As a busy mom, it’s hard to give your kids as much undivided attention as you’d like. But there are a lot of little things you can do to engage more with your kids throughout the day. I’m not talking about big gestures or planned outings, although those are awesome. I’m talking about quick and easy things you can do on a daily basis to interact with your kids more. Things that don’t take a lot of effort, but have a big effect over time.
13 quick and easy ways to engage with your kids throughout the day:
Look them in the eye.
This isn’t always possible. Often our kids are prattling on and on about something while we’re driving, cooking, or doing any number of important tasks. That’s fine, but a couple times a day, try to just look at them. Actually put down the book, the whisk, or the phone, and just look them in the eye while they’re talking. You’ll see them in a new light, and they’ll feel heard.
Kids, especially little kids, think things are funny that really aren’t. Like, at all. My least favorites are fart jokes, puns that aren’t really puns and knock knock jokes that don’t follow the typical format. But when your kid tells you a stupid joke that doesn’t make sense or shows you a YouTube video that’s totally unfunny, you pretend it’s funny and you give them a little courtesy laugh. Possibly try to see why they think it’s funny. When they get older, their jokes will get funnier and will involve less fart-related humor (hopefully). But at least in the meantime you’re connecting with them on their level.
Do them a favor.
Even if you’re pretty strict with your older kids and encourage them to be independent, you can do them an occasional favor. You may not typically bring forgotten items to school, your kids might pack their own lunches, and they may have chores to do around the house. But they love it when you do something extra for them every once in awhile. I know, I know, you already gave birth to them. Not to mention, your entire life revolves around cooking and cleaning for them and chauffeuring them around. But when you’re trying to teach them independence and responsibility, a little unexpected favor can really make their day. You can bring them something they forgot, do a chore for them when they’re having a busy day, or make them breakfast that’s something other than cold cereal (maybe you already do that, but I sure don’t). It makes them feel good when they get a little extra help and understanding.
Take one kid with you on an errand.
An easy way to do an impromptu “date” with your kid is to take one of them out alone with you when you run an errand. It gives them time to talk to you without all the other kids around to compete for talking time. It feels special, especially when you throw in a cheap treat to make it more fun.
Tell them you love them.
Even if they’re in a mood where they roll their eyes at you, or at an age when they don’t say it back, just say it anyway. As often as you can.
My toddler still lets me cuddle him occasionally and my tweens still need a hug on a bad day sometimes. But my teenagers usually aren’t up for a hug. OK, they actually despise hugs. You don’t want to invade your kids’ personal space when they don’t like it, so touch them in other ways. Give them a high five when they’ve done a good job or a pat on the back when you walk by. It’ll make them feel connected without feeling smothered.
As often as you can remember, try to give your kids a compliment. It can be as simple as saying they did a good job on their chores, that they are funny, or that something they did was nice. Just give them little compliments here and there.
My husband rarely rides his motorcycle, but when he does, he’ll sometimes take a kid along with him. Occasionally, I’ll turn the tables on the kids and it will be me who’s showing them a funny YouTube video or telling them a joke. Invite a kid to sit by you. When you want to watch a show or play a game, ask a kid or two to enjoy it with you. Sometimes it gets so tiring trying to engage with kids on their level that you need to do something you actually like. Pick an activity to do together and invite them to do what you want to do.
Ask them questions.
And yes, asking them how their day was and getting no response DOES count. At least they know you are interested in case they ever want to start talking.
Ask them follow up questions.
Ask specifics about their day, like who they played with at recess or what they didn’t like about school. If they are telling you a story and you have no idea what the heck they are even talking about, ask them. Ask them to explain the rules of the game they mentioned, or ask them who that friend is that they played with.
My teenage son was going on and on about football and kept mentioning a “pick six” as if I knew what that was. Usually I just nod and say, “uh huh.” but this time I could tell he wanted me to understand what he was saying so I could respond to it. So I asked him what a “pick six” was. After teasing me for not knowing already, he explained it, and I finally knew what he was talking about. It made the conversation much more interesting for me.
Have an inside joke.
After the “pick six” incident, I thought it would be hilarious if I started using that phrase in the wrong context throughout my daily life. I told my son this, and while he usually thinks I’m extremely unfunny, this time he went with it and we spent the car ride thinking of ways to put “pick six” in a sentence. Like, “That’s SO pick six,” “You’re the picksixiest of all the picksixers,” and “You picksixed that so well.” We brought it up again later that day and had another good laugh.
Let them tell their pointless stories and stupid jokes. Let them show you their weird tricks and tell you interesting facts. It may not actually be that interesting to you, but it’s important to them. Just let them talk.
Let them choose.
I’m usually the one deciding what’s for dinner, but it’s nice for the kids to be able to make the choices and have input when it’s feasible. You’ll be able to get to know what things they like and they’ll feel helpful and important.
You don’t have to do every one of these things every single day. If you’re like me, most days it’s a struggle to make it to bedtime in one piece, let alone engage meaningfully with the kids. Try a couple of these ideas. See what works for you and what your kids respond to. You might be surprised at how many ways you can sneak some interaction into your family’s busy life. And it may not even take that much effort. Unless it involves too many fart jokes.
Hi, I’m Crystal Hill and I’ve been a mom by profession for the past 17 years. My qualifications are: raising 5 kids and having a degree in Marriage, Family and Human Development (yes, that’s a real degree) from BYU. I’m particularly experienced in the areas of carpooling and diaper changing. My hobbies include watching crime dramas and absurd comedies when I have the time, reading when I have the attention span, and running when I’m not too fat. I’m also really good at oversharing and cracking myself up, usually at the same time.You can find me at Simplify Mommyhood, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram. See all of Crystal’s posts here.