Balancing Time With Children

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No matter the age of your child, you want to balance the time you spend with her. On Becoming Preschoolwise talks about the first day of school (about Kindergarten age). It states, “…the child who possesses healthy learning patterns has parents who used the preschool years as a learning environment” (page 118).  What does this mean? It means children who learn well have parents who spent time during the preschool years teaching the child. They did more than simple make it through the day.

These parents “…stimulated and guided their child’s development…” (page 118). And here is the key, these parents had balance. They didn’t spend too much time with the child and they didn’t spend too little time with the child.

Too much time leads toward the child not being able to be independent or develop focusing skills.

Too little time ends with the child not having developed learning skills. The child has also not been required to develop his attention span.

So how do you know how much time is too little time and how much time is too much? I know this is a concern for parents. I get this question quite often, actually. There definitely isn’t a magic number I can give you, “X number of hours is just right.” But there are some hints to help you along the way.

“The first step in a balanced approach to preschooler training is to develop a daily plan” (page 118). Simple right? You just have planned activities that focus on the skills you want. You want activities where your child plays independently. You also want activities where your child plays with a parent, and perhaps siblings and friends when appropriate. Through your daily routine activities, you will help your child develop skills needed in school and in life.

Let’s go through the activities in a day. You will see that applying these activities will fill up your child’s day and naturally answer the question for you if you as to how much time to spend with the child.

Mom Decides
An important point here is that mom decides the routine. This doesn’t mean you never give your child a choice at all during the day, but it means you decide what type of activity is happening, and often what happens during that activity time, though there will be times you will give the child options. “…a child’s attention span develops best in a structured environment” (page 119).

So as you plan your daily routine, plan for how long you will do each activity. As your child gets older, add time spent on each activity. This will help increase the attention span.

Independent Playtime
Oh independent playtime is so important. “Concentration and creativity are developed during independent play” (page 120). Independent playtime is what helps your child learn and develop focusing skills. “Focusing is the ability to concentrate on an object or activity without being distracted by surrounding sights and sounds” (page 120). Whether you plan to home school or send your child to school, I am sure you can see that this is important. No matter where the child learns, there will be distractions.

Independent play has some criteria to meet before it can really help develop focusing skills. Independent playtime must be first chosen by mom. Mom decides when it happens. If your child wanders off and plays on his own for 45 minutes, that is nice for you, but it doesn’t aid in developing focusing skills. If you start it but allow your child to decide when to end it, you are not practicing it correctly for developing focusing skills. He also needs to be by himself with no TV or video games.

“The most important aspect of this time is that your child is learning to focus on what he can do with the things he has…at an assigned time in an assigned place” (page 120). During this time, you want your child to be able to play without other family members distracting him. He won’t be able to build his focusing skills if he has you walking by talking on the phone or if he gets visits from siblings. Keep toys rotated and interesting.

Blanket Time
The exact age range parents implement blanket time varies. Blanket time is an independent, structured activity. Mom is in the room with baby, but it isn’t mom playing with the baby.

Nap/Rest Time
Nap/rest time will be a part of your child’s day she does alone. The time spent during nap/rest time varies based on age and child’s individual sleep needs.

Sibling Playtime
If you have more than one child, have time spent each day where they play with each other. This can happen in the form of free play (where the children decide what they play with/do) or structured play (where mom decides).

Free Playtime
Another category to have in your day is free play. This is play when you allow your child to choose the activity. It could be coloring, playing outside, or doing a puzzle. I would start off with younger children giving two choices and letting them choose. As they get older, add three. Some day, when your child is ready, you can allow the child to choose something. This might be time with parents, siblings, or alone.

Learning Time
You can also have learning time in your day. This is when you can do an activity aimed at increasing knowledge and understanding on some topic. There are tons of resources available to help give you ideas both in books and on the Internet. I help write a blog full of ideas: Children’s Learning Activities. This is time spent with a parent. There might also be time with siblings.

Another natural part of your day will be in meals and possible snack times. This is time spent with parents and siblings.

Bathing/Getting Ready
You will also have baths, getting ready for the day, and getting ready for bed. This is time spent with parents and possibly siblings.

Family Time
I like to have family time each day. We spend time as a family playing and working together. We also have special activities we go to together some days. This is obviously time with parents and siblings.

Outside Time
During nice enough weather, I like to make sure we play outside each day. So this is an idea for you. It might be a walk, trip to the park, or just playing in your yard. This will be time with parents and siblings.

Whew! That is a full day! I think if you add most of these things to your routine, you won’t have time to wonder what to do with yourselves and you won’t have to worry about how your time is being balanced.

