Whether our kids are in daycare, school, or with nannies, it is sometimes extremely hard to stay engaged with them throughout the work week. Work and life stressors make it difficult to always “be on” when interacting with our families. Phone conferences, meetings, piles of work, and emails sometime creep into our forethought while with our kids without us even realizing.
Before we know it, the evening has flown by, the kids are in bed, and we are crashing into our beds without really connecting through quality conversation and engagement. How can we, as working parents (and stay-at-home parents) maintain a career and healthy engagement and connection with our children without disrupting our routine and rearranging our lives?
How do we do this with realistic expectations? Here are a few easy and quick ideas to help you do just that and maintain quality conversations with your kids:
1. Avoid your cellphone (at times)
Cellphones and social media waste huge amounts of our time and attention. At times, a call cannot be avoided, but leaving the cellphone in the car or hidden during key moments of the day allows children to be heard and feel as a priority.
Cellphones often distract and disconnect us from the world around us. Simply putting them away opens ourselves up to the environment that our children spend the day in and to the people they spend the day with. This openness allows for fluid and common discussion.
For children unable to speak yet, these times are very useful in routine building. A goodbye routine helps children adjust to separation and calms down nerves. A routine for the evening helps create smoother transition to home and bedtime
2. Use pickup and drop-off times to get the lowdown
For children who are able to speak, these times are good to help get them prepared for the day or evening. Walking from the car to school or down the hall can be a great time to talk about the rules in school or what they learned throughout the day. Engaging with teachers and other families can also help build comfort and a sense of community.
3. Use your car rides
We spend a large portion of our time in the car; use it to your advantage! Playing simple games or singing along to the radio can help boost literacy and creativity in younger children and can create memories for older children.
Games like “I Spy” and “Find a Shape” will help reinforce lessons in school and help keep everyone from fighting (at least we hope!).
4. Ask follow-up questions
How many times have you asked your child what they did in school, only for them to answer with the dreaded “I don’t know?” Instead of asking a broad question like this, ask secondary questions with specifics.
Questions, such as “Who did you play with?” and “ Did you do some creative art or block building today?” open up children to more discussion and often jog memories. Follow-up questions help facilitate a natural conversation flow and dialogue which is often overlooked in a busy household.
Was there a point of the day that was particularly trying or frustrating at work or school for you or your kids? Was there a positive moment? Sitting calmly and quietly discussing different moments can help explain or reveal different feelings and thoughts. Reading books is also a great bedtime activity to foster closeness and reinforce literacy and language skills.
5. Use bedtime to debrief the day
Bedtime can be super hectic and frustrating. Trying to get everyone bathed, brushed, and changed for bed can be very daunting, but it does not have to be. It can also be a good time to debrief the day. Once the evening has quieted down, talk to your children about what happened throughout the day.
We all get caught up in life and work. Using these simple ideas will help a busy life and house stay close and connected!
Cassandra Moen was the Director of Operations at The Goddard School in Hastings-on-Hudson and has worked in Early Childhood Education for over 10 years.