Perfecting the work-life balance ratio can be a struggle for some parents as our lives are becoming increasingly busy: an ‘always on’ technology culture1, longer journeys to work or juggling work loads around family time.
Sometimes our busy schedules can make it difficult to organise family time. This time is important because it lays the foundations for how a child understands and relates to others - as well as being central to their psychological and social development3. In other words, the time spent with your child now may impact their behaviour and understanding later on in life.
We spoke to Hazel Guest, the Charity Manager for Good News Family Care, a previous Aviva Community Fund winner, about the importance of spending time with children. This charity offer support for families “through a wide range of initiatives and training projects, to motivate and empower people for real and lasting change” Guest explains. She went on to highlight that how we spend time with children has an impact “on a child’s emotional development, which includes improved mental health, and increased engagement in education.”
Become the master time-keeper
Quality family time, such as outdoor activities or playing board games together is great fun, but it can be difficult to make time around our busy lifestyles. This family time has many benefits, including positive impacts on “managing behaviour, development and increased resilience” explained Guest. These benefits also go beyond the family home; “the results can affect the wider society by reducing the risk of crime, increased opportunities for employment and increased community involvement.”
We worked with Guest to put together some handy tips for making the most of the time we spend with our children:
1 – Screen-free time
After a long day at work, many will head to the ‘time-out’ zone to relax and wind down. One way parents (and children) do this is by escaping to their hand-held devices. This can “result in us spending less quality time with each other, becoming isolated from each other - even whilst sitting in the same room!”
Our recent Health Check Report4 revealed that more than half (54%) of parents use screen time to motivate or reward their children, and two-thirds of parents don’t limit their child’s time spent on devices. On top of this, a staggering 42% said watching TV together is the most common way families spend time together.
Guest suggests trying to set aside some ‘screen-free time’ for both parents and children. Parents can use this time as an opportunity to listen to their children, about their “school life and anything that is worrying them, or is important to them.”
2 – Setting a routine
We know how crucial routine is for our children, so it’s important to stick to times for bed time, cleaning their teeth, doing homework or tidying away toys. By following a routine and structuring work and home life, children will have extra time to spend on activities they enjoy doing, excelling them later on in life5.
Children feel safer when they have regular routines that they can play or work within, and very young children thrive on frequent repetition of activities and doing the same things at the same time each day.
3 – Every little helps
When setting aside time, it doesn’t need to be for more than an hour every time – even snippets now and again are invaluable. Guest recommends looking for small slots of time, for example parents spending 10 minutes helping with homework while waiting for a meal to cook.
When spending time with our children, it’s sometimes easy to get interrupted and distracted by TV or our mobile phones. When parents find these snippets of time, they should try to keep phones out of sight, and TV sets off to maximize time spent with children. “A small investment of time on a regular basis can save a huge amount of time when trying to deal with the potential negative behaviour of a child, whose need for attention is unmet.”
4 – Give children more responsibility
Sometimes it’s the little things that can really help. Give children the opportunity to help out by getting them to talk about “homework that they need to do, what they need for school the next day, or the next week.” As part of their routine set in place, get them to tidy their own things up, or carry out “simple age-appropriate chores around the home, that help them to grow into taking responsibility.” Not only does the child develop different skills, but it also frees up time for parents.
Lastly, these small changes to day-to-day routines with children are crucial, as Guest explains: “The development of a positive parent to child relationship enables them to be better equipped, to build relationships with peers and other adults.” These small adjustments will have a significant impact on how a child's personality is shaped, and how well they’re equipped to take on the future.
Aviva Health Check Report Autumn 2016