You still might find yourself worrying if you are spending the right amount of time with your child or not. Is it too much? Is it too little? We have a great list of ideas, but how much time do we allocate to each activity? Here are some questions to consider:

  • Is my child’s level of independence appropriate for his age? If he does not have enough independence skills, you likely need to have some more independent time in the day. You also might need to make sure you back off while you are together and let him learn. If he is too independent, you likely need to add some parent/child time to your day.
  • Can my child focus well for his age? If not, he needs more independent time in the day.
  • Does my child come to me saying he is bored? If so, you are likely trying to have too much independent time without offering enough structure and guidance for that time. This means you might need to add some parent/child and/or social activities to your day. You will definitely need to make sure you are deciding the activities and when they start and stop.
  • Can my child play with one toy for an extended period of time? If not, he needs more structure in his day. He needs mom to tell him when activities start and stop.
  • Does my child whine a lot? Does he follow me around the house? Again, he needs more structure and needs mom to direct his day.
  • Does my child throw tantrums and seem emotional? Is he suddenly disobedient? If so, he likely needs more time with parents in the day. If the child does not get enough time spent with parents, he will start to seem a bit anxious. He will likely cry easily and likely start to disobey.
  • See this post for more discussion on the topic: Spending Time With Baby/Child

Keep in mind this whole scheduling is dynamic. Needs change over time. Siblings enter the picture. Abilities change over time. Keep reevaluating and have things age appropriate as best you can.

It won’t always be perfect. There will be tweaking you will need to do. That is fine. That is all very natural. You will get better at it as you gain more experience and get to know your child better. Remember, life is a journey, not a destination.


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Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on the About page. Follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram for more tips and helps.

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  1. lexorjunnel
    June 8, 2010 / 12:54 AM

    I love this post and i agree that managing or balancing time with children won't always be perfect.Following this balance helps your child learn to sit quietly for stories, crafts, and other calm activities, but it also gives them plenty of time to get up and move – one of the primary jobs of a child!"Free time" is very important…Let your child have free time. Extend the time as they get older. And avoid over scheduling your child at all ages. :)strollers lightweight

  2. Redheads
    June 8, 2010 / 2:09 AM

    Very timely. I have been struggling so much with my DD who seems to be really lacking in independent skills and also is very clingy to Mama. I really think that she has too much time with me, and I need to start making her more independent. Will this involve a lot of crying and temper tantrums to get started? I can tell you right now, that I foresee her screaming bloody murder when I lay down a new schedule, which would include teaching her to play without me.

  3. Plowmanators
    June 15, 2010 / 5:24 PM

    Amy, you might have some crying as you require her to play more on her own, and she might never choose alone time over time with you. Brayden still doesn't like to be alone. He enjoys independent play while he is doing it, but he never asks for it. Just take baby steps and take it slowly. She will get it. There are so many benefits to independent play that it is well worth the effort it takes you to implement it.

  4. Tara
    September 14, 2010 / 6:58 PM

    Hi Valerie, I'm a SAHM and live in a very tiny condo. My DS is almost 9 months old and just started crawling. He is all over the place. As a result, he will no longer tolerate his playpen. It is a very small one and there is nothing to do but sit and play quietly. My question is, when your little ones started to crawl and explore, did you put them in more of a play yard or a closed off room so that they could play alone but at least move around? Or do you try to force the playpen in order to teach them to sit still and play even if they can walk or crawl?My home is too small for even a play yard, but we have thought about placing a baby gate in DS's bedroom so that he has a safe place to play alone. He used to be great at independent play before he could move, but ever since he started to roll, then scoot, then crawl…it has been mostly me supervising him run amouk. 🙁 And of course since I have to watch him at all times, he wants to be on me or playing near me. Now that he is already close to 9 months old, I'm worried and want to get a handle on things.Thanks!!

  5. Plowmanators
    September 27, 2010 / 6:49 PM

    Tara, Brayden did the exact same thing at that age. I did the WRONG thing and stopped IP time for a while. We were able to pick it back up at 14 months, but I would never recommend it. My advice would be to stick with the playpen. You might need to take IP back to 10 minutes, maybe even 5, until he decides it is okay again. Set a timer so he can hear it go off. Then he will know it is the timer that stops IP not the cry. Also, when you get him out, be very excited. Don't act like he has something to be sad about. See the post "resistance to Independent playtime" for more help. Good luck!

  6. The Weatherford Family
    January 15, 2011 / 3:14 AM

    This is my first time commenting on your blog and I just want to say thank you! This is such a great resource for me! I having problems with my 19 month old obeying lately. It seems like just in the last couple weeks she has been doing the things that she knows are wrong much more often than normal. I read one blog that says if kids suddenly start to disobey, they may need more time with parents during the day.I am a teacher and just had about 2 1/2 weeks off for Christmas break to spend with my daughter. However since going back to school, it seems like her obedience has been worse. I would love to spend more time with her but obviously cannot when I'm at work. Do I just need to give her time to get re-adjusted to our regular routine or is there something else I can do? She usually listens and obeys pretty well but not so much recently….Any thoughts? We also just found out we're pregnant with #2 so I really want to get things under control before he/she gets here! :)Thank you!

  7. Plowmanators
    January 26, 2011 / 5:54 PM

    Weatherford Family,I would actually say she is going through a normal developmental issue. Every child gets this way sometime between 17-21 months old. It is a leap that precedes a huge jump in verbal skills. So have patience. Believe me that she will snap out of it as fast as she snapped in it.In the meantime, you don't need to let her get away with things, but don't stress about finding ways to stop it. It is going to continue until you are past the leap, and it will stop so long as you don't let her do things she shouldn't.

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