Unscheduled quality time

Everyday moments are often valued more by children than any elaborate, scheduled "quality family...
Everyday moments are often valued more by children than any elaborate, scheduled "quality family time". Photo: Getty Images
This week, parenting columnist revisits "quantity time".

It's easy to underestimate the importance of the amount of time parents spend with their youngsters.

Ian Munro
Ian Munro

The buzz words used to be "quality time", then "work/life balance". Both approaches often meant fitting your youngsters into a busy personal schedule along with a range of other tasks to be ticked off when completed to allow time for other, more important, "lifestyle choices".

Youngsters being "scheduled" are definitely being short-changed. They can't be scheduled. They do what they do when they do. They develop and learn erratically. This can't be treated like an appointment in a busy social or work diary.

I recently came across a 2007 UCLA study, which has brought me back to this topic. The authors reported that the quiet, in-between moments of family life did as much of the real work of family bonding as any fabricated "quality family time".

"Everyday activities [like household chores or running errands] may afford families quality moments, unplanned, unstructured instances of social interaction that serve the important relationship-building functions that parents seek from `quality time'."

The study's authors noted that children seemed to value those regular moments more than the elaborate, scheduled, "fun" occasions.

Having them around us in all sorts of situations at all sorts of times is when we get to know them best and to know what's going on inside their heads.

We can only set standards, work ethics and values by giving them time to see these things in us on a long-term, regular daily basis.

The interaction involved in the daily routines from getting up in the morning through to bed-time are significant in so many ways, while meal-times, in particular, provide a great chance to connect as a family.

These numerous "quality moments" provide many opportunities for us to interact with our youngsters and get to know them, and vice versa. This is when they really learn about life, and when we can contribute to shaping the adult we would want our child to be.

One reason often offered for the increase in anti-social behaviour and the suicide rate among young males is that our boys aren't getting sufficient adult male companionship and role-modelling. However, a 2015 research study published by the University of Toronto found that spending more time with Mum also lowered levels of delinquent behaviour.

This suggests, then, that genuine interactions with all the important people in their lives is what sets our youngsters up for adolescence and adulthood. We develop those vital family relationship bonds from which come the skills to handle themselves in other relationships and in society, and to deal with life's ups and downs.


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