Julie Morgenstern, a professional organizer and time management coach, heard a recurring ask from the parents she worked with around the world: How to carve out quality time with their kids and for themselves.
So she took her expertise and doubled down to answer a question in her sixth book — Time to Parent: How much time do kids really need to feel loved and secure? Here’s what she found:
According to Morgenstern, kids thrive on short bursts of truly undivided attention delivered consistently. Yes, this means device free! Specifically, short bursts can be 5, 10, 15 — 20 minutes max at a time, largely because they have short attention spans. Morgenstern suggests calculating about a minute for each year of age of the child.
Burst time is all about the kid, she says. Conducted at eye level, at their height, it’s about “entering their world” and not teaching or disciplining, just connecting, and folded into the fabric of their day. It’s not about adding time, it’s about changing the nature of the time you’re spending with them.
Can dinner conversation be considered a burst? Yes! Morgenstern says there are five key anchors of transition in a child’s day to use as burst opportunities: 1) Wake up, 2) Separate (work, school, etc.), 3) Reuniting, 4) Dinner and 5) Bedtime. “If you take these anchor points and focus on those for your bursts, kids are truly satisfied.”
The good news is bursts can be conducted while traveling for work, too, thanks to Facetime and all the various communication tools. And if you work from home or are on a break for caregiving, you can alleviate the stress of feeling like you need to be on all day — bursts can work for you as well. In these cases Morgenstern also offers a strategy of together but apart time. “You’re doing this while I’m doing that,” such as cooking dinner or answering light email — work that is interrupt-able and not a massive client presentation — where you’re available to listen to a story or help with a problem.
In addition to identifying when to foster short bursts consistently throughout the day, Morgenstern suggests making very mindful transitions before them so you can truly be present. “Before you cross any threshold, set your intention for the other side of that door. Returning from work? I’m going to let my kids and spouse know how happy I am to see them. Don’t be finishing your email or taking that last call. Waking them up in the morning? I’m going to wake them up with a hug and a how did they sleep.” Commit to being here now.
Morgenstern said she spent many years feeling so guilty about being away all day, like so many working moms and parents do. But she says this framework should not only help free you of that guilt, your kids will feel fulfilled. “They just don’t want you to love your work more than you love them.”
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