Simple Ways to Spend One-On-One Time with Young Children

posted by Andrea | 02/14/2018
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A few weeks ago, I shared that one of the hardest parts of adjusting to life with 4 young children (and having an infant in the house again) isΒ feeling like I have zero one-on-one time with the older kids.

Several of you left so many great comments with ideas of super simple ways to give children some individual love and attention — and interestingly enough, I realized I was actually doing lots of these ideas already!

Score!

I guess I’ve always thought that in order to get quality one-on-one time with a child, you had to make a big deal out of it, actually GO somewhere, spend money, have it planed in advance, etc. etc.

But after reading so many of your wonderful suggestions, I realized that Dave and I get tons of one-on-one time even though we almost never GO anywhere or do anything big and fancy. We just like being home together, watching TV together, having a special snack, ordering takeout, folding laundry, etc.

I started thinking about different things and activities I already do with my kids on a daily and weekly basis, and while there is always room for improvement, I realized I actually do get little pockets of one-on-one time with each child on a weekly (sometimes even daily) basis.

So, as we celebrate Valentine’s Day today, I thought it might be nice to share some super simple, frugal, easy, non-stressful ways you can show a little extra love to the little (or not so little) kiddos in your life!

  1. Go for a walk or bike ride with just them.
  2. Play in a separate part of the house or yard with just them, while the other kids play somewhere else.
  3. Cook or bake with them as your special helper while other children watch a show or play a game in another room.
  4. Let them stay up 30 minutes later then other siblings (or get up 30 minutes earlier if they are morning people) to read or play a game together.
  5. Do a craft with them first (as a trial run) and then bring the other kids in to do the craft with everyone.
  6. Take one child with you to run errands while other stay home with a spouse, friend, neighbor, etc.
  7. Let one child be the ‘special child’ for the day — they get to pick the meals, the snacks, the games, the books, the shows, what they play, for the whole day (or just the morning).
  8. Have a special snack with one child on the front porch while the others have a “normal” snack inside.
  9. Pick one child up from school while the others ride the bus home (and then do something fun at home with the one child you picked up)
  10. Read books in a child’s bed together while the other kids play somewhere else.
  11. Watch a movie on the couch with blankets and pillows while younger children nap or while older children are at school.
  12. Let them help you wrap gifts for an upcoming party or holiday celebration.
  13. Go for a drive with them — maybe stop for ice cream or a fun treat.
  14. Let one child help you with simple household chores or gardening tasks (watering plants is always a fun one for us!)
  15. Wash the car together (or go through a carwash).
  16. Deliver a meal or goodies to a friend or family member with just one child, then stay and visit for a few minutes (my kids always feel really grown up when they help with this).
  17. Go through their clothing together to see what fits and what you might need to buy for them. Then go shopping together another time to buy those needed items.

I’m sure I could list 200 more ideas, but I’ll stop here for now.

That said, feel free to share any of your simple ideas for one-on-one time in the comments below!

 

A Few Notes…

1. It will be helpful to know your child’s love language.

It can be difficult to know your child’s love language (and their love languages can change over time) but if you have a good idea of what their love language it, it will be SO much easier to get the most “bang for your buck” when you spend one-on-one time with your individual children.

For example, Nora’s love languages are Physical Touch and Quality Time (the 2 hardest ones for me to show). So I have to work really hard to make these a priority for her — even though she’s getting so big, I’ll let her sit on my lap while she reads a book to me — she always thinks it’s hilarious when I let her sit on my lap. And she LOVES being the “only one” to come with me to run errands because that’s quality time together — even better if we hold hands while walking through the store πŸ™‚

Simon, on the other hand, is definitely Words of Affirmation — so we play games and he helps me bake, and I tell him over and over how good he’s doing and how much of a helper he is. If I don’t tell him often enough, he just asks, “Mom, aren’t I doing such a good job with this? Mom, aren’t I such a good helper? Mom, aren’t you so glad I’m helping you today? Mom, aren’t I getting good at this game?”

I’m not sure what James’ love language is — but he is quite possibly the happiest little boy I’ve ever met, so it’s very easy to enjoy any amount of one-on-one time we have together!

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2. A little bit of time can make a big difference.Β 

If you were like me and assumed your one-on-one time had to be a grand gesture, please think again. I’ve realized that sometimes it’s the littlest, simplest things that make my kids the happiest.

Yes, you might see the pictures your friends post about taking their 3 year olds out for “coffee” or getting pedicures with their 5 year olds, but that definitely isn’t a requirement of one-on-one time with your kids.

Even 5 extra minutes spent with each child before bed, telling them a story or listening to THEM tell you a story is fantastic.

Don’t get too worked up about making your one-on-one time super special and memorable… just do anything and your child will most likely enjoy it (especially if they are younger).

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3. IΒ only have experience with young children… your situation might be different than mine!Β Β 

Obviously, if your children are older, you won’t necessarily need to find someone or something to watch or occupy the other children. However, in my case, I usually need to come up with a way to keep at least 2 of the kids occupied while Clara naps and I get a little one-on-one time with the 4th child.

