Written by Lorraine Thomas, Parenting Expert.
I regularly deliver workshops for parents for companies, charities and schools. I think it is a real sign of the times that my most popular session in 2015 is ‘How To Spend Time With Your Child When You Have No Time’. It is an issue every mum and dad struggles with – whether they go out to work or stay at home. There always seems to be too much to do and never quite enough mum or dad to go round. It’s also an issue I work on myself on a daily basis.
You can’t create more time, but you can budget your time differently to do what you want to do. If you keep doing what you are doing, you will keep getting what you are getting.
We parents waste a lot of time feeling guilty and worrying when we could be using it in a much more positive way. At The Parent Coaching Academy, we conducted a survey of 300 parents and found that 8/10 parents say they ‘often’ feel guilty and 8/10 mums say they spend at least 2 hours a day worrying. It is absolutely natural and normal.
Time Stress = negative thoughts + no action
Time Creation = positive thoughts + action within your control
A good starting point will be to focus on the benefits of creating time with your family. How will it make you and them feel? What difference will it make to your lives?
You are your toddler’s most powerful role model. If you have a positive attitude to time and good life balance, your child will too. Tune into the language you use about time. Get into the habit of saying ‘We’ve got 30 minutes’ instead of ‘We’ve only got 30 minutes’. Say, ‘We want to be on time’ instead of ‘we don’t want to be late’. It is far less stressful for you and much more useful for them.
Make sure you are getting your 5-a-day – sleep, exercise, healthy diet, fun and love. If you are feeling energised and motivated, you are more likely to manage your time well. Remember that your child has a very different concept of time so when you want them to do something, step into their shoes and make sure you set realistic deadlines. Toddlers have sausages as fingers and Velcro is easier than a button – but still tricky to grapple with. Use giant egg timers (or the kitchen one) to show them time passing. Toddlers love a challenge so if you say get dressed before the sand runs out – they will usually try their hardest.
Believe you can take control of your time. Take a look at this checklist and put into practise at homeand work:
• Schedule time to plan your day
• Do … Dump or Delegate
• Set a time for a task and you will be more productive
• Avoid multi-tasking and focus on one activity at a time
• Pause before you say ‘yes’
• Transfer your ‘to do’ list to a daily diary
Live In The Moment. You can’t be 100% parent all of the time, but you can be 100% mum or dad some of the time and it is those times that are precious. One of the best ways to make sure you really are living in the moment, is to engage all of your senses and encourage your toddler to do the same. Prioritise your time and ‘love bomb’ your toddler with 1-1 fun time. It is great for both of you.
Aim for connection… Not perfection
• Get soaked in a water fight
• Make a huge pile of shoes and play Cinderella
• Jump over puddles together
• Play sardines
• Draw faces on the soles of feet
• Have a cuddle
Put boundaries around your screen time. In our PCA survey, 8/10 parents said they feel ‘frantic’ more than ‘fun’ when with their children and said that reducing their own screen time made a ‘significant’ impact on the quality of family life. Ring-fence special family time and your toddler will feel valued and secure. Switch off machines, practise leaving your phone unanswered, resist reading texts just because they arrive and block out social media distractions and remove instant messaging. You will then be free to really ‘tune in’ when your toddler is talking to you and find out what’s going on in their world. You may not be able to put them to bed or eat with them every day, but make the most of those times at least once a week.
Re-frame daily activities like cooking, shopping and housework. It may take a little more time and effort if your toddler is ‘helping’ you but it can also be lots of fun. Your little one will love cutting up bananas with a plastic knife and sorting the laundry if it means hanging out with you.
MOT your morning, evening and weekend schedules. Often family routines just evolve so spend a few minutes taking a look at them and see if you can tweak them to create more time.
Show and tell your toddler what you want them to do. You may feel you waste lots of time nagging your toddler and it can feel like that sometimes. We find saying negatives stressful and they can’t process them so get into the habit of explaining what you want them to do instead of don’t want them to do. So instead of saying ‘stop playing now’ say ‘it is time to have breakfast now’. Get into the habit of using ‘when’ and ‘then’ – when you have cleaned your teeth then we can have a cuddle and story. This is much more effective than threats and ultimatums.
Get support. Talk to colleagues, your partner, family and friends and ask them to help you. Be as specific and practical as you can. Teach your toddler that asking for help and support is a strength and a great life lesson.
Believe that you can do it and take a practical action within your control. If I were to ask you to rate your life balance on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being lots of changes you want to make and 10/10 being perfect (I have never met a 10/10 parent!) – how would you rate yourself? Now take a look at these 10 practical actions and choose one of them to focus on over the next 7 days to help you move from a 2 to a 2.5 or a 6 to a 6.5.
1. Love bomb your child with fun 1-1 time
2. Focus on time with instead of time away from
3. Show and tell your toddler what you want them to do
4. Use positive language about time
5. Set boundaries around your screen time
6. Create ‘me’ time and re-charge your batteries
7. Be 100% mum or dad and engage all your senses
8. Re-frame daily activities like cleaning and cooking and share them with your toddler
9. MOT your morning, evening or weekend schedule to make sure you are making best use of your time
10. Get support
And remember – the time that it is most important to love your toddler… Is when they make it the toughest for you to do so!
Lorraine Thomas is on the Toddle About Panel of Experts. She is the Chief Executive of The Parent Coaching Academy and author of ‘Brilliantly Behaved Toddler’. She runs workshops for working parents with clients including Marks & Spencer, Morgan Stanley, Novartis and Barclays. She is used as a parenting expert by Tesco.