It's 7:00 p.m. at the end of another busy day. Between long hours at work, commuting time, shuttling your kids between activities, figuring out dinner, and helping with homework, you're one very tired parent. You know you need to spend some "quality time" with your children, but you can't imagine where you will find an extra hour in your day or how you will summon the energy to do so.
But what if you knew that carving out some time with your kids could actually boost their IQ by up to 20 percent? (1) And, that "quality time" isn't necessarily what society is trying to guilt you into thinking it is?
In today's busy world, it's easy for parents to feel overloaded with the responsibilities of work and parenting. As children get older and become more involved with activities and friends, you may find yourself scrambling to find any semblance of what you believe is "quality time" with your children. Yet, quality time doesn't have to be as planned out and stressful as you think, and the key for optimal health, growth, and even a potential big boost in your child's IQ is simply your involvement.
YOU ARE THE KEY
As parents, you are the number one most effective source of stress relief in your child's life, and that time spent together as a family has a profound impact on your child's academics. Since the 1980s, I've been studying the effects of parental involvement in school performance and children's stress levels, and my research shows that academic and social performance in 3-17 year olds skyrockets with just small increments of focused time with parents.
What does this mean? It means that you can relinquish the stress that you put upon yourself to turn every single moment with your child into a big "learning" experience production. What you teach your children by simply being with them -- being fully present in your time with them -- is a valuable lesson that keeps on giving. It means that if you find an opening in your busy afternoon and it's a beautiful day, take a walk around the block with your child. Sit on the couch together and read -- it doesn't have to be for a set amount of time or a certain amount of pages.
Now here is part that can be tricky for many parents today: the important thing is for you to keep your focus on your child and the single activity at hand. That means turning your phone off and keeping it off, not doing the bills while your child is coloring, and not watching television while your child is reading.
I know that finding time, even just a few minutes, is easier said than done for modern families. Balancing work, school, and extra curricular schedules is one set of challenges; creating mental space for a positive, un-stressful experience is another. As busy adults, we have two modes: fast and stop. If parents can hit stop and find just a few minutes to go slowly with their children during these learning windows, the benefits on learning are well worth it.
Over the next few posts, I will be discussing this issue more in-depth: the neuroscience behind the statistics, my research on reducing stress and improving academic performance, and tangible tips for all of you busy parents out there, including a free parenting tips workbook with downloadable activities that you can do with your children to help you redefine quality time and help you grow healthier, happier, and yes, even smarter, children.
1. The Handbook of Psychology, by Florence Goodenough