“Quality time! We all talk about it. We all want it, both for our child and for ourselves. But do we really know what quality time is all about?”
– Magda Gerber, Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect
Recent studies have shown that parents are spending more time with their kids now than they did half a century ago—a lot more.
This is cause for celebration in my book, but I must admit that it leaves me with a bit of a nagging question.
What is that time really like?
If your family is anything like mine, it can be tough to make time together truly quality time. We struggle to get time with our ONE child in that doesn’t involve a few stolen minutes before bath/dinner/bedtime, or prying an hour loose between the stack of errands on the weekends. And we’re relatively well-resourced, healthy, and working to be as conscious as possible about how we parent—things that are certainly not all true for many families.
One of the gifts of respectful parenting approaches like Hand in Hand Parenting and the Educaring® Approach (often known as RIE®) is a clear, simple, and doable framework for building in truly meaningful time for connection in our families.
“Fully being with your child, wanting nothing, is quality time.”
–Magda Gerber and Allison Johnson, Your Self-Confident Baby
Infant specialist Magda Gerber, the founder of RIE®, called the time that we spend connecting with young children “Wants-Nothing Quality Time” (WNQT), meaning that it is time that we spend with our children just focusing on them, without any agenda—we want nothing from them during this time. This is in contrast to Wants-Something Quality Time, where we connect during caregiving activities, when we want or need to do something with our babies, like change a diaper or bathe them.
In truth, we DO want something very specific from and with our children during WNQT: connection. We want to infuse our child with our love and attention, and transmit safety, trust, and our love.
Hand in Hand Parenting calls this time Special Time, and the idea is simple: for a brief period of time, perhaps 15-20 minutes even, we drop everything—most importantly the phone!—and just focus on our child. The child leads the play, and we are the willing and eager participants.
Building Special or WNQT into a day with a child of almost any age can have powerful effects.
For a child who is generally humming along and suddenly gets off track with her behavior, it can help turn things around again.
For a child who is expected to do something difficult like sit through a long, boring dinner with a bunch of adults, it can build his capacity to make it through with fewer bumps.
For a child who is struggling mightily with sibling challenges, a big transition, or fears, it can lay the groundwork for guiding that child to a calmer, more relaxed and more cooperative space.
What This Kind of Quality Time Does for You
While the benefits of spending this kind of focused, quality time with our children might seem evident for the child, sometimes it can seem to us as parents like one more item on the to-do list.
If that’s true for you, I want to make a stronger case for trying it out.
Special time can benefit you as much as your child. Here’s what it offers, in addition to that lovely, nourishing feeling for your kid:
A doorway to his dreams, desires, capacities, and interests. How does she play? What makes him laugh? What is she really into right now? What does he work hard at mastering?
A window into her inner world. What does she share with you about what’s going on at school or even just in her mind when you drop everything and really listen?
Appreciation for your child. This kind of quality time has the ability to re-open our eyes to how tender, curious, focused, strong, and open-hearted our kids are. We sometimes forget.
A more confident child. Do you know what just 15 minutes of your undivided attention does for your kid? You’d be amazed. The messages you transmit during this time include “You matter to me.” “I’m listening to you.” “What you are interested in is interesting to me too.” “I want to have fun with you.” “You get to lead.” All of this builds your child’s self-confidence and self-worth.
A more independent child. Here’s one of my favorites and a sometimes-overlooked benefit of WNQT. Want more time to do what you need to do around the house? Give your child some special time first. Want her to play more on her own? Fill her cup with some focused time with you.
What Matters Most
One more note. Beyond bringing your true focus and attention to this unique quality time with your child, something else is very important.
In order for this time to offer your child and your family the rich benefits it can provide, you must enter it with a full and open heart. Don’t attempt it when you’re tired or depleted, unless you know you can rally easily.
Bring your love for your child, your own curiosity, and your up-for-anything spirit.
If there are tears at the end of your time with your child, bring your love and openness to those too. The warmth and attention you brought to your time with him has opened the door to release those feelings, and it will be healing for your child.
If you want to get started with WNQT, here’s how:
1. Pick a time, and let your child know that it’s time for Special Time (or Mama-and-Jasper time, or Daddy-and-Ava Time—whatever you want to call it).
2. If your child is over the age of one, set a timer. Let her know how much time you have, and that the timer will let you know when it’s done. This will help your child relax into the amount of time you have, and know when it’s done.
3. Let your child lead. If you have a young baby, letting him lead means just laying him down on a blanket, perhaps with a couple of simple play objects nearby, and sitting near yourself to watch. If your child is older, he gets to pick what you do, and lead all the play (as long as it isn’t painting an uncommissioned mural on the living room wall or leaping off the deck).
4. Leave time for feelings. If you have 30 minutes that day, set your timer for 20 in case your child has a hard time with your time together coming to an end. If that happens, hold space—and your child, if possible—as she cries about the end to your time. Keep listening, and offering your warmth—this is part of your special time together, too.
Hand in Hand Parenting: How Special Time Makes Children Content
Janet Lansbury: Your Presence is Enough