by Dara Lovitz

For many parents, this time of year brings with it the stress of monitoring online sales, getting your shopping list ready for Cyber Monday, or – for those who like to do the shopping in-person – planning your various store excursions, which includes careful strategizing so you can find both deals and a good parking spot!

But maybe this year can be different. Maybe this year, take the focus off of the material gift – the shiny object that will excite your children for the first three days and then find a comfortable spot in the back of their closets where they collect dust. Perhaps this year, you give your children what they really want: you.

Take a day off of work to spend alone time with one child. Spend the day doing things your child likes: go to the arcade, take her to her favorite museum, do an art project with him, etc. Take one day off for each child you have; if you have four children, that’s four days off from work. I promise you it’s worth it.

And while it isn’t something you can put in a box surrounded by colorful wrapping paper, it is something your children want. For my book, Twinsight: A Guide to Raising Emotionally Healthy Twins, I interviewed twins and their non-twin siblings so that I could learn what they liked and didn’t like about growing up as a twin (or in a family with twins). When I asked my subjects what they wished their parents had done differently in raising them, one answer came up more than any other: they wished they had more one-on-one time with their parents. And it’s not just twins and their siblings who feel this way; most children want this.

In a mindful parenting course I attended, we were asked to reflect on our own childhoods and describe what we wished our parents had done better. One participant, who had eight siblings, said: “I would have liked it if my parents spent more time getting to know each of us individually, rather than just grouping us as ‘one of the kids.’” And how does a parent get to know a child individually? By taking him out of the group for alone time.

In Proverbs 22:6, we are told, “Train up a child in the way he should go,” which many Jewish scholars interpret as imploring parents to raise a child according to the unique characteristics and personality that the child presents. Parenting is not one-size-fits-all; we should raise each child based on his individual needs. The gift of focused, special time will help you better know who your child is so you can parent him according to his special needs.

When on your one-on-one date, truly spend the time with your child – don’t have your head in your smart phone. Ellen Galinsky, leading authority on work-family issues, conducted a study of more than one thousand children, ranging from ages eight to eighteen. What she found was that the quality of time with our children mattered greatly. What children really want from us is not necessarily more time with our bodies, but more time with our thoughts, our feelings, our humor, and our positivity. So for that one day you take off from work to be with your children: be present and BE WITH YOUR CHILDREN.

One-on-one with your child is a special gift that reaps such important benefits. Studies have shown that alone time with your child:

  • makes your child more receptive to accepting limits, following rules and taking responsibility;
  • helps your child become more empathic to others;
  • expands your understanding of who your child really is;
  • fosters safety and security, both within the parent-child relationship and within the family unit;
  • improves the health of the parent-child relationship.

So next time you’re at your computer (now, for instance!), log out of that online store and open up your work calendar; mark some days off so you can spend quality one-on-one time with your children. It’s an investment you won’t regret. After all, positive experiences and memories never collect dust on a closet floor.

Dara is the mother of 6-year old twin daughters, works for a legal non-profit organization in Philadelphia, runs an all-volunteer vegan advocacy group, and enjoys writing books. Her most recent works includeTwinsight: A Guide to Raising Emotionally Healthy Twins and Catching Falling Cradles: A Gentle Approach to Classic Rhymes.