Can You Spend 15 Minutes a Day Doing Whatever Your Kids Want?
“Play with me!” Do you struggle with parent child playtime?
Does your child beg you to play with them?
And you play, but spend the whole time thinking about all the stuff you should/want/could be doing?
Or maybe they’ve stopped asking for playtime, because you’re always busy?
That was our house for awhile. With working from home, schooling from home, and managing life in such a crazy time, it felt like there was no time. But Dr. Noah Charney, professor and dad of two, has a strategy that makes playtime magical - and manageable.
We’ve been doing this at home and it works.
Keep reading for Noah’s awesome strategy on how to spend quality time with your kids while still making time for yourself.
The 15-Minute Parent Child Playtime Rule
At a recent event I hosted, three early childhood specialists, who did not agree on much, all agreed on this: a 15-minute rule. Every day, for at least 15 minutes, parents should spend time playing with their kids.
But here’s the catch: The child gets to choose what to play during parent child playtime. If they want to play with Legos, great. Hide-and-seek? Super. Read a story, stare at the clouds, manufacture a mud pie? All good.
Let the kids choose and engage 100%, with no distractions.
Which means: PUT YOUR PHONE IN ANOTHER ROOM - ON SILENT.
Fifteen minutes of unadulterated adult-child interaction can feel impossible for even the most well-meaning parents. We’re tired, stressed, overworked, too-often underpaid - and we want a say in what we play.
Do I Have To Play What They Want?
Yes. Our kids’ brains don't need us to tell them what to play. Experts insist that this parent child playtime is of the child’s choosing AND with few to no educational elements. If you’re playing with numbered blocks, don’t throw in, “What number is this?” too often, or it feels like work to the kids.
The pure bliss of doing what the kids want is an excellent gift for young children who crave and need the love, comfort, and attention of their parents. Your bliss is they'll stop begging and be more connected to you. Win-win!
How Much Time Should I Spend Playing With My Child?
Ideally, at least 15 minutes.
If you have more than 15, you can choose a game first, but only if you are rewarding them with 15 minutes of play they get to choose after your time is up.
Any time is good (it's putting away the phones and screens and connecting that matters), but aim for 15 minutes of child's choice first. Here's how:
15 Minutes Or Less of Parent Child Playtime
Take 15 minutes and the kids to choose how they’ll spend their time with you.
-Your child chooses what to play - say yes!
-Put your phone in another room
-Really engage and get involved
-Don’t ask too many educational questions (preferable, don’t ask any)
More Than 15 Minutes of Playtime
With an extra few minutes we parents can strike the balance of doing one activity that the kids choose, and one that the grownups want.
-Start with a few minutes (up to 15) of an activity that the parents pick that is more educational. Don't ask too many questions!
-Follow it up with the reward of 15 minutes of pure-play (see 15 minutes or less for tips)
5 Reasons 15 Minutes Of Uninterrupted Playtime Works
15 Minutes Of Playtime Is Doable
That 15-minute timeframe pops up frequently, from the length of TED talks to Jamie Oliver’s recipes, and there is something to it. It feels like a finite, feasible, and digestible amount of time to focus on something, even something you might not feel like doing. Anyone can dedicate just 15 minutes to something that’s good for them or those they love. At the same time, more extended periods might give us pause, feel more like a commitment.
15 Minutes of Playtime Is Enough
Neuroscientists recommend 15 minutes as a reasonable amount of time to focus on any one task or learning a new skill. It’s also long enough to feel like you’re getting something done. To say, “okay, we’ll spend 8 minutes doing this” feels miserly. Fifteen minutes is particularly useful for children’s interactions because it feels generous to them and easy for parents.
15 Minutes Is Not Too Long
There are a lot of books and programs out there that use minutes in the title. It’s appealing to audiences, as advertisers know well. Numbers are more appealing (“9 Discount Holidays,” “33 Rules for the Art World,” “Five Easy Steps to Rock-Hard Abs”) because our expectations are defined. Each year I teach a one-day workshop for the London School of Public Relations on writing for PR and advertising, and this is a crucial lesson.
TED Does It!
