How many grown men do you know that like to play with dolls? How many grown women do you know that like to talk about last year's football season? There may be a few, somewhere, but in most cases we have to think a long time before we can come up with men who like dolls or any women who like discussing football.
Most of us have our likes and dislikes. Men usually have theirs and women have theirs and the two are generally not in agreement. Because of this, it is often hard to understand what it really takes to keep your child on your side as he or she grows up. The term, quality time, is thrown around by many parents who think it is something like, holding the kid on your lap while you watch a soap opera, taking the daughter to the sporting goods store to buy a new basketball, etc. Sure, they are spending time together but in the eyes of the child it certainly is NOT what they would consider quality time.
Quality time to a child is doing the kind of things children like to do. To a little girl it is playing with dolls or stuffed animals. Of course that's not quality time to dad. To little boys it's running trucks and cars across the bedroom floor. That doesn't sound like much fun to mom either.
In order to keep your child thinking you're the greatest person on earth (they will find a hero somewhere), you need to think in terms of quality from their little eyes. It means you have to do things you would rather not be doing. After all, if dad spends time playing Barbie, after about five minutes he begins looking at his watch and wishing he was somewhere else. And, that's natural dad. But, to your little daughter it is probably the best time she'll have all day long. And consider this: After you have played Barbie once for twenty or thirty minutes, your daughter will most likely want you to play again tomorrow, and the next day, and next week, etc. Think of the inconvenience this will create in your life. But you'll turn out to be her hero without either of you really planning it that way.
My youngest daughter loved to play what she called "Sick-Eat-Night-Night." I would be sick and she would find some object to place into my mouth to measure my temperature. The object wasn't usually something I would normally place in my mouth. She would pretend to feed me and make me well. Then we would both lay on her bed while we went night-night. That was the best part of the game because I would get to hug her. Then it would be morning and we would have to get up and go to the doctor all over again.
A few years ago I tried to put this concept into the form of a poem:
Kent E. Gunnison
January 5, 1991
My youngest son used to want me to play trucks with him. We would spend hours on the floor in his bedroom driving his little cars from one side of the room to the other. By the time we were finished my knees were killing me. To this day he tells me he would like to spend as much time with me as possible. I guess it worked.Love is sitting when you'd rather walk.
Love is listening when you'd rather talk.
Love is working when you'd rather sleep.
Love is giving when you'd rather keep.
Love is hiding when you'd rather seek.
Love is silence when you'd rather speak.
Love is frowning when you'd rather grin.
Love is losing when you'd rather win.
Love is catching when you'd rather throw.
Love is staying when you'd rather go.
Love is smiling when you'd rather cry.
Love is living when you'd rather die.
Love is when you do what you must
In order to keep another's trust.
It's reaching deep in-side one's self
For something precious, on a shelf
That you've been holding in your soul,
But love consents to let it go.
Love is seen within the eye.
Love is heard from within a cry.
Love is felt through finger-tips.
Love is spoken through careful lips.
Love's description is out of reach.
Love's emotion: We cannot teach.
And those who find it ask not, "Why?"
But simply know, 'twill never die.
My oldest son and daughter used to love playing catch out in the yard. When they were very small we would stand just a few feet apart and as they grew we kept stepping back farther and farther. How did we start this quality time? When they were just toddlers we would sit on the floor of the living room and roll a ball back and forth. They thought it was great fun. It seemed the most fun when we would sit in a triangle and pass the ball around from one person to the next.
Many times, for their birthdays, I would buy them a box of bandages as a gift. They would have a great time putting bandages all over their arms, legs, face and some of their toys. Once, for my oldest son's birthday I rented a wheelchair. He had a party and all of his friends were there to take turns pushing each other around. They also learned how difficult it is to roll yourself around in a wheelchair.
I always tried to think like a child. Thinking that way will give you hundreds of ideas you would never come up with otherwise.
Children have very little reasoning power. As toddlers, they learn in much the same way that a puppy learns to obey and behave. I was fortunate while attending college to have owned a black Labrador retriever. I got him as a puppy and named him Maynard. I always thought of him as an exceptionally good learner. Years later I realized what had really happened. Maynard was just like any other dog. I simply took time to take him to the park and other places and spent hours training him. Since then I have had other dogs. I spent much time with some of them and less time with others. It finally became evident that spending more time training a dog causes the dog to learn how to learn, or, to enjoy learning.
Humans are much the same. If you have a young child, and spend much time with that child, you will find that he or she becomes a much faster learner than a child that is placed in front of a television set for hours. Toddlers want to help. They want to learn. They observe and imitate. As a young parent you have an opportunity to produce a wonderful human being from within that little two-year-old nuisance. Did I say, "nuisance?" I did! And, that's what it will often feel like as you work day-by-day training your toddler.