I've read some articles recently about some terrific parent/young person relationship building strategies.
They're really great ideas. They would definitely increase closeness and connection between young people and parents.
But they also take a whole lot of time, and money. (Think craft activities which involve copious amounts of paint and glue. Shopping expeditions with teens. Overnight camping trips. Rock climbing adventures.) For busy parents, guilt arises - "when are we going to fit that in?"
It's definitely true that sometimes as parents, we need to put the rest of our lives aside and spend good, long amounts of time with our kids and teens. Parenting can't be shoved in between work,housework and social engagements.
But wouldn't it be nice if there were also ways we could connect with our kids - that were just really fast?
Actually, I think there are. Try these five.
1. Use car time
Most parents spend time ferrying kids around. This car time can be great quality time - if used well. Have a rule which says "no headphones, reading or phone use in the car". Or if it's too late for that and you have older kids, say "no headphones, reading or phone use for the front seat passenger". Make car time - conversation time. Teach kids and teens to ask you questions. You ask them questions (not just about school). Tell them about your day. Let them choose the music. Use that dead time to try to connect, where you can.
2. Use email/texts/notes to communicate during the school day
Some parents have a few minutes during the day, or at least a few more minutes than they have during the crazy morning routine/tea/homework times of the day. Unfortunately at this point, kids and teens are at school and we can't talk to them.
But we can still send a message. For older kids and teens - we can send a text or email. Depending on school rules, they might not be able to respond or even see it until after school - but if we do it during the day at least it's done. For kids without technology we can write a quick note for them to find under pillow, or ready for the next days' lunch box.
Send or write "I'm proud of you ...I love you.... or well done on..... or hope you are coping with..." messages when you have a minute during the day.
3. Use chore time
Many of us have endless amounts of cleaning up, washing and cooking to do at home. Sometimes it's hard to connect with young people during our chore time as they are either off during their own thing, or we are busy concentrating on what we have to do.
But if we can a) convince young people to hang out with us a bit during this time, and b) find a low concentration way of doing this - then chore time can be a valuable way of connecting.
One way of doing this is through music, or video. We can ask young people to bring their device to us, and get them to play us something while we are cooking, cleaning or putting washing away. We can ask them about it, laugh about it together and at least find out about what they are listening to.
4. Use eating time
We have to eat. Kids have to eat. If we can do it together, quality time can occur.
It's not easy to do this - for many families dinner time is the most stressful bit of the day - especially if we get ourselves hung up on how much kids eat (never a good idea by the way).
But if we can relax about this, and realise the more important aspect of eating together is not nutrition but connection - then it can work well.
(Some families are too big to have good connection over dinner, in which case they divide and conquer - Mum/daughter eating times can happen once a week for example where a couple of people take their dinner to the outside table or somewhere else).
5. Use homework time
Some parents are having to spend hours each week with a child helping them with homework. This is not generally quality connection time: both child and parent are doing something they don't particularly want to do. Unfortunately, much of the time, this has to happen.
But sometimes, maybe just once a week or so - skip homework and play a boardgame. Or watch a TED talk together. Or you read a book they like. Okay, they might not go so well on their spelling test that week, but they will have been exposed to a different kind of learning. And more importantly you will have had an opportunity to connect with them.
Parenting doesn't always require marathon clay making sessions. As with lots of things in life, sometimes a little bit often trumps extended time less often.