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10 Tools for Parenting Happy, Healthy Children

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Forget Quality Time

Here's a lesson I learned for myself quite unexpectedly. When my second child was born, my oldest was two. My new baby was big and hungry, and for the first few weeks I spent most of the time with him, breastfeeding him. I could read to the older one while I was doing this, but, of course, two-year-old boys prefer running around, and I couldn't very easily follow him around the house, fetch him drinks, bathe him, pick him up when he fell over, push him around on his tricycle, and play on the floor with him while I was breastfeeding. Of course, I could have done it if I'd had to—plenty of mothers manage—but I was lucky and I didn't have to because my husband had taken a month off work.

I missed spending as much time as usual with my two-year-old, so my husband and I decided that for an hour each after-noon he would mind the baby during nap time and I would have an hour of "quality time" with the older one. I'd spend an hour playing out in the garden, or doing jigsaw puzzles, or messing about with play dough. But something wasn't right. My two-year-old just wasn't comfortable, though I couldn't quite put my finger on it. There was something stilted and unnatural between us. The system just didn't work.

Then one day the baby barely slept until early evening. So by the time I got my hour off, it was time to feed the older one and put him to bed. That's what I did. It seemed a shame, because I had to be quite tough with him—he could be quite tricky about mealtimes and he hated ever getting out of the bath—and I didn't want to have to get firm when I had only a short time with him. But the extraordinary thing was that I got a completely different response from him. Suddenly he was responding normally with me, and seemed far happier and more relaxed (except about getting out of the bath, obviously).

From that day we switched the system, and we made sure that although my time with him was limited, I used it for the routine things, not "special" activities. In other words, we stopped doing "quality time" and started doing real time instead.

Next: Make Sure You See the Forest and the Trees

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From Nobody Told Me That! 10 Tools for Parenting Healthy, Happy Children Copyright © 2009, FT Press. Used by permission of FT Press, and Pearson Education. All rights reserved.

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