What matters is not the quantity but the quality of time we devoted to our children

Educationists say that over 60% of a child’s grooming and personality building happens at home. Parents say it is the school, which influences character building. While the debate goes on, millions of children go through their lives crossing thresholds of infancy, childhood and adolescence, taking parental non-indulgence (note we are not saying indifference) for granted.

It’s Quality that Matters

It’s Quality that Matters [Illustration by Shinod AP]

No one can deny that it is best for a child to spend formative years in parental care. Even after that, the home continues to be one of the major influences in a child’s life. Yet, parents spent less and less time with their children as they get older and busier. However, what is important is not how much time but the quality of time devoted to their children.

Fortunately, an increasing number of parents now recognise how important it is to devote time to their children especially during their impressionable years. But though the intentions are good, most parents misinterpret what it means to pay attention to the child, often assuming that if they fulfil the educational and nutritional needs of their children they are doing their very best. Over and above that, if they can buy them those extras or simply lavish money on them, they feel their children cannot ask for more!

Such an attitude altogether misses the point. What children need is not indulgence but for their parents to spent quality time with them. Mrs Jhamb, mother of Moon Moon Jhamb says, “I spend nearly two to three hours with Moon Moon everyday and get her to finish her homework. She is only in class four but I make sure she studies every day.”

The fact that more and more mothers are almost proud that they manage to cope with their children’s studies or that more and more parents send them to as many tutions as possible is the result of a general fear of competition in the big bad world where marks or degrees can make or mar their children’s future. But perhaps the most overlooked aspects in a child’s upbringing are those that produce the least evident results (even though they are far-reaching and long lasting) — creating an attitude towards learning, instilling a feeling of well being and the notion of feeling wanted.

The kind of time parents spend with their children influences the general behaviour/interest patterns and sometimes even the level of awareness and confidence in a child. It is not something that shows up in grades in schools or in the examinations the child may take. But it has its own peculiar ways of surfacing in a child’s personality.

Take the case of two pairs of siblings: Neha and Kunal and Sameera and Arjun are two pairs, each pair being 10 and seven. Both pairs share very similar educational and financial backgrounds. They belong to well-educated parents acutely concerned with the upbringing of their children. The children attend good public schools. And yet the difference between the two pairs shows.

Here’s a true incident to illustrate this point. The two families decide to go out for a picnic. That itself is unusual because parents seldom take children on picnics! During that drive, Kunal asks his mother why some tall buildings have circular tops. His mother is busy talking to his father but even so, she turns to tell Kunal that they are water tanks.

Kunal isn’t satisfied and still wants to know why. The mother is angry at being interrupted again and tells him not to ask stupid questions. Disappointed, Kunal picks up one of the cassettes lying next to the car stereo and tries to open it. By the end of the ride Kunal has broken the cassette, has had a fight with his sister and has been scolded by both his parents. Ironically enough, Kunal’s mother still feels she did answer his questions.

In the other car, Arjun asks the same question of his mother. She too does not like being interrupted. So she asks Arjun to wait if he wants his question answered, finishes the conversation with her husband and then explains why water tanks are tall and what the systems of water supply are.

Arjun then picks up the audio cassette. His father asks him what he wants with the tape and Arjun demands to know what’s inside. Father explains, but Arjun still wants to open it and see for himself. So the father tells him that the tape is secured by screws and needs a screwdriver and promises to explore with him once they get home. Odd as it may seem, Arjun’s parents have not treated their son as their topmost priority but they have taken few moments off whatever they were doing to give the child their full and undivided attention.

One may argue that other parents may not know the details of the water supply system like Arjun’s mother did!

But it is all right to let the child know that you do not know all the answers and all the answers can be found in other ways _ asking the school teacher \ reading a book or even getting back to the child after finding out for yourself. All the child wants to know is that they have the parent’s attention and their interests are important to you.

Mr and Mrs Sehgal are high profile corporate bigwigs with two children. Both have commitments to their own careers but they also feel strongly about providing their children the best. Says Mrs Sehgal, “I get the best encyclopedias and all the educational games available in the market for my children. I know neither my husband nor I can spend very much time with them but I do keep in touch with their teachers off and on. These are perils of wanting a good life!” Mrs Sehgal sighs.

When Nivedita Sehgal, who is 14, is asked how many of the wonderful books bought by her parents she has read, shrugs indifferently. She has not even looked at some of the books and she isn’t interested in encyclopedias. She gets excited about the books when she gets them and often fights with her younger brother who simply tears them, but finally the books end up just lying on the shelves in her room. An exciting world has been provided to Nivedita and Rahul but no one has taken a few moments to sow the seeds of exploration and the joy of finding new things.

Whether it is work pressure or a sense of inadequacy, most parents find some convincing reason for not spending enough time for their children. The flip side is that lot of parents think it is enough to simply be keep the children company.

Whatever the definition of quality time might be, it certainly isn’t the number of hours the parent spends with the child. Each family needs to balance time spent together with other pressures of everyday life. Arjun and Sameera’s parents managed to extract better quality driving to the picnic spot than Neha’s and Kunal’s parents. The bottom line thus is the time the child gets to interact exclusively with the parent, as a person, as a friend, as a guide, for a few seconds maybe or a few minutes. These are treasured for life. It is only in those moments that the child learns most about himself or herself and about the importance of interaction.

Otherwise no matter how much time a child spends with parent, if that time is not interactive, is bereft of sharing and is merely passive, the child feels neglected and finds other ways of release and expression.

This is not to say that school, tutions and homework or gifts of books, clothes and games are not important. The important point is that parents cannot at any point remove themselves from their children’s world. Their time and attention is of immense value to their children and even a joke shared together, a game of scrabble or a bed-time story can go a long way in building a stable foundation for a child’s future.

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