Today’s post was inspired by Polly at I was just thinking who asked how I managed to spend individual time with my children.
When I was halfway through my pregnancy with my fifth child, I was interviewed by Claire Halliday for an article in The Age on large families. When she asked what I found the hardest part of a large family, I included making sure I spend enough time with each child individually as probably my biggest challenge.
I do expect my kids to entertain themselves, but I also believe that my kids need regular time where my attention is fully focused on them. The more children I have had, the trickier this has become but there are some ways that I have found to make this a bit easier.
Scheduled Bed Times
My children’s ages range now from 1.5 to 11.5 years old, so we have different bed times for there ages:
- 11.5 year old – 8.30pm
- 9 year old 8.00pm
- 4 and 6 year old 7.30pm
- 1.5 year old 7.00pm
As the children go off to bed, it is easier to spend time individually with the remaining kids and it can be something as simple as reading their bedtime story with them on their own or having a chat.
Split Family Activities
We do many things all together as a family, but there are times when we have multiple commitments at the exactly the same time. This can often provide perfect opportunities for me to have individual time with one of my kids. It may be a party that one child has been invited to, while the other kids will go to the older boys Sunday football games with dad.
Schedule One On One Play Time
I most recently did this last week end and had such a great time. The title scheduling one on one time, can make it sound more like a chore, but honestly it was the most refreshing thing that I did last weekend. I have been using this system for a number of years now. I picked up this idea from the concept of “floor time” in the fantastic book Challenging Child by Stanley Greenspan M.D. You can read more about this in my post Planning Time To Stop And Play.
The way this works is that I allocate 20 minutes to each child, in which they can choose what they want to do and what they would like me to do in this play – it is completely child led. The children also have a choice if the other kids can play. Sometimes the activity they choose may naturally preclude the others from playing as it is only a two person game like chess or in an open activity like dress ups they may me happy for their siblings to play, but they still lead the direction of the play.
I actually set the timer on my phone and the children know that once the timer goes off, that is the end of the session. This really helps set expectations with the younger ones who would love me to continue playing all day. Sometimes they can still take it hard, when the time comes to an end, but it is important that they understand each child needs their turn.
Here is what the kids chose to do yesterday:
- 1.5 year old – Duplo. Well to be honest I chose this after following his lead.
- 4 year old – Dancing in dress ups. He was in his dog costume, I did my best to be a princess with an ill fitting pink cape and tiara. My 6 year old also joined in wearing a variety of costumes.
- 6 year old – Since making her first softie, she is quite keen on sewing at every possible chance! It was a bag this time that she wanted to make. I did explain to her that it was likely to take more than 20 minutes to do it and she was okay with that, knowing that for stages when she needed help, she would have to wait for me.
- 9 and 11.5 year old – They were second last and last in the allocation of their time and they had come up with the idea of playing a football (soccer) round robin tournament. The three of us played each other in five minute games and then there was a 15 minute final. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to the final, so I was the referee, scorer and commentator for that match!
There are times through out the week, when the toddler will be asleep and most of the kids will be playing happily or doing some activity together. I can then take advantage of this opportunity and spend some time chatting or playing with the individual child.
An example of this was on Saturday afternoon, while the older boys were enjoying listening to Collingwood beat St Kilda (a game of Australian Rules Football, the preschooler was playing Lego in his bedroom and the toddler was having an afternoon nap, my daughter helped me make dinner. This was of her own volition, she was chatting with me as I started and then she began helping and we chatted more as we made some homemade pies.
Or in the case of my early riser toddler, some mornings I will take advantage of everyone else being asleep and use that opportunity to follow his lead and play with him on his own.
While I wouldn’t spend 20 minute blocks of time with each child every day, but across the week, using the different activities and opportunities listed above I can achieve individual time with the kids. Like all things, there will be those weeks when the toddler is sick, or I have a number of external commitments and I don’t spend as much time as I would like in a one on one scenario. It is not possible for me to “catch” this up, but I just take the next week as a clean slate and try again!
How do you manage individual time with your children?
This post is part of a series where I answer questions from my readers. If you have a question that you would like me to answer, please feel free to leave it in the comments below. Other posts answering reader questions can be found clicking here: Reader Questions.