If you’ve been home for most of this last year, you may have spent more time with your child(ren) than you ever imagined you would, but you’ve likely done a lot more multitasking too. It can feel like your attention is constantly being diverted.
It’s important to take a little time each day to slow down and focus on connecting with your little one. Here are some easy ways to do just that. Most all of these ideas can fit right into your normal day — and if some of them feel outside of your comfort zone, know that they’ll start to feel easier if you do them once or twice. No matter how you choose to connect, the important part is engaging with your little one in a way that’s positive, patient, and supportive. You might just find that connecting in this way is as good for you as it is for your them.
1. Engage in some open-ended play
Ask your little one, “What would you like to play?” and go from there. Be a helper and play along, but let them take the lead.
2. Ask them for help, and then actually let them contribute
Give your child some food prep they can handle — tearing up greens or stirring ingredients together. Or let them use the dustpan and brush on their own, even if they miss a few spots. Bigger kids can take on bigger tasks. Kids of all ages need practice to learn how to do household tasks and will develop confidence as they do so — they’ll be proud to see that they’re really helping.
3. Draw, color, or paint together
No matter your child’s age, it’s great to get creative together. Ask your little one questions about what they drew to start a conversation. Talk to them about what you created. Then ask where you should both hang up your artwork.
4. Read — and talk about the story as you go
Ask your child questions about the story, what they see in the pictures, and what they’re thinking. What a funny bear! Do you see any other animals in the forest? What season do you think it is? How would you feel if you were that bear? Do funny voices if you’re game. At the end, ask them about their favorite part. If your child is older, take turns reading longer books together.
5. Let them play stylist
If your child doesn’t usually choose their own outfit, ask them to choose what they’d like to wear, top to bottom. You can even ask your kiddo to help choose your outfit for the day or style your hair for some extra excitement.
6. Tell them a story about when you were little
Chances are, there will be some fun questions that follow.
7. Have them tell you a story
If your little one is old enough to do so, you’re in for a real treat. Write it down, record it for posterity, or just enjoy the moment.
8. Enjoy music together
Dance to your child’s favorite song. Or create some silly choreography. Play them your favorite album and tell them why you love it. Or play instruments together, even if your drum set is wooden spoons on pots.
9. Make a normal activity extra fun with some pretend play mixed in
A great example of this is playing barber shop or beauty salon, both of which fall into the “two birds, one stone” camp of activities. If your little one hasn’t wanted to sit still to have their nails trimmed or their hair brushed or styled, throw in some pretend play, and it can suddenly be exciting. Even if pretend play is new to you or you occasionally drop out of character, your child will likely be delighted to have you play along. You can even paint your little one’s nails or do an extra special hairstyle if you’re feeling ambitious.
10. Share gratitude
It can be hard for a very young child to answer the question “What are you grateful for?” but that doesn’t mean you can’t explore this idea with them. At dinner or bedtime, ask your little one what their favorite part of the day was, what was something fun that they did, or what made them laugh — often it will be something they did with you — and then you can share too.
11. Maybe go all out, once in a while
Even though this sort of play doesn’t necessarily fall into the “easy” category for everyone, it can be a fun, exciting way to connect every once in a while. Turn your couch into a ship and pretend to be pirates. Help your teen make some very elaborately decorated cupcakes. Pull out recycling materials to help your toddler construct a cardboard box rocket ship. The next time your little one wants to use an oversized box to make a princess castle, this sort of play might come a little easier. But remember that it’s less important what you play and more important how you spend time together — lead with love and you can’t go wrong.