyland and costs nothing, not even a set of Mickey Mouse ears.
If you find the busyness of life creeping in, take a realistic audit of where your time goes. If you cannot find 8 minutes in your busy schedule to listen, share, play, touch, learn and be with each child, it may be worth re- visting the new habit rewards by asking a younger “authority” what they think of your time spent together. Your child’s delight at the way you light up in their presence will be reward enough to help garner long term change in the quest for increasing parental and family connection.