By Allyson Rust, LPCC, Therapist
Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch
To children, time is often blurry or vague. The difference between 30 minutes or two hours isn’t always apparent to children—especially when they are in the midst of an activity they either really like or really don’t like. Asking your child to “wait a few minutes” may seem impossible to them.
So, what are the most important minutes in a child’s day?
Of course, that varies by child. But I believe nine minutes of a child’s day are consistently valuable across children of all races, socioeconomic statuses, and genders. The three minutes after they wake in the morning, the three minutes after they return home in the afternoon, and the three minutes before they go to bed—all are instrumental minutes in a child’s world.
When a child wakes up, they often have a zest for the day that you and I can rarely muster. They see new possibilities, opportunities to tackle goals, and another day to play! Those first few minutes of their day can really set the tone for the rest of it. Do you greet them in the morning with excitement and appreciation of their energy? Or do you remind them of their morning to-do list and squelch their zest?
I think many of us can relate to this, even as adults. Do you spend the first few minutes of your day scrolling social media or rushing out of bed to get things over with; or do you connect with your partner and reflect on your dreams? For the first three minutes of every day, strive to remind your child how much you appreciate them and that you love them unconditionally.
The next three vitally important minutes of a child’s day are those right when they return home from school, daycare, etc. Some days they may be equally as excited as when they woke up. Other days, the day may have dulled their sparkle a bit. Regardless, making your child feel welcomed, understood, and valued is sure to improve not only their self-worth but the connection between the two of you.
Children’s author Brooke Hampton says, “Speak to your child as if they are the wisest, kindest, most beautiful and magical humans on earth, for what they believe is what they will become.”
Spend those three moments making them feel like your moon and stars. Everything else can wait.
Going to bed
It’s probably no surprise that the final three important minutes in a child’s day are those right before they go to bed. Whether the day has energized them or left them feeling drained, the moments before bedtime are quintessential.
As do most adults, many children spend the moments before they drift off reflecting on the perceived successes and failures of their day. If the most recent moments are ones in which they felt important, perhaps that is what they will remember as they fall asleep. Would you rather propel your child into dreamland with love and tenderness or leave their final waking moments to be determined by screen time and media?
With the hustle of daily life and never-ending task lists, it can feel overwhelming to add another expectation to your day. But, think about it. It’s nine minutes. What would you have to give up to make them a priority in your family? Maybe you won’t get those dishes in the dishwasher, or you won’t have time to stop for a cold brew, but what will you get in return?
You will likely get a child who is excited to see you, and who carries these special moments in their hearts and minds. You will get a stronger and deeper connection with your child and impact them as they figure out who they are in the world.
Sure, you want to be super parents. If you can’t do it all, why even try? Give yourself some grace. Start with nine minutes.
Allyson Rust, LPCC, is a therapist at Dakota Family Services, the outpatient behavioral health clinic founded by Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch. Ally provides outpatient therapy for children, adolescents, and young adults. She typically provides Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but also provides other types of therapy. She earned her Master of Education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from North Dakota State University.