How Much Time and Attention Do Kids Need to Feel Loved and Secure?

Julie Morgenstern has a burning question that is on the minds of many parents: How much time and attention do kids need to feel loved and secure? To find the answer, Julie spent 8 solid years researching the science of human development.  She talked to leading experts in nearly every discipline, including psychology, psychiatry, sociology, pediatrics, and education.  She also read dozens of books on what kids need, pored over thousands of pages of studies, and conducted focus groups and interviews with parents.

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The answer to the question of how much time and attention kids need to was hard to find, but she found it and wrote about it her new book, TIME TO PARENT: Organizing Your Life To Bring Out The Best In Your Child And You.

Julie's found that:

  • Children thrive on small bursts of time (5-15 minutes) delivered consistently, more than large chunks of time delivered erratically. Undivided attention means not half-distracted looking at your phone, or mind drifting to your unending, unfinished to-do list. It means eye to eye with your child, focused on topics, questions, and activities of interest to them.  
  • Kids have short attention spans, some say 1 minute for every age of life.  That is a 1-year-old has a one-minute attention span, 5-year-old has a five-minute attention span, and so on.  Parents should aim for spending that amount of time with their children consistently.  
  • The key is to build time for attention into the first reconnection point with your children at each transition of the day, when they wake-up, go off to school, after school call, dinner, bedtimes. These are the everyday moments that are already in your day–parents don’t have to necessarily ADD time, they need to change the nature of moments that are already there. Everyone can find those moments at at lest some transition points during the day.
  •  “Together but apart time” counts. Once you have established a strong connection with your child through small bursts of uninterrupted time, times when you are together but not doing something together (such as when Mom is cooking and the child is nearby playing) can be used to show love and help build security. The key to this is to not do things you absolutely can’t be interrupted from while you are in close proximity to your children. Simon Isaacs of Fatherly.com sometimes works from home but when his kids are around he focuses on smaller activities that can be stopped at any point.  He has a rule that if his kids come to him while he's working he closes his laptop immediately or flips over his phone over immediately so his kids know they come first.
  • Let your kids know for how long you will be unavailable.  If you must work on something that can’t be interrupted, especially if you have young children, try to ask a family member, friend, or neighbor for coverage watching your kids.  When you absolutely can't be interpreted let your kids know in advance that how long you will be unavailable – and when you will be free again and what you will do at that time.  Also, keep in mind that even when kids do interrupt you, it is usually brief, so be flexible with them when possible.  

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How Much Time and Attention Do Kids Need to Feel Loved and Secure?

Jamie is a Beltway Insider who loves channeling her pre-motherhood love of traveling into spending time exploring all D.C. has to offer with her brood of two girls and two boys ages 9, 7,5, and a baby. She is a reformed lawyer turned full-time kid wrangler who enjoys photographing her everyday chaos and anything salted caramel. Since life is never dull, she loves writing about the issues and events going on in her life at any given time, including caring for a daughter with special needs and th ... More

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