Spending quality time with your kids when they are little is something even a busy mama can do. My goal is to not just be home with my kids wishing I was somewhere else…but to enjoy them and know them.
I’m guilty of being with my kids all day and not connecting. Pushing them away so I can finish my to do list or check out on the couch for a bit. We all do it. It leads to disconnect, and them acting out for my attention.
But in the end, I’m the one missing out, because I want to KNOW these little humans I’m raising, not just feed them and clothe them. I want them to trust that I like being with them, so they’ll want to be with me later!
So how can we busy moms find those nuggets of time to fill their tanks when we are stretched so thin?
Let me share some easy ways you can spend quality time with your small kids one on one! Most of these are free and can be done in 5-15 minute chunks throughout the day.
If you have it in you to say yes…try saying yes
The other day, my 3.5 year old woke up an hour earlier than the others from her nap. She sat on my lap and snuggled, and then asked if we could make a princess crown. Having 3 kids under 4, we rarely get one on one time. So although she’s asked me that a lot lately, I kept saying no.
Today was the day to say yes.
While we were making her a paper crown, I realized we almost never get one-on-one time like that. It was really special!
I wanted to find a way to be more intentional about having one on one time with my kids even in very small chunks.
I’m probably not going to spend a huge amount of time one on one at their ages, and that’s ok. I don’t think they need tons. I just want them to feel special, to know them better individually, and to have the spotlight once in a while.
Here are a few ways we squeeze in one on one quality time with a 5 year old, 3.5 year old, and 20 month old!
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Signs your kids want more attention
- More whining
- Increased naughtiness to get attention
- Turning your face towards them so you’ll finally pay attention
- Tattling on a sibling to get them in trouble
- Asking you to do the same thing again and again because you never get around to it (like playing a game)
- Always pointing out what they do better than their siblings. (We don’t allow that as we are really trying to teach them to encourage one another and build each other up).
How to spend quality one on one time with your kids
I’m at home all day with three small kids, which means any one on one time comes in small chunks.
I’m not going to ignore two kids for 30 minutes and hope all is well while I’m with one. I’ve done that before and end up finding an entire bag of flour poured out or my lipsticks wiped on the wall.
So small amounts of time for me are better. Here are things we do that our kids seem to love and most can be done without needing two adults.
1. Do an activity one kid likes that the other doesn’t
Since my son isn’t into coloring much, this turns into a natural one on one activity with my daughter because he gets bored and just plays something else.
I’m not saying he can’t color with us, but he just doesn’t want to so he wanders off.
2. Let one help with outside work while the others play
When my husband goes outside to work in the yard, the kids are ALL want to go with him. I’m not going to keep two inside just so one can have alone time with dad because everyone needs to get out of the house.
However, it’s easy for him to invite one kid to help him carry things, or grab something from the garage. At this age, they want to “help” with something…anything! So getting a special job alongside dad is on par with their desires.
3. Do a puzzle together
We have found puzzles are a fun way to do something together because they can kind of just chat about anything while you work on it.
This outer space puzzle by Banana Panda was so fun! The two younger ones drop in to see what’s going on, and then go play. So even though the other kids were in the room, it was really one on one time with his dad.
4. Designate a night where one kid stays up later than the rest
At first, I didn’t love this idea because I was always just ready to have them ALL in bed.
One night my husband let my 5 year old stay up with him one night to watch a movie and his mind was blown! And we enjoyed getting to sit by ONE boy and chat and snuggle him.
My daughter cried, but we made it clear she will have a special night next to do whatever she would like.
Some parents, like Your Modern Family do this with each kid once a month but just for an extra 30 minutes while the others play or talk in their room. I like that idea better! 🙂
5. Give them undivided attention even from the couch
Raise your hand if you have said “ya, awesome! Uh-huh. Ok! Ooooh, wow.” without hearing what your kid just told you. Don’t deny it, haha, we’ve all done it!
I have, and it’s usually when I’m working on the computer tuning them out. I know, I’m not perfect either. I’m working on just paying attention to what they are telling me and giving them the spotlight.
They need eye contact, and you can make them feel connected to you by simply looking up from the couch while they show you their Legos and explain every part.
I’ve even said, “I can listen for about 5 minutes and then I’ve got to finish what I was working on. Sound good?” And then put my phone down or whatever I’m working on for those 5 minutes.
6. Watch a show with them
This is really hard for me to do because I usually use shows to do something I can’t do otherwise.
My mother in law calls it the electronic babysitter and she’s so right! But when I watch a show with my kids, they get so excited and want to chat chat chat!
Usually one kid sits on my lap or cuddled next to me while the others are lined up on the couch. To me, that child cuddling is getting some one on one time.
7. Take one child to the grocery store
I didn’t take ANY kids to the grocery store for the first year after having our 3rd baby. We had one car so it was either mama gets alone time or we ALL go.
But for small trips to the local Piggly Wiggly, like getting ice cream or my beloved White Cheddar Pop Corn, we try to have one kid go.
My first trip with my son started out SO quiet because he was all the way in the back just looking out the window and I kind of enjoyed not talking for a quick minute. LOL. But, then I remembered this was our time not my time.
