This holiday season, consider giving your children along with each gift 15 minutes of your time weekly. If you decide to give this gift of time, your child will receive so much...

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This holiday season, consider giving your children along with each gift 15 minutes of your time weekly.

If you decide to give this gift of time, your child will receive so much more.

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Therefore, if you give a doll, each week you’ll need to watch for a time when your child is playing with that doll and play along with her.

If after present-opening time your child discards the doll, it will be up to you to bring the doll to life calling on your imagination to engage your child in pretend play.

One day you can play that the doll is sick, nursing her back to health. Another week the doll might need to be fed, diapered and walked to the park. The imaginative opportunities are endless as long as you’re willing to interact with your child and the doll that you’ve purchased.

If you give a board game or a video game, you’ll need to bring it out and play with your child. The same goes with craft materials, puzzles or building blocks.

What’s the benefit? First of all, it’s fun. You and your child will most likely have a good time together, and what’s really more important than spending positive time with a child in an activity of particular interest to the child? Plus, you’ll learn about your child.

When involved in pretend play, you’ll see firsthand where the child’s imaginary life begins and ends. You’ll probably gain a new respect for your child’s fertile imagination. If playing with a doll, you’ll most likely see what a competent caregiver and parent your child is to her doll.

When playing a game, you’re sure to acquire an appreciation for your children’s skills, intellect, competency and ability to strategize and solve problems. You’ll see where their thinking lies given their developmental age. Games reveal your children’s level of sportsmanship; you’ll realize if they know how to gracefully win and lose.

If you’re playing with the blocks you purchased, you may get the playtime going, but it’s then best to allow your child to be the general contractor.

All day long, children take orders from adults. When it’s time to play, it’s important to shed the role as boss and turn that title over to your child.

Additionally, during these playtimes your child benefits by knowing you in a way far different than other times during the day. Plus in the course of the activity you can sneak in bits and pieces of information, therefore gently influencing your child’s intellect. While no lecturing or formal teaching is allowed during these playtimes, you can subtly expand your child’s thinking ability while instilling your values.

Can the same 15-minute rule apply to teens and the gifts you give them? Possibly, although with some variation. If you give a DVD movie, buy one you’ll watch together. Then take 15 minutes to discuss its content. If you give a music CD, listen to the music with your teenager. If you give a gift certificate for clothes, do so with the understanding that you’ll go together to make the purchases. When shopping, it’s important to zip your lip. If during this shopping trip, however, a sound bite of advice blurts out of your mouth, so be it.

A hidden benefit to the 15 minutes of time per week per gift is that when you have a blow-up with your child, your relationship bounces back quicker. Playing or interacting with your child on his or her play field provides the natural arena for the solidification of your relationship.

So when you’re out shopping buy gifts that you’ll enjoy playing with as well as your child. By doing so you’ll not only be a better parent, but you’ll capture holiday magic in 15-minute segments, all year long.

Jan Faull, a specialist in child development and behavior, answers questions of general interest in her column. You can e-mail her at janfaull@aol.com or write to: Jan Faull, c/o Families, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists