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Ten Minutes to a Happier Kid (and Parent)

21 July 2020

Barbara read How a 10-Minute ‘Reset’ May Make a Huge Difference for Kids at Home by Audrey Breen and remembered a counselor who advised this same practice many years ago when she had young children.

Tags: barbara read, covid-19, lego lessons, parenting, turn your face

Just as families were staying together in their homes in shocking new ways when the COVID-19 quarantine began, University of Virginia Professor Amanda Williford suggested spending even more time with your kids—but a specific kind of time when you let your child give you directions.

“For more than a decade, researchers at the UVA’s Curry School of Education and Human Development have been developing, testing and disseminating a set of practices called ‘Banking Time’ that builds positive relationships between teachers and their students.” This method, developed by Curry’s Dean, Bob Pianta, works well for the teachers who have tried it, and Williford recommends it for parents, too.

Banking Time is spending ten minutes, three times a week, doing an activity with your child that the child chooses and directs. You don’t instruct, correct, or ask probing questions. Just be with your child, be quiet, listen to whatever topics they bring up. “If they are building LEGO®s, don’t ask what they are building. Instead build something beside them (be sure not to ‘outdo’ their structure).” In this article, you'll learn just how easy it is to observe, narrate, label, and convey a relational theme in a way that's satisfying for you and your little person.

I was told by a counselor to do this in 1976 for an hour a day with my five-year-old daughter Allison to help us stop screaming at each other. It worked. We called it “Time Together.”

As I wrote in my book, Turn Your Face, “I was to spend an hour a day with her doing whatever she wanted as long as she didn’t scream at me. If she did, then we would stop and I’d say, ‘We’ll try again tomorrow during time together.’ We could sit side by side and color with crayons or markers in a coloring book. If she suddenly decided she wanted to finish the picture I was coloring instead of hers, I let her. We could play a game where she made up the rules. It was an ‘ah ha’ for me that I didn’t have to teach her the correct way to play the game—I thought I had some cosmic parental obligation to make her do it right. (When she read this, she said, ‘I still need to make up my own rules. I didn’t remember you let me start that early.’)

We could not shop—it was hectic, and she did not get my undivided attention so the hunger to be heard was not fed. We could not bake cookies although I thought all mothers and daughters should do that. I would yell before it was over when the flour landed on the ceiling or the floor.” We had a hand-crank sifter that was especially fun for a child, but I tensed up the minute she started to turn it.

This practice of Time Together plus Room Time where Allison learned to be in her room alone for an hour while I had Time Together with her brother saved our relationship. Up until that point, we were often yelling at each other. However, we were able to find peace and enjoyment in each other through a combination of my focused attention on her and then Allison having quiet time to calm herself without me. To this day, she enjoys being alone more than most extraverts I know, and she says it's because of Room Time.

As I’ve coached working parents over the last 25 years, I’ve often worried that they would struggle to find the time in the day I had as a stay-at-home mother. However, Williford says the research shows that much shorter time periods can get the same result. “The idea of Banking Time is that you can in fact ‘bank’ or build up relationship ‘capital,’ through a series of steps a parent can take with their child. Then those resources are present within the child-parent relationship to draw from and serve as a buffer when times get tough.” Allison and I had fewer conflicts and got along much better even when I wasn’t giving her my undivided attention.

I’ve Banked Time with my grandchildren since they were little by spending lots of one-on-one time with them, and now I receive this kind of attention from my granddaughter. She had been riding the train from Durham to Charlotte once or twice a month to spend the weekend with me since she turned 13 and could travel as an unaccompanied minor. That had been a totally unexpected gift to me since December of 2018, and it hurt when we had to stop in March.

But then she began to FaceTime me regularly, and one day last week, we talked and did projects together for five hours. About an hour into that call, I told her about asking a friend, who stages houses for realtors, to help me clean up the bookshelf behind the chair where I sit for Zoom calls. She said, “You know if I was there, I would arrange your shelves for you.”

I said, “Well, I have three more. Let’s flip the FaceTime screen and you tell me what to do.” I was thrilled with the process and the result.

On one trip through the kitchen with my phone in my hand, I told my husband, “We are spending the day together.” When we hung up, I had the sensation—well, take that, Pandemic! When I think about why Kathryn wants to spend this much time with me, I believe one of the reason is because we’ve made being together one-on-one a priority over the years.

As families navigate a summer without traditional camps and other activities as well as the possibility of a fall with more homeschooling, I think the Banking Time idea might make things a bit more manageable for everyone.


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