One of my favourite childhood memories is washing my dad’s truck with him. Every week or two, we’d drive the fifteen minutes into town together, wash the winter dirt and road salt off his Chevy pickup, and drive home again. These one-on-one dates with my dad were simple, but they were time we had together to simply talk and hang out.
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Why Your Child Needs One-on-One Dates with You
One-on-one dates are a great way to build your relationship with your children, especially if you have a large family. A while ago, I realized how infrequently I spent time with each of my kids. Sure, we spent lots of time all together, but I rarely get to do something with just one child (with the exception of the baby!).
When I did get a chance to spend one-on-one time with one of my daughters, I was blown away by what I learned. Each of them expressed themselves in different ways when it was just me and her. I learned new things about my daughters when their sisters weren’t around to hear what they were saying, interrupt us, or add their own ideas.
Rachel from A Mother Far From Home notes that
you get to be best friends with someone by spending a lot of time together, and much of that time will be alone. It will be the same with your children. Group dynamics are different from one-on-one dynamics, and when you are alone with one child they will have your undivided attention. They’ll also share things with you they wouldn’t share in a group.
Each of our children is a unique individual, with his or her own interests, talents, and personality. Yet each of our children also has their place within the family, the role they play. Birth order, personalities, family dynamics and more affect how our children act and interact within the family. It’s important that we spend time with each of them to get to know who they really are.
Children crave our attention. We’ve all heard the phrase “attention-getting behavior.” Often, that behavior is negative. Our children have failed to gain our attention with positive actions, so they’ve turned to negative behavior. Mommy is too busy making dinner to look at the picture I coloured for her? I’ll colour on myself until she notices me…
Giving our children the one-on-one attention they seek can be a way to prevent this negative attention-seeking behavior. The child who feels emotionally connected to Mommy is less likely to act out and more likely to do what Mommy wants the first time she asks.
In Bringing Up Girls, Dr. James Dobson shares an entire chapter in which young women talk about their fathers. It was heart-breaking to read how many of the young women really wanted to spend more time with their dads, but felt ignored or overlooked by their fathers. Their comments as adults underscored how important it was for each of them to have time with their dad. One girl said,
Hearing these comments from the other girls makes me realize how blessed I am to have a father who spent time with me when I was growing up. … I’m the second of ten children, which is pretty much a recipe for having a dad who couldn’t give me special attention, and yet he spent a lot of time with us individually. He’d get up at five in the morning to take one of us out to breakfast for a couple of hours. He tried to do that with each child once a month. And then when I turned sixteen, he started taking me out to dinner instead.
Of course, both parents are important in a child’s life. Hopefully as parents, we can work together to ensure that our children get the attention they need from us. This might mean being creative, like the dad above, in finding time to do something one-on-one.
How to Spend One-on-One Time with Your Child
If you’re a busy mom with a big family, like me, the idea of one-on-one dates with your children can be daunting. When I first heard this idea, I loved it. I could easily see how it could make a difference in my relationship with my daughters. I also felt overwhelmed. How was I supposed to add this activity to our already busy schedules?
One-on-one dates with your child don’t always have to be huge, planned events. Like washing the car with my dad, one-on-one dates can be a simple part of your daily or weekly routine.
I wasn’t super fond of standing around the car wash, trying to stay out of the spray while plugging loonies into the box for my dad. I did like having him all to myself, instead of competing with my brothers for his attention.
My 6-year-old has also learned that when Daddy is running to the store for new light bulbs or something to fix the vehicles, she can tag along. Usually, Daddy will add a special stop for her on the way home. They might grab an ice cream cone or pop into a thrift store to pick out a “new” dress for her. It adds an extra ten minutes to an errand he already has to run, and makes Jade feel like a princess.
Last year, our ski passes provided fun, easy one-on-one dates. While the girls all enjoy skiing, they didn’t always want to head up to the hill at the same time. Sometimes, one would be gung-ho about skiing while the others were tired from a busy week or trying to finish a project. Driving to the ski hill and riding the chair lift with one child provided a lot of time to chat and hang out together.
My Kid-of-the-Day System
Another way that I worked one-on-one dates into our schedule was to implement a kid-of-the-day system. This chore system expanded the “kitchen days” we already had in place.
I assigned each child a specific day of the week. On this day, she had to unload the dishwasher and help set the table for supper, but she also got to suggest what we had for dinner and spend half an hour with Mommy (or Daddy).
I thought the girls would grumble about the chores, but they LOVED the new system! Each of them happily unloaded the dishwasher because they knew they’d be getting some time with Mommy or Daddy later. Putting the chores with some incentives in this way took away the grumbling on their part and the nagging on my part.
I tried to spend that half hour with them while the baby napped, as that’s usually “quiet time” around here and other siblings were busy with reading, colouring, or schoolwork. Because each of them was excited about their own mommy-me time, they respected their sister’s one-on-one dates.
I suggested a few activities we could do for our one-on-one dates, such as colouring and reading together (for the younger girls) or working on a digital photobook together (for the older girls). Sometimes, I let Sunshine (my oldest) stay up late to watch a movie or TV show with me or Daddy. (They like Survivor and Master Chef Junior but I’m not a fan of reality TV shows, so they watch while I’m out.)
More Ideas for One-on-One Dates with Your Child
If you’re looking for more ways to spend one-on-one time with your daughter, 88 Great Daddy-Daughter Dates: Fun, Easy and Creative Ways to Build Memories Together by Rob and Joanna Teigen is a great resource. The ideas in this book range from simple and inexpensive to fancy, once-a-year sort of activities.
You can even find kids’ books on this theme! Grab one of the following books for your preschool child and then do some of the activities in the book together:
- Spot Loves His Daddy (board book)
- Spot Loves His Mommy (board book)
- Just Me and My Mom (A Little Critter Book)
- Just Me and My Dad (Little Critter)
Some of the activities we’ve done for our one-on-one dates include:
- colouring together at a coffee shop or at home
- creating a digital photobook (at home)
- attending a local by-donation concert
- skiing together with our ski passes
- baking or cooking together (at home)
- playing badminton or tennis (outside or at the rec centre)
- getting hair cuts together
If you’ve started a mother-daughter journal, then one-on-one dates are a great way to continue the conversations started in the journal. Invite your daughter out for coffee or just for a walk or drive together.
What one-on-one dates have you planned with your child? How do you spend one-on-one time together?
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