The best-known product of the “15-minute school” is TED and its infectious, fantastic brand of inspiring talks. It has become a household name by focusing on short, engaging presentations of a single big idea. I’ve done a few TED talks and a TED-Ed animated video, making an art form out of being concise. The discussions are around 15 minutes each (the official maximum length is 18 minutes). Their point is that 15 minutes should be all you need to make a compelling argument and convey a single powerful idea.
Every Age Can Handle 15 Minutes
As a professor used to 45-minute lectures or (heaven forbid) 90-minute slots, I know that longer talks do not necessarily make for better ones. We tend to fill out the time with additional examples when one or three would suffice, and get more theoretical, include more history, and expand upon the core idea.
People learn and remember what they learned better in short spurts. And that is talking about adults who are interested enough to voluntarily click on a TED talk on a subject that sparks their curiosity. When it comes to children, very young children, the timeframe must be reduced to accommodate attention spans.
I Wrote A Book About It
This parent child playtime approach is one that I develop in my book, Superpower Your Kids: A Professor’s Guide to Teaching Your Children Everything in Just 15 Minutes a Day.
I toyed with subtitling this book A Professor’s Guide to Teaching Children Everything in As Little as 1 Minute a Day, but that sounded like too much of a promise. It raised my inner skeptic - and I know it works. Fifteen minutes a day feels realistic as a daily commitment and time in which something can be taught. Also, proper bonding during playtime can occur.
Quality Time With You Kids Means Putting The Screens Away
A key is that this time, even a short parent child playtime, is proactive and focused, that you are as close as possible to 100% mentally engaged with your kids when interacting.
Engaged means that the TV is not on in the background (though music is okay). It mostly means that your phone is nowhere within view. Too often, parents convince themselves they are playing when what they’re doing is sitting next to their kids while scrolling through their phones.
Dr. James Charney, a child psychiatrist, and professor at Yale University (hi, Dad!), points out that kids will know when you’re pretending to play with dolls but actually watching the Red Sox game on TV in the background. He says,
“Even when we decide to spend quality time with our kids, we may easily be distracted by the things grownups think about—whether worries or enthusiasms—in part because frankly, often activities kids want to do are boring to grownups. And kids are really good at knowing when you are distracted. You can’t fool them.”
How To Play With Your Child And Make It Count
01 Set Aside A Reasonable Amount of Time
Choosing 15 minutes is not as important as choosing an amount of time that feels doable every day. You can always increase the time in the future.
02 Make It A Daily Practice
Consistency is key to successful parent child play. If you need to shorten the time you spend playing with your child in order to make time every day, do it. What matters is doing it daily, or as close as you can get. As a parent, do NOT stress about this, and if you miss a day, just pick it back up the next day).
03 Put. The. Screens. Away.
Phone in another room, tv off. Music if you both enjoy it.
Two Parent Child Playtime Examples
What 15 Minutes Of Playtime Looks Like
Put your phone in another room, turn the tv off, and ask your child what they would like to play.
Say yes and let them lead the free play.
Don’t offer alternatives play options - it’s 15 minutes, you’ll live.
What More Than 15 Minutes Looks Like
You have a bit more time today to play so first, you choose a book to read aloud.
You read a story, maybe explain a new word, or ask them what they would do.
And after your time is up, your child gets to choose their free play with you.
(Put the screens away!)
If You're Playing More Than 15 Minutes
You, the parent, do NOT get to choose what to play if you're playing for less than 15 minutes. This is NOT optional and if you don’t have time to do both of your choices, let the child choose and skip the educational part.
Get involved, but don’t teach too much! Dad says,
“Keep it active—don’t just observe them doing something. Be part of it.
When storytime is over, suggest they draw a picture or make a comic book from the story.
If this is still within your 15 minutes, then you keep involved by drawing something yourself, or by sitting with them and commenting on the drawing that they are making.”
It's Just 15 Minutes
We parents often say we’d do anything for our kids, and if push came to shove, we would. But sometimes even a short parent child playtime session feels like work. Less time and more engagement are better than more time and distraction.
Take 15 minutes today or tomorrow and give it a try. Put your phone in another room and ask what your child wants to play.
I promise you’ll come to depend and crave the free play as much as your child does. And the upside is no one will be begging you, “Play with me!” because you already do.
As Dad likes to say, “Be with them, fully, and the time will fly, giving you both shared moments to build on and remember.”