How Much Quality Time Should Parents Spend With Kids? The Answer Might Shock You

April 9, 2015  |  

A few years ago you were sitting on a plane as this woman interacted with her 18 month-old baby. From the time the plane took off until it landed, 4 hours later, this woman performed magic tricks, played peek-a-boo, read stories, sung and danced. You name it, she did it like she was on steroids. When the plane landed you and the baby were exhausted and ready for a nap. Was her intention to get the child sleepy or was her idea of proper engagement spending every waking moment entertaining her child?

To some it might seem silly, but the truth is a lot of moms, yourself included, have bought into this idea that we must spend loads of time, 24 hours a day would be ideal, engaging our kids. Anything short of that and we are failing at motherhood. But is this really the case?

Do kids need so much quality time?

According to a new study being published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, the amount of time parents spend engaging their kids has no impact on their academic achievement, emotional well-being and behavior. The study was conducted over a period of time on children ages 3 to 11.

“I could literally show you 20 charts, and 19 of them would show no relationship between the amount of parents’ time and children’s outcomes,” says Melissa Milkie, a sociologist at the University of Toronto and one of the study’s authors.

It’s interesting because the time parents spend with their kids has gone up considerably over the past 30 years as has the number of moms who work outside of the home. So moms are working and spending more time than ever with their kids. But at what cost?

“Mothers’ stress, especially when mothers are stressed because of the juggling with work and trying to find time with kids, may actually be affecting their kids poorly,” says co-author of the study, Kei Nomaguchi, a sociologist at Bowling Green State University.

Ideally, the study would give parents incentive to release some of the guilt we feel over the amount of time we spend with our kids.

Great! Now the question becomes how much time should we be spending? The study doesn’t say, but Dr. Kristin Carothers of the Child Mind Institute had this to say…

“There are a number of evidence based parenting programs which suggest strong support for daily quality or “special” time. In a widely researched model, Parent Child Interaction Therapy (Eyeberg, 2009), parents are prescribed to spend 5 minutes of special time per day with their child. This time is structured and involves using toys that are interesting for the child and are not rule bound. Parents are to choose 1 or 2 activities for the time and select a special area. During special time, parents avoid asking their children questions or making commands of them, and simply describe and reflect the activities and statements of their children while providing them with specific praise for their behaviors and ideas. Special time in this format has been linked to increases in self-esteem and decreases in defiant behaviors. By limiting special time to 5 minutes a day, parents will feel less overwhelmed and more confident in their ability to spend time with their children consistently, even if they are very busy.”

5 minutes a day?!

While some skeptics may say this number is preposterous, how could 5 minutes a day be enough? Well, think about it this way, a lot of us aren’t even doing that, others do that and beyond, but feel resentful, and still others give way more time, but since they don’t know that it’s enough, feel guilty. What a trap!

You don’t know about anyone else, but this mom right here is going to raise that daily number to ten minutes and then spend the rest of that time reading a book. It’s been years since you’ve picked up anything that didn’t have an animated picture in it.

Boy, how you love research studies!

Erickka Sy Savané is a freelance writer and creator of THE BREW, a social commentary blog. Before that she was a model/actress/MTV VJ. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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