When It Comes to Family Time, What Matters More: Quality or Quantity?

posted: 05/05/15
by: Blythe Copeland
quality time
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It's OK if you have to multi-task during the day -- just aim to unplug a few times a week to maximize quality time.

Great news for any parent who's ever felt guilty about working long hours, traveling without the kids, or adding a daily yoga class to an already hectic schedule: A recent study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that that it's not the quantity of time but the quality that affects kids as they grow up.

According to the Washington Post, the study looked at everything from a child's academic achievement to their emotional well-being and found that "the sheer amount of time parents spend with their kids between the ages of 3 and 11 has virtually no relationship to how children turn out, and a minimal effect on adolescents." In fact, the study showed that trying to force quality time when you're stressed actually has a negative effect on kids.

But that's not to say that spending time with your kids isn't important. For teens, though, spending time with mom or both parents--even just six hours a week--meant they were at a lower risk for drug and alcohol use or other "delinquent behavior." So what constitutes as "quality time"? That depends on you and your child -- it could be a bedtime sing-along or a chat on the way to school. If you need inspiration, try one of these suggestions for easy and fun activities you can all do together.

1. Eat dinner
Studies have shown that kids who sit down together with their families for dinner each night have lower rates of truancy, obesity, depression, and drug use. Taking just 30 minutes each night to touch base with each other and talk about your day can have lasting effects on your relationships.

2. Get outside
Work a regular trip to the Great Outdoors into your schedule, whether it's a short hike after soccer practice on Saturdays or an evening stroll on your local beach after work. Relocating your family to a place without distractions from televisions, texting, chores, and homework can inspire kids to be much chattier with you than they are at home. And while you know the benefits of exercise already, fresh air has its own do-gooding properties, too.

3. Tackle a project
Whether it's your endless to-do list of home improvements or a favorite hobby--sewing, painting, fixing up a vintage car, woodworking--let the kids join you. Little ones will be thrilled to spend the one-on-one time and learn a new skill from mom or dad, and as they grow up, you'll be able to bond over a shared activity. Start a patchwork quilt with your son or teach your daughter to build a birdhouse, and they'll learn essential life skills while the two of you get plenty of quality time together.

4. Set a date night
If busy schedules have everyone pulled in different directions most nights, then reserve one night every week (or every two weeks) for family date night. Take turns coming up with an idea--it can be something out of your usual routine, like a trip to the batting cages or the chip-and-putt course, or a simple night at home with takeout pizza, a movie, or board games. Then put it on the calendar and commit to it like you would any other activity (this means no working late or letting teens skip it to hang out with friends).

5. Learn something new
Taking on a new skill is hard if you have toddlers, but older kids, tweens, and teens can benefit from time spent learning a new talent. Make it something you can do as a team--build houses for a local nonprofit, sail, speak a second language, train for a bike race--and preferably something none of you have ever done. The idea is to learn together, seeing which talents come naturally to which family members and helping each other along the way.

6. Break the rules
Ice cream for dinner? Yes, please. Playing hooky for a day at the amusement park? Absolutely. Any time you break out of your routine--and, even better, bend some rules--you're setting yourself and your kids up for a moment they'll remember forever. Whether you let them stay up way past bedtime to watch shooting stars or skip Saturday chores for an afternoon at the movies, you're creating an opportunity for bonding that you might not have when you stick to your schedule.

7. Travel
Hitting the road together requires investing one big chunk of time, instead of a few hours throughout the week, but it can be a priceless way to recharge your family during an especially busy season. And sure, once-in-a-lifetime trips to Europe are great--but you don't have to come up with something extravagant to make it memorable. Look for a beach house or mountain cabin you can visit in the off-season, when prices are lower. Drive the six hours to Grandma's house instead of flying and fill your road trip time with music mixes, conversation starters ("What would you buy if you won the lottery?"), and snacks.

8. Play their games
Your kids have their whole own lives at school or daycare--and they're often willing to share their favorite parts with you if you show an interest. Build the block tower, push the baby doll around in a toy stroller, try a new video game, listen to the last album your teen downloaded, play a board game designed for 8-year-olds. Spend a little time each day or week letting them take the lead on whatever you're doing or talking about, and you may be surprised at how much you can learn about them.