8. Put one kid in the bathtub 15 minutes alone before adding any others
You have to bathe your kids at some point, and with 3 we usually try to get one kid in first for 10-15 min, and then let the other two take baths after.
Or, we will let one kid stay in longer with one parent while the other parent is getting pajamas for the other two and getting a bed time snack ready.
When I was a little girl, I loved showing my mom my mermaid hair and seeing how long I could hold my breath under water while she read a book in the bathroom. So know that these seemingly insignificant one on one times may actually become a treasured memory!
You may also love: 20 Best Bath Toys For Toddlers
9. Play a game with one kid like “Go Fish”
Games are a GREAT way to connect! Lately Peter taught my 5 year old to play Go Fish and it’s so sweet to see them play together. My loving patient husband!
I’m usually fried by the time he comes home so I’m very thankful he does things like this. It’s naturally a one on once activity because my other two are too young to play. My 3.5 year old asks but doesn’t know her numbers well enough yet.
10. Take funny face pictures together on your iPhone
My kids love making funny faces and taking selfies with mom on my phone, and it’s a fun way to be goofy together.
If you have Instagram, you can go to your stories and try out all the fun filters that put doggy ears or sparkles on them (you can do this without posting anything). It’s great entertainment!
11. Cook dinner with just one child
For whatever reason, my oldest has never been interested in watching me cook, unless he gets to scoop. My middle girl will just sit and watch though, or hand me things. So she often gets one on one time when she sits on the counter.
While 3 kids in the kitchen is stressful and messy and fighting occurs over who scoops what…one kid in the kitchen is doable and even fun!
It’s also an easy into into how to do things in the kitchen (like peeling carrots) that they can later do independently as “chores”.
12. Helping with schoolwork
The book I use to teach my 5 year old to read has to be done one on one. And I think that’s one reason he loves it!
The other two play in the same room, sometimes we are interrupted and have to pause. But that time is “ours”.
My 3.5 year old girl gets similar attention when we do her preschool activities which she loves.
13. Let one kid exercise with you
This is not always a good option, but sometimes we will let one kid do a home workout with us so long as they are not being too crazy. By the way, if you need an excellent gentle workout for strengthening your pelvic floor, check out what I used to stop peeing my pants after kids.
If the kids are being too crazy though, they have to go out (and we have baby gates on both doors). They usually LOVE doing workouts, and often try and do the “tricks” we are doing.
That is often my only kid-free time during the day if the kids don’t all nap/rest, so I’m less excited about this usually.
I also have a friend who’s husband goes running and takes just ONE of their 3 with him in a jogging stroller. It’s a sacrifice because it changes his head space I’m sure…but he also gives that kid special time and gives his wife a little break from that child.
How to manage your other kids who are left out
This is one of the biggest frustrations when you have two or more kids because one or more may feel left out. Even if they know they’ll have a turn later, it doesn’t’ always stop the tears.
I’ve found when I’m home alone it’s easiest to take advantage of spontaneous one on one time rather than planning it in.
Like when one kid is awake and the others are napping, or if the others are playing in one room for a set time and can’t see what’s going on. If my husband’s home, its much easier because the others have his attention.
Also, letting the other kids watch a show during one on one time kind of fails because then the kid with me just wants to join the others. So keep that in mind!
If you have a kid that doesn’t like shows ( Crazy, but my middle girl wouldn’t sit still to watch a show till she was 3) then you have a LOT of opportunity there. Those days were a little rough.
Examples of sibling jealousy that has come up:
- I’m reading with an older kid on my lap. The almost 2 year old gets jealous and tries to push his way to that spot.
- My husband took our 5 year old to a basketball game. The 3.5 year old balled for about 5 minutes when they left even though she knew she would go next time (truth is we were only gifted 2 tickets).
How important is quality one on one time with kids?
I’m not really sure my kids have ever thought, “I wish I had more one on one time with mom or dad”.
They have a pretty darn good life with mom around all day. But, I can really see when they want attention in a few different ways. It’s like they don’t know how to tell me.
I’m not a parenting expert, but I can say the more I pay attention to our kids, the less naughty they seem to be and the better I know them.
I love this blog post from A Mother Far From Home who shares what one on one time does for your child.
Point out when you are alone together
I’ve heard this from a few moms and think it makes kids feel special to say, “Hey isn’t this special? I get to hang out with just you for a bit!”
Sometimes just saying it makes them (and me) realize that being alone is special. Even if it’s just eating cereal together before another sibling wakes up.
When you can’t give kids the attention they want
When I can’t give my kids undivided attention because I’m trying not to burn dinner or I’m talking to my mom on the phone, then I tell them they’ll have to wait.
And ya, there’s definitely times I just have to hang up or turn off the stove and deal with a situation.
And no they cannot repeat my name 10 times till I turn towards them when I’m talking to someone. Or tattle (a form of begging for attention) unless a sibling is doing something not safe. In that case they get a reward and praised!
Parenting is such a full time job and overwhelming at times! How do you find time to spend one on one time with your kids? Leave a comment and let me know!