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Child Development

The Value of Spending One-On-One Time With Your Children

Forging quality time with each child

One-on-one time with your children — all of them — keeps your unique relationship with each one healthy and in tune. We become aware of this through the multitasking haze when it simply happens logistically, and then we say to ourselves, "Oh yeah, that is what he needs from me," or "Oh yeah, that is what she likes to do together. We need more of this."

Parenting more than one child at a time usually means we have to deal with issues using words fit for all ears — not just one pair at a time. And that gets tiring and boring. Using a homogenized approach that fits all our kids works about as well as the "one-size-fits-all" sweaters fit our bodies.

Here are some "whys" about the value of making quality time happen on purpose, not just by luck:

  • The small intimacies that are unique to the way you parent a particular child at a particular time of life — theirs and yours — are more likely to appear during one-on-one time: the nicknames, the caresses, the loving teasing that makes them feel treasured by you. These are far less likely to happen, and are harder to do and make feel real in a crowd.
  • Too often, we leave these one-on-ones until we need to repair emotional distance that has grown from some less-than-happy interchange. Leaving them solely for this purpose means you miss the chance to enjoy one-on-ones and employ them as preventive maintenance against that very trouble. It is money in the bank when your children trust that you have them in your heart and mind always, not just when they are in trouble.
  • These moments are so important that you and your spouse should help each other have them on a regular basis for the above reasons. Time alone with mom is just different from time alone with dad, and those differences reinforce the strengths that come from each other.
  • And remember, this one-on-one time need not be task-driven to be useful — often exactly the opposite. Time to "chill" is often better understood by our kids than it is by us, and they are often better at it. But you have to be there, with them, devices off, for unstructured one-on-one time to work its magic on both of you.

Dr. Kyle Pruett is a Clinical Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine and Educational Advisory Board member for The Goddard School, an early childhood education franchise and leading preschool teaching learning through play (

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