Sometimes this is as easy as turning a show on or sending everyone upstairs to play with Dave while I’m on the main floor with the other child. Other times, this is more of a challenge (which is why I don’t get a ton of one-on-one time right now).

If your children are older, you might also need to work around school schedules and extra curricular — and while I don’t necessarily advocate for letting your child skip school, I do have a friend with older kids who lets her kids each take 1 morning off of school every semester and they can choose whatever they want to do (within reason) for the morning. She makes sure they don’t have tests or other pressing reasons to be at school, but that’s one way she gets several hours of super fun, quality time with each of her children.

You know your kids, your family, your schedule, etc. so while my ideas might not work for you, I do think they can be adapted for older kids… and at the very least, I hope they will help you think of several simple ideas you could use for one-on-one time with your kids!

 

4. One-on-one time is NOT the most important thing in a child’s life.

Honestly, if you’re busy caring for a newborn or a sick loved one, if you’re smack in the middle of a busy season at work, or if you are simply being pulled in too many directions at once to make time for one more thing… I promise you, it will be OK.

I realize this basically contradicts everything I just wrote in today’s post, but I’m confident your children will not have horrible memories of their childhoods simply because you weren’t able to carve out a few minutes of one-on-one time with them every day or every week.

Life will go on, you will eventually (hopefully) reach a point in your life when you have a little more breathing room and a few extra discretionary minutes to spare. The idea of spending one-on-one time with your children will probably seem less overwhelming and more fun once your own schedule calms down a bit.

In the mean time, give yourself some grace, tell them that you love them, and don’t stress about whether each child got exactly 8.2 minutes of individual time with you today!Β 

The fact that you are even slightly concerned about finding time for one-on-one time probably means you’re doing a great job parenting your kiddos.

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What are your favorite simple ways to get one-on-one time with your kids?

Filed under: FamilyParentingChildren

 
 

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20 comments

  1. Amie

    02/19/2018

    We have 3 children and the one-on-one focus just happened by accident for us. We have always done those simple, little things – like a bike ride or a trip to the store. What I wanted to throw in – when the kids are small – gift giving is easy – toys and clothes! As they became tweens – it wasn’t so easy…and that’s where the intentional one-on-one gifts have developed. For Christmas and special gift times – we often give an “experience” gift with one of us – instead of a physical gift. That helps with not receiving unwanted stuff or clutter AND allows for a one-on-one experience! This is especially important for my husband because he travels for work a lot and allows him to make a special date with each child! Examples from this Christmas – my husband took one child to a Lakers basketball game, he took the middle child fishing, and he took the third child skiing. Those were “daddy&child experience” gifts that gave one-on-one time and a special experience for them. I highly recommend this as your children get older! (They don’t miss the little junk gifts either!)

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, I love experience gift ideas and will be implementing many once our kids are just a little bit older. Right now, they love opening thrift store toys and games, so I just keep up with regular purging!

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  2. Michelle O.

    02/18/2018

    We have four children ages 16, 14, 9, and 7. A few years ago I felt like my husband and I just weren’t spending alone time with each child. We homeschool and my husband is military (gone a lot). So I came up with a plan that made alone time guaranteed: The year has 12 months, 12 divided by 4 kids is 3, so I divided the year into thirds. Each child spends alone time with each parent once a month. For example: Jan, Mom & 16yr old; Feb, Mom & 14yr old; Mar, Mom & 9yr old; Apr, Mom & 7 yr old AND Jan, Dad & 7 yr old; Feb, Dad & 9 yr old; Mar, Dad & 14 yr old; Apr, Dad & 16 yr old. We do this 3 times a year and it’s working really well for our family. Sometimes, it’s little things like a trip to the library, sometimes it’s bigger like a camping night away. Each child knows that this is when they have undivided attention from Mom or Dad with no interruptions πŸ™‚

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    Andrea Reply:

    this is a great idea — something to tuck away when my kids are a bit older πŸ™‚

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  3. Debbie

    02/15/2018

    It’s great how you noted that knowing their love language would be helpful. It’s amazing how I forgot that when it comes to so many of my relationships with family. I’m not exactly sure how to find out what everyone’s love language is other than asking, that is if they even know.. Your last picture with the kids is so striking! Simon looks especially different on that one and so handsome! πŸ™‚

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, Simon actually smiled nicely for that last picture πŸ™‚ He’s such a goon and always making silly faces and half smiles for so many of our pictures!

    Also, yes, it’s rather difficult to figure out love languages for others — but once you do, it certainly helps!

