Take back family timeIs life getting in the way of life with your kids? It doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s how to manage the load and seize the moments.
Think back to the last chunk of together time you carved out for family. Thinking... thinking...hmmm, can you even remember? If you can’t, you’re in good—and big—company. A full 96 percent of parents say they’d love to have even one more hour a week with their kids, according to a recent survey by Disney. What’s more, moms and dads say that to get it they’d be willing to give up sleeping late, a favorite hobby or TV show, the internet—even coffee.
We could all use more free family time. indeed, experts suggest that while quality time is great, the amount of time matters, too. “The myth of quality time assumes your child is on the same clock as you, that when you finish whatever else you’re doing and are ready to engage with him, he’ll be ready to engage with you, without any resentment,” says Ronald Levant, EdD, professor of psychology at the university of Akron and past president of the American Psychological Association. “But that’s often not the case. If you can carve out extra, unstructured time, you let him know you enjoy being with him. Plus, he may even use some of that time to talk to you.”
And yet we all know that real life can get real busy. To help, we’ve homed in on five biggest working-family time sappers and found ways to manage them—to gain more time for the ones you love most.
Time Sapper No. 1: Technology
American kids spend about eight hours a day with media—TV, computers, smart- phones, iPods, video games—about 10 times more than they do with their parents, according to the nonprofit Global Children’s Fund. And parents are perpetrators, too. “It’s unrealistic to expect people to unplug completely, but anyone who has spent a day away from electronics knows how good it feels,” says pediatrician Gwenn O’Keeffe, MD, author of CyberSafe: Protecting and Empowering Kids in the Digital World of Texting, Gaming, and Social Media. “The downside of tech is we’re not interacting as much with the real world. We can’t go back to a Norman Rockwellian existence, but we can manage the electronics in our lives to find a balance.” How?
Video: Parents, kids and TV viewing
Set uninterruptible time. When your kids are young, bathtime and bedtime may be when you unplug and focus exclusively on them. As they get older, family meals should be uninterruptible “time when kids regroup and families rebond,” says Dr. O’Keeffe. Out to dinner with older kids? Play the phone-stacking game: All family members stack their phones on the table, and anyone who grabs a phone during dinner pays the bill (for parents) or does chores (for kids).
Adjust your settings. Do you need to be alerted in the middle of a conversation with your child that your Cousin Zelda has updated her Facebook page? Minimize distractions like this by silencing your phone during family times, unsubscribing from unnecessary email lists and opting out of social media notifications. Have your kids do the same.
Limit screen time. A whopping 90 percent of parents report that their toddlers watch some form of electronic media, according to research by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). By age 3, almost one third of kids have a TV in their bedroom. And studies show that under-5s who watch TV spend less time in creative play and interacting with family members.
Top tips from the AAP: no TV for kids 2 and younger, and no TVs in kids’ rooms.
Marry screen time and green time. The average American kid barely gets seven daily minutes outdoors in unstructured play, though studies show that outdoor play relaxes both kids and parents and may enhance children’s social interactions, intellect and physical health. If gadgets are more enticing than greenery, the National Wildlife Federation suggests grabbing a smartphone or tablet for some family “geocaching ”: On a nature hike or scavenger hunt, have your kids snap pictures of what they see and then look up info about it. Find more family outdoor activities at nwf.org/ activity-finder.aspx.
Let tech bring you closer. “If my kids get a good grade, they’ll text me a picture of it,” says Dr. O’Keeffe. “If they have something big going on at school, I’ll text them an emoticon to root them on. Texting shouldn’t replace face-to-face time, but it can let your kids know you’re thinking of them while you work.”
Time Sapper No. 2: 24/7 Work Hours
Take an 8-plus-hour workday, plus an average commute of 25 minutes, then add in the fact that most of us add another 4 to 10 more hours working at home each week, and you already have one jam-packed day. But this isn’t about feeling guilty; it’s about getting proactive.
Take 10. Once at home, counter workplace stress by taking a moment to decompress. “Even 10 minutes to change clothes, meditate, exercise or whatever helps,” says Dr. Levant. “Then transition into some time with your kids, and you’ll be more able to engage fully.”
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