The Secret to Quality Time with Your Child? Let Them Lead the Way
Genuine and joyful family connections click when children are able to share their interests and “call the shots.” Here, learn how to make the most of child-led time, and how to gently encourage your child, tween, or teen to want to spend time with you. Leave with ideas for ADHD-friendly things to do with kids of all ages.
You know those magical family bonding experiences where lifelong connections are made or strengthened? They do exist, but like the endangered Red Wolf or the Vaquita, they are rare and precious and difficult to find. There are busy schedules to navigate and less-than-enthused family members (read: tweens and teens) to convince and appease. And then there is the inescapable truth that many family gatherings, when they happen, quickly devolve into chaos.
If you’re struggling to carve out quality time with your child or teen, consider taking a step back and following their lead for a change. When your child is empowered and encouraged to decide how to spend time with you – and it doesn’t have to be much to make an impact – it becomes so much easier to find those joyful, genuine connections.
Things to Do with Kids: The Basics of Child- or Teen-Led Time
The rules of child- or teen-led time are simple:
- The parent (or caregiver) decides on the time frame.
- The child decides on the activity.
I recommend consciously and consistently setting aside 15 to 30 minutes a day to engage in child- or teen-led time. You can find these moments in the in-betweens – before preparing dinner, prior to heading out to the gym, or after getting home from work. Ultimately, choose a frame of time that regularly works for you and meets your child’s needs. Not all children need the same amount of intimacy to thrive and feel connected.
Be fully present when you spend time with your child. That means putting away phones, giving your child your full attention, and pushing pause on daily obligations. (To-dos will always be there, anyway.)
No matter the activity or length of time, child-led time should not have a goal or an agenda. Avoid using these moments to teach or to discipline. Remember that it is not your time to be in control.
Things to Do with Kids: Elementary Years
Though the goal is child-led time, you may still be the one proposing joint activities. Draw inspiration from this short list with input from your child.
- If you have a LEGO fanatic, why not build LEGOs, watch LEGO videos, or have a LEGO-building contest using random pieces?
- Play your child’s favorite board game or start on a puzzle together.
- Get creative with sidewalk chalk — make your own hopscotch and take turns drawing out each square.
- Try a new recipe. Get a kids’ cookbook and work your way through it, taking note of the date you tried a recipe and what you and your child thought about the dish.
- Grab a coloring book, one for yourself and your child, and fill in a page at a time.
Things to Do with Kids: Tween Years
Shift the ball to your tween’s court by encouraging them to suggest activities. Tweens have a budding sense of who they are and where their interests lay, and that will show up in their suggestions. Some ideas to nudge your tween along:
- Ask them to show you a funny or interesting video they like on YouTube, TikTok, or another platform.
- Film a funny TikTok together or ask them about the latest dance challenge.
- Play a quick game of basketball or any other sport your tween is interested in. (They may just want you to watch them play, and that’s OK, too!)
- Sign up to volunteer for a cause about which your child cares passionately, be it caring for animals or keeping local parks clean.
- Go down a rabbit hole! See where your tween’s current obsession — be it fashion, film, or lizards — takes you.
Things to Do with Kids: The Teen Years
- Plan a weekend getaway – or a fantasy vacation.
- Choose a show to binge watch.
- Take a walk or a short drive together. (It may open the floor to deeper conversations.)
- Make a copycat version of your teen’s favorite restaurant dish.
- Learn how to play their favorite video game.
- If they follow a team or play a sport, ask them to show you their favorite play from a recent game.
What if My Teen Doesn’t Want to Do Anything with Me?
It’s normal and healthy for teens to seek out more time with friends and less time with family members. Don’t let it dissuade you from trying to connect with your teen. Persistence will pay off. Other tips include:
- Give your teen a sense of control and predictability over your time together. Say something like, “I have half a day next Saturday. Is there anything you’d like to do together?”
- Ask your teen for advice on a real problem you’re facing, or about a challenge at work. It’s a gesture that shows how much you respect your child’s thoughts and value what they have to say.
- Start small. Connection can come from the simplest moments, like a short conversation in the car or a quick hang out in their room. Over time, these moments will close the distance between you and your child.
Giving your child the reins may feel unnatural at first (and not just for you). But the more you hang out with your child and lead with their interests, the easier it’ll be to settle into a rhythm.
Things to Do with Kids: Next Steps
- Read: “Would You Rather” Questions for Kids with ADHD (and More Inspired Conversation Starters)
- Free Download: 13 Parenting Strategies for Kids with ADHD
- Read: How Many Times a Day Do You Tell Your Child “No”?
The content for this article was derived, in part, from the ADDitude ADHD Experts webinar titled, Bonding Activities: Effective, Practical Relationship-Building Ideas for ADHD Families [Video Replay & Podcast #387] with Norrine Russell, Ph.D., which was broadcast live on February 10, 2022.
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