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  4. JJ

    02/15/2018

    We only have 3 small kids, but we each tuck them in individually. When I was a kid, this was my favorite way to spend alone time with my mom. I wasn’t interrupted by others, and I could tell her personal things I didn’t want others to hear/know. My mom even tucked me in until I went to college. I loved it! My kids each have their own routine with my husband and me. My daughter loves what she calls interviews. I ask her about her favorites(princess, show, friend, color, etc). One of my favorite one on one time activities is board games. It builds their confidence without competition from siblings. And my 4 year old daughter legit beats me in Memory/Match games. My oldest son loves for me to simply read to him and cuddle like your Norah. And my youngest likes to run errands. I LOVED running errands with my dad. Our car time was the best. I am a talker, so I enjoyed having him to myself. Haha! You are right about knowing the love languages–with all relationships! It makes a huge difference!!!! You are the best momma for your Littles!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    This is great!
    All 3 of our older kids actually share a bedroom right now (long story, but one I’ll be sharing in a couple weeks!) so the bedtime process is done all together. And… Nora can almost always beat me at memory games! It’s crazy!

    [Reply]

    JJ Reply:

    Looking forward to your post!!! We will be switching their bedrooms this summer and painting. I know I will be referencing your blog!!! We also got the toilet seats you recommended and love them!!! Your practicality and tips are so helpful!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    oh good — glad you like the toilet seats! SO many people have told me they purchased those seats — even Dave’s parents bought them!
    And yes, the bedroom thing… I was sort of annoyed when they all wanted to share (after I just made all their individual rooms cute this summer) but they love sleeping in the same room and I figure it will only last a year or so before Nora wants to be by herself πŸ™‚

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  5. Carrie

    02/14/2018

    Great article! My boys are older and I miss the one on one time with them. I made cookies today that I feel would be a great project for one on one time. They were cut out sugar cookies with a marble glaze. The glaze is a simple mix of confectioners sugar, light corn syrup, milk, vanilla extract and almond extract with food coloring. As I was making them I thought about how much fun it would have been to do with my sons. They would have loved picking out the colors and dipping the cookies in the glaze. My 19 year old son said that he thought it looked like fun….maybe next time he will make them with me. I guess one on one time is appreciated even when they are older.

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  6. Becky

    02/14/2018

    My four daughters are grown, but when they were little I grocery shopped at Meijer early on Saturday mornings (l-o-n-g before Amazon or Grove or Shipt). I took one daughter with me each week. She got to wake up early with just me, pick out a donut to eat while we shopped, and pick something from the checkout to bring home to her sisters. Sometimes we were back home before anyone else was up, and then she got bonus snuggle time! Since I worked full time outside our home, it was a treat for both of us.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    this is a fun idea! I might have to try it once the kids are a bit older (I don’t want to wake them up early just yet πŸ™‚

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Becky, I just want to let you know that Nora and I went grocery shopping at 6am this morning and then brought donuts back to everyone for breakfast… it was so fun and the store was practically empty!

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  7. Marie

    02/14/2018

    My hubby & I were just talking about this 2 nights ago. I noticed I spend a lot of time with them, but I felt like it was usually by “helping” me clean….put away laundry, doing dishes, washing windows. While that is fine, I don’t want them to grow up thinking they have to “DO” something to get the quality time.

    The more I thought about it we DO have a lot of time together, but it just doesn’t seem so significant to me. Before every nap we read books in bed & snuggle every night in bed & talk about the day. Maybe only 5 minutes or so, but it is Their 1-on-1 time they can count on every day. We talk during meals & I TRY to sit down with them, especially the little 2 for lunch. We talk every bath time, or while they are getting dressed. I try to only watch movies in the car if we are traveling, (“Movies are for when we pack & are going somewhere”) so we do a LOT of talking or games, or singing in the car. These might not seem big, but all add up I’m sure.

    I read somewhere a family who makes their childs birthday date their special day each month. (born on the 12th, the 12th of every month is YOUR day) I think they did kid dates every month, but we have too many kids to swing that, but if I remember I try to let that kid pick the dinner menu, or stay up a few extra minutes, pick our movie…kind of fun!

    I’m sure were doing more for our kids than we recognize & should probably not be so hard on ourselves. πŸ™‚

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    oh I love the idea of doing a special day for each child every month (although not sure it’s realistic with 4 kids!) Today would be James’ day since it’s the 14th πŸ™‚

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  8. Nancy

    02/14/2018

    This is a lovely post. Your description of Simon really resonates. I have the sweetest memories of my little guy saying β€œAre you happy of me, Mom?” I always said yes, never corrected his grammar, and hoped he would never stop saying that. Alas.

    As for quality time, one of my earliest memories is of baking and eating pie with my mom. I’m the fourth of five children and I’m sure the reason that memory stands out is because it was time spent alone with her. <3

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes! I never correct them when they say cute things like that — they always learn the “right” way eventually!

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  9. Alissa

    02/14/2018

    I thought there would be so many comments on this post and I am the first one πŸ™‚ I LOVE this post (especially that you added in point #4). I only have one little guy right now and I stay home with him so we get tons of one-on-one time together. I will definitely try to tuck some of these ideas away for the future along with your approach of “good enough” and all things in moderation for the times I don’t get one on one time with my kids.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Exactly — even if you have more children and find one-on-one time a challenge, I’m sure your children will still know you love them and care about them!

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