Monday, February 9, 2009

How to Get the Most out of Your Time with Your Kids

Not long ago, A fellow "Trying Man" confided that one of his greatest struggles is getting fully engaged with his children when he is home. This man is a professor, is very bright, and has a hard time disengaging his mind from the projects he has at the office. My response was "just do it." My, that is helpful isn't it?

This weekend I took my son for a trip on the brand new Light Rail in Phoenix. Until this escapade, he has regularly slobbered all over our automobile windows each time we passed by the train in its infancy. For months prior to the launch of the electric wonder, every pair of parallel lines painted on the road elicited wild screams of "LOOK! TRAIN TRACKS!"

My, what an experience - the ultimate sensory overload for a 4 year old and his father. The metal tube plummeting down the track merely served as an electron particle accelerator, of which all said particles energized the little nuclear reactor that runs his body. To say he was bouncing off the walls would be an understatement on par with saying Lance Armstrong is not very hairy.

But as the wheels whistled along I reflected on the tricks that help me get fully engaged and make the transition home. When not holding the handrail or my nose, I jotted a few thoughts down:
  • Begin by setting aside dedicated time to spend with your children. Jerry Jenkins, in his book Hedges, describes how he had no other agenda than connecting with his kids between the time he arrived home and their bedtime. During those hours, he did nothing for himself and just focused on them.
  • If you are able to establish a regular routine like Mr. Jenkins did, take it a step further by telling your children of your commitment. The accountability will do much to help you make the transition faster.
  • Eliminate the distractions that can occur during your time with your kids. Turn off your cell phone and let it roll to voice mail. If you answer the phone, you are telling the kids that the person who is calling is more important to you than they are. This may not always be practical, but let it become the norm. Also declare those hours to be a computer and TV free zone. Nothing will make your mind more scattered than trying to check a few emails while trying to get engaged. This will also give your kids good reasons to find ways to connect with you. This practice is similar to focusing on one task at a time - contrary to popular opinion, you cannot multi-task with children.
  • Build lots of time into your schedule to make transitions well. If you try to rush from one activity to another without LOTS of explaining, then you are setting yourself up for frustration. A child's mind does not work as fast as ours, nor can they read our minds.
  • Take your environment into account. We walked into a convenience store to get some snacks for our trip. I had my favorite cliff bar and sparkly water in seconds and was ready to go. But when you are 4 and look up at a WALL OF SNACKS twice your height, you need time to ponder and reflect. I was a fool to rush him. Would I want to be rushed in a bookstore?
  • Get down on their level and look in their eyes when talking to them. Much of my frustration with him is usually rooted in either him not hearing me, or me giving him a worthless response to try and stop the constant question asking. But God made his mind to ask, ask, ask, and learn, learn learn. Praise God for that, since I have often prayed he would be hungry to learn!
  • Pick activities that they like and learn with them.
  • Pick activities that you like and be very intentional to teach them.
  • Plan your weekend out in advance and build up excitement for the event. Most families let the weekend float up on them like an island of ocean trash, instead of making the most of the time they have. This often leads to frustration and boredom.

Remember, the cats in the cradle.* Time is running short. Make the most of every moment you have with your children. 2 turned into 4 entirely to fast here.

*(Yes, I know Harry Chapin did the original version, but this one is much cooler. I still cry every time I hear that song. For more tears, check out this pro-adoption version by rapper DMC.)

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