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David Willans of BeingDads shares his top tips for creating a connection with your kids when time is limited as many working dads return to work
Just before lockdown began I spent a week away in a big house with four other families. There was 10 adults, 12 kids under 11. It was amazing, something we’ve been doing once a week for eight years, so the kids have grown up together.
It works because all the parents have a very similar way of parenting and values set. Being on the same page means you can be a united team. When there’s 10 of you and the kids are comfortable with any adult, a wonderful dynamic happens. You spend time with other children, the same age as your own. You see them interact en masse. The kids learn so much, parents get space and time, and to learn from each other. I hope it’s something adults and children will be able to do again safely soon.
But when you spend time with lots of other people, you spend less with your children. There’s only 24 hours in the day. Maths.
You’ve less time to create a sense of connection with your child.
As many working dads return to work away from home or return from furlough but work from home that’s a skill more and more of us are going to need. The kids are on school holidays, they still need to know you’re there for them, particularly if you’ve been around more for the last few months.
Here’s a list of the tactics I use. They all follow the same pattern, you getting out of your own head through an interaction with them that’s at the least engaging for both of you, and ideally fun.
When there’s lots going on slowing down to connect with your child takes an effort and your mind is always trying to jump ahead, because we’re both going at different paces. One way to calm your monkey mind is to set a time limit for your undivided attention, say 10 minutes. Your aim is to you think about nothing else but what they’re saying. To keep the conversation going and let them talk and talk. That’s it. You will get that mental itch to finish their sentences when they’re struggling to find a word, or rambling on before getting to the point. Don’t. This time is here for them to use, not for you to manage.
Fairly fast ones. Here’s a bunch of our favourites:
Rock, paper, scissors. Surprisingly good for teaching strategic thinking, but remember it’s really about connection first, so don’t turn into that dad who always makes everything a lesson. It’s also fun to make up your own nonsense version with the kids – pancake, shark, crocodile, whatever.
Connect 4. Childhood classic.
Uno. Never gets old.
Jungle Speed. A faster paced, more exciting game of snap.
Jenga. But be warned a tumble of blocks might mean tears.
Mastermind is good for older kids (8+).
Mancala is one of the world’s oldest games, dating back to the Egyptians. Good for 6/7+.
You don’t need to spend money to create a connection, just have a scrap of paper and a pen or pencil. Here are some good games we like playing:
Dots and boxes. Dead easy to play, and you can make the ‘board’ any shape or size.
Noughts and crosses. You know this one, right?
Consequences. The game where you fold two pieces of paper in thirds and take it in turns to draw the top, middle and bottom of a character and then see what you’ve created.
Of course the best type of connection comes from spending a long time together. People sort of relax into each other when this happens. They fit better. None of the above is a substitute for that, or a way you can cram more into your limited hours. These things don’t make up for long periods of time together with your children, but they do keep the connection alive in between.