happy school children walking in a hallway

Anxious and guilty isn’t a great combination – instead, make time with your kids count

 Life in 2020 is more stressed than usual and many families say there’s extra anxiety now that the new school term is here. There is a way to help children navigate the challenges and make parenting more enjoyable at the same time, and it just takes a slight change of approach.


As children return to education after a longer-than-usual break, many parents aren’t sure how best to support them, and may also feel extra uncertainty themselves. There may also be changes to routines that cause parents to feel that a good work-life balance is even harder to achieve.

So this is a good time to recognise that the benefits of parents spending time with children relate less to the amount of time spent, and more to the kinds of interactions that happen during that time (here’s some research on that – although please note, it relates to children under 11).


Whether or not you have a lot of time with your children, how do you make that time a positive experience for everyone? This can take a little extra thought at a time when you’re under extra stress, but can also make parenting more rewarding and strengthen the relationship with your child or teen.


The minute-to-minute, every day interactions we have with our children have more of a bearing on their emotional development than many parents realise.

Spending quality time with your children includes things like:

  • noticing what they’re doing (without them asking for your attention, either directly or by misbehaving);
  • actively taking a few minutes out of your day, every day, just to chat; and
  • listening carefully when they ask a question or want to tell you something.

By doing things like this, you’re acknowledging your child’s individuality and self-worth, and providing an opportunity for them to learn social and emotional skills.


These social and emotional skills are almost as important as cognitive intelligence for children’s success at school and beyond. This is why the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) is now conducting further research on social and emotional skills, having identified these as key components of success in adult life.


  • It’s very easy to find yourself only half-listening when your child or teen is talking to you, especially if you have a lot on your mind. Try stopping what you’re doing and giving them your full attention (putting down your phone, and looking as well as listening), even if it’s just for a minute or so. Sounds simple, but when you’re busy, it may not come naturally! Taking the time to talk with your kids helps them learn the art of conversation. It shows you’re interested in what your child has to say, and helps you teach them how words can be used to express feelings and ideas.

  • When you chat with your child/teen, you can ask them about their day and also share your own news. This is a great way for kids to learn that having a conversation is about listening as well as talking. They’ll be learning important social skills which can help them make friends and keep them.

  • And make sure your kids know how loved and cared for they are with hugs and kisses (tuning into the level of physical attention they feel comfortable with) and by telling them, and showing them, that you love them.

When we look back on 2020, none of us are likely to say this was the easiest back-to-school transition of our children’s lives, but that’s all the more reason to focus on giving positive attention each day.

For more on coping with the parenting challenges of COVID-19, try Triple P Online or Teen Triple P Online.