AS research shows spending more time with their busy parents would make children happier, the parenting charity Family Lives suggests how to maximise quality time with your family
Most parents would like their children to behave differently sometimes, perhaps by being less naughty, doing homework without being nagged, or not fighting with their siblings.
But yearning for a change in behaviour is a two-way street - many children would love their parents to act differently too.
New research has found there are lots of ways children would like their parents to change, with the number one alteration being that they want them to come home earlier from work.
Somewhat touchingly, the research by IKEA, which asked kids what their parents could do differently to make them happier, found that all the top changes involve spending more time with them.
“Children don’t mind what it is they’re doing, as long as they’ve got their parents’ full attention,” says Sandra Hiller, regional manager of the parenting charity Family Lives.
TOP 10 CHANGES FOR PARENTS
• Come home earlier from work
• Go outdoors together
• Join in with playing with toys
• Play a video game together
• Play a board game as a family
• Find time to read together
• Get cooking and bake together
• Help with homework
• Watch TV at the same time
• Set time aside to talk
The survey found a third of children believe their parents are on mobile phones too much, while nearly half (48 per cent) of adults feel they don’t have enough time to play with their children
Hiller says that much of the problem stems from the pressure of finding the correct work/life balance.
“Parents say juggling work and family life is always an issue, especially when they work full-time. They find the parenting aspect of their life is compromised because of work issues, and often they spend a lot of time on the phone trying to organise their daily life.
“We don’t want to blame parents and make them feel guilty, but to try to find a way for them to manage both without putting stress on their parenting as well as their work.”
And while Hiller acknowledges that not all parents’ phone time is spent organising things and there’s also time for social media and other mobile entertainment as well, she stresses: “Sometimes a parent’s stress levels can be so high that using the mobile is a distraction from the reality of trying to juggle work and children. It’s a way of getting away from it all.”
She points out, however, that she’s seen families in restaurants who are all on their mobile phones, and often parents and children will text each other in the same house.
“If the children see that as normal behaviour, they’ll continue to do it. It’s important that parents don’t use the phone as a way of communicating with their kids when they can do it face-to-face.”
She suggests that perhaps for at least an hour every evening all phones - including the parents’ - should be put away, and the family should talk to each other. Indeed, the research found that 74 per cent of parents would like to introduce a time at home when mobile phones aren’t used.
The research also found that more than half of children believe they’re seen but not heard at home, and Hiller says this shows that old-fashioned values are clearly at play in many households.
“What children feel, want and need is very important,” she says, “and for children to thrive, parents should listen to them - and children should listen to their parents.”
Hiller suggests it’s also a good idea for parents to identify a time when they’re likely to be able to give the kids their full attention, and do their best to make the children their priority during that time, however brief it is.
“We often say to parents that it’s quality not quantity,” she explains.
“They’re often really tired, but if they can just ring-fence a time when the child knows their parent will give them their full attention, that’s much more valuable than just trying to snatch a minute or two here or there.
“It’s so important to have that quality time with your child each day. Take stock of how you’re balancing your work and home life, and although it’s difficult, try to ensure that you’re fulfilling everyone’s needs, including your own.”
• The IKEA research is accompanied by a series of Teddy Talks video guides featuring children talking to their teddies as part of IKEA’s Soft Toys for Education campaign to help raise money for Save the Children and UNICEF education programmes. To watch the videos, visit tiny.cc/TeddyTalks. For help and advice on family issues, contact the Family Lives helpline on 0808 800 2222, or visit www.familylives.org.uk. The helpline is under threat of closure, and texting CHAT25 to 70070 to make a £1 or more donation could help keep it open.