Parents secretly nurse a guilt that they spend too less time with their kids than required. This parental dilemma is not restricted to working parents only. Even stay-home mums constantly question themselves if they are giving their child enough attention that is needed after managing everything on the home front. But is this guilt worth it? Do babies or even young children need all your attention every moment of their lives? Here we try to get some definite answers to these guilt-ridden questions.
How much time does your child need from you?
There is no definitive answer to this question as one can never associate the time with a specific number of hours. ‘One should keep in mind that children below four years of age need their parents or at least the mother or a primary caregiver around them for most part of the day and night. As the child grows he might need his parents less, however this depends on a child’s emotional needs to feel secure and safe. No two children are alike and so their needs will largely be different,’ advises Dr Pavan Sonar, consultant psychiatrist, Riddhivinayak Hospital, Mumbai. Ideally parents have to gauge the needs of their children carefully and make sure that either one of them is there with the child when he needs emotional support or some morale boosting.
How do parents realise that their kids need more time with them?
This is tricky but not a difficult one especially for parents. This comes from experience and is an intrinsic quality of being a parent. ‘Parents are the best people to judge their children’s temperament and gauge their needs. However, this can only be possible if the parent has spent quality time with the kid during the first formative four years,’ explains Dr Sonar. Here are a few signs that might indicate that your child needs a little more attention from you.
Failing health: No one can take care of your child as you can and your little one knows it.
Irritable and aggressive: If your otherwise playful infant shows signs of irritability and gets aggressive out of the blue, this is a mode of communication that babies and toddlers resort to. They might suffer from separation anxiety more and become very clingy.
Loss of appetite and sleep: These symptoms might not always signal a physiological problem but can stem from a psychological need.
In the case of a young adult the signs can be a bit different:
• Failing health and school grades
• Lack of sleep
• Loss of friends
• Lack of interest in activities
• Doing drugs or picking up vices
• Showing unexpected behaviour
These are few of the signs that might indicate that your child needs some more time and attention from you. ‘Parents should understand that a child’s need extends beyond the basic food, clothes, comfort and sleep. They have psychological needs too, which can only be compensated by spending enough time with them,’ explains Dr Sonar.
How can parents ensure a balance between spending quality time and ensuring private space to their children?
Even though children need attention and time from parents, they do not need it every minute and second of their life. Parents should be able to understand when to spend time or interfere in their children’s life and when to leave them on their own. Here is how you can do the same:
Give your child enough space: As your child grows he will need more autonomy and privacy from you. Don’t panic or go overboard with rules at this time. Instead, ensure that you give your child enough privacy to explore and learn about the world by his own. However, always keep your communication open with your child and take an active interest in his hobbies and friends. Always ask open-ended questions to your child especially if in teens to get an idea about what is going on in his life. If you had been a doting parent, you would be able to recognise half-hearted replies and lies.
Make special talk-time for your child: Whether you are a stay at home mum or a working mother, make sure you spend some time of the day with your child on a regular basis. Even if it is just a 15-minute stroll after dinner. ‘To ensure more quality time makes sure that you go on a vacation with your child at least once a year. Try to spend more time during the weekends and take up an activity together which you both enjoy the most,’ advises Dr Sonar.
Be judgmental with time: Remember even though children need your time, don’t go overboard or limit your time spent with them. Too much togetherness can make a child excessively attached to you which could in turn make one unable to work or think independently. ‘Rather than making the bond strong it would make him escapist. On the other hand, lack of time can make a kid anxious, sad, lonely, insecure and clingy. Parents need to draw the line to understand about time needed to spend with their children and time they need to stay away from them. A balance is always derived on the basis of one’s age and developmental milestones,’ says Dr Sonar.