The Power of Time
God has designed a parenting tool that’s often overlooked. It’s the tool of “Time.” But it’s not just any kind of time. It’s a strategic use of hang-out time between a parent and a child. Those times are available. We just need to know how to use them. We’ve prepared six ideas to help you get the most from unstructured time with your child.
Parents are on the go, busy with a huge to do list. So, the idea of just hanging out can feel like a waste of time, but it’s in those moments that spontaneous conversations take place. Meaningful interactions that aren’t planned become a way to share values and convictions. In fact, hang-out time can even be more effective than planned teaching times.
One Mom told it this way. “I make my three kids turn off their electronics in the van. At first, they don’t like it. They might even complain. But I’m firm and the electronics are off and I just wait. Within just a few minutes one of them speaks. It might be a question or an observation about something we’re passing by on the road. I know then that conversation has begun. I look for ways then to encourage the dialogue. Some of those discussions are the most meaningful parts of my day.”
Jesus Exemplified it.
Jesus used time with his disciples to answer questions, challenge their thinking, and teach them valuable lessons. Notice, in John 3:22 it says, “After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized.” I wonder what they talked about. It doesn’t tell us anything about what they were doing except that Jesus spent time with them.
When a child asks a question or a dialogue begins, hidden behind the conversations are values and convictions. Children learn why we do things this way, the reasons for certain choices, and the thinking that results in our conclusions. It’s very possible that the most important words you say come in those hang-out times of life.
Moses Taught it.
Relationship is the vehicle that passes values on to the heart of a child. It’s the same lesson that Moses shared with the parents in Deuteronomy 6:7-9. After he told the people to embed the laws of God on their hearts, he instructed the parents to impress them on their children. He said, “Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Relationship is where values are transmitted.
6 Ideas to Empower Your Hangout Time
Here are some suggestions for creating and using hang-out time in your family.
1) Turn off electronics.
Although many benefits come with TV, smartphones, tablets, and other devices, they are the primary thieves of meaningful conversations. Set limits on electronics and dedicate periods of time to remove this distraction from life. It might an hour in the evening, during a meal, or while in the car. Take note of the times when a potential conversation could take place and be intentional.
2) Eat meals together.
Don’t make the mistake of ruining a meal with an overemphasis on diet or manners. If you spend your time on those two things, you’ll often miss the special interactions that could take place. Plan more than the food. Come prepared with a joke, a story, or a question. Ask children for their high or low of the day. Feel free to take the conversation on a tangent or allow the dialogue to run in a way you hadn’t planned.
3) Use car rides.
Most parents spend a lot of time driving. Telling stories or encouraging the interaction can often lead to unexpected and delightful conversations. Feel free to share stories about yourself, your past, or a commentary on the news or weather. Talk about what’s important to your family. Spend time listening and encouraging children to talk as well.
4) Ask questions.
It might be a simple question like, “What’s your favorite drink on a hot day?” or, “What was your favorite vacation?” or, “Which season of the year do you like best and why?” On the other hand you might want to go deeper with questions like, “What things do boys not understand about girls?” or “How would you describe God?” Questions can be conversation starters. You might even challenge your child to ask you a question or take turns.
5) Tell stories.
You have a rich history and know a lot about life. Many of the things you see right around you at any moment have a history. The stories are often rich with examples of handling money, listening to the Lord, or just bringing kids up to date. Everyone has a story and by sharing some of yours you might encourage a similar type of sharing from your own child.
6) Be ready for the unexpected.
You never know when a productive conversation will take place. Sometimes you’ll set the stage and nothing will seem to happen. That’s why hanging out is so important. As you do, when you least expect it, a conversation opens up that turns into a treasure. One Dad said that a conversation started with his son at 11:00 at night. But he was ready and willing. They were still talking at 1:00 in the morning. It was just one of those moments that opened significant dialogue.
Time is a tool. Sometimes we structure it to maximize its use. But other times we have to unstructured it to allow for God to work in a different way. Keep a balance between the structure and the unstructured time in your family. When you do, great things can happen. Values are transferred. Convictions are passed on, and kids gain a greater perspective on life.