How to Create One-on-One Time With Each of Your Kids

Quality time may be more important than the quantity of time.

Getting the Most Out of Your One-on-One Time

Verywell / Jiaqi Zhou

Many parents are riddled with guilt because they feel as though they should be spending more time with their kids. It’s no wonder why. The idea that you need to spend vast amounts of time with your kids is steeped in today’s parenting culture.

In addition to the notion that you should spend countless hours with your kids, there’s also the notion that the time spent together should always involve special activities. Marketers have figured out how to prey upon parent’s insecurities that they aren’t doing enough special things with their kids. From vacation resorts to expensive family recreation products, many advertisers will try to convince you that their products or services will help you get quality time with your kids.

But there is some evidence that spending all day every day with your kids doesn’t necessarily give them more self-confidence. Nor does it make them feel more loved or give them an academic edge. We will elaborate on this shortly.

Of course, spending one-on-one time with your kids is important. Giving them individual attention is key to helping you develop a healthy relationship. It can also help kids feel loved and it may help them build self-confidence.

And while there’s no right or wrong way to spend time with your child, here are some strategies that can help you carve out one-on-one time for each of your kids:

Aim for Quality Over Quantity

You’re better off giving each child 10 minutes of your undivided attention as you wait in line at the grocery store rather than spend 5 hours in the same room using separate electronic devices.

Worry less about being physically present for hours on end. Instead, make sure you’re mentally present when you’re with your child.

Put your phone away and give your child your complete attention. Your child will feel valued and loved when you provide high-quality, positive attention.

Focus on listening to your child, making good eye contact, and engaging in healthy interaction during your time together, regardless of what you’re doing.

Research and Evidence

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, found that the amount of time children aged three to 11 spent with their parents had no measurable impact on their emotional well-being, behavior, or academic success.

The study didn’t dispute that quality time matters, but it did find that mere quantity was far less important—at least during a child’s younger years. It's the difference between holding a baby in your lap for hours while scrolling through your phone, and actively engaging with them for a shorter period of time. The researchers found that adolescents who spent more time with their mothers exhibited lower levels of delinquent behavior.

A 2016 study published in BMJ Open that focused on fathers yielded similar results. Researchers found that it was the father’s joy of parenting that was linked to fewer behavioral problems in school. The quantity of time a father and child spent together was much less influential on a child’s behavior.

Schedule 15 Minutes Every Day With Each Child

For some busy families, one-on-one time won’t happen unless it’s in the schedule. If your day is busy or highly structured, you might find your best option is to set aside 10 to 15 minutes to spend with each child.

Plan your time according to everyone’s schedule—and their biological clocks. Is there a child who would benefit from some individual attention in the morning before school? Is there a child who would appreciate some quality time right after school? What about before bed?

Choose a time and mark it on your daily schedule. When you start devoting that slot of time to your child, your child will quickly learn when to expect their time with you.

Rotate Times or Be Spontaneous

If scheduling your one-on-one time sounds too rigid, allow your time together to be more spontaneous—or rotate who gets to spend time with you.

You might start one-on-one time after dinner and let the kids decide who gets to go first. Or, you might make the decision based on what everyone has going on each day.

There’s no right or wrong way to give your kids individual attention. The key is to pick a strategy that works best for you and your family.

If you can’t squeeze one-on-one time in with each child every day, don’t worry. You might find it’s only realistic to do three days per week or you might have some weeks where all you can muster is two times.

Join Their Activities or Invite Them to Join You

You don’t need a formal activity in order for your time together to count as “quality time.” Instead, you can join in as your child builds with blocks or colors a picture. You also might invite your child to join you as you clean the kitchen or go for a walk.

The key is to make your interaction positive and healthy. Don’t force them to do things they don’t want to do. If you make a reluctant child help you prepare a meal, clean the house, or run errands, your time together isn’t likely to be high quality.

If, however, you have a child who loves to help with projects, cleaning the bathroom together might become quality time. Just don’t make your time together a chore your child dislikes.

One-on-one time with older kids may simply involve talking. You might spend a few minutes reviewing your child's day, talking about friend-related issues, or discussing a topic you both enjoy.

Plan Longer One-on-One Times

You might also decide to have a monthly “date” with each child. Your date together could include anything from eating at a restaurant to playing in the park.

For some families, there may be time to hold weekly dates. For others, longer one-on-one times may only happen quarterly. Again, decide what’s reasonable for your family and consider how to make it happen in terms of timing, budget, and logistics.

You might give your kids the opportunity to give you input on what they’d like to do with you during your time together. Another option is to include one child to go with you to run a regular errand. For example, Saturday might become breakfast and grocery shopping day where you rotate which child goes with you each week.

Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your One-On-One Time

Make sure your time together is positive and enjoyable for both of you. The goal can be to get to know one another better and build and maintain healthy bonds.

Just like all relationships, your relationship with your child needs to incorporate positive activities together. Here are some steps you can take to get the most out of your quality time together:

  • Keep the other kids occupied. There’s a good chance your other children will interrupt your one-on-one time if they’re bored, jealous, or need to ask a question. Explain to them that everyone will get a turn and it’s important to be respectful of one another’s time. You might experiment with giving the other kids tasks or finding an activity they can play together so you can be free to focus on one child at a time.
  • Praise good behavior. Offer praise for good behavior during your time together. Saying things like, “Oh I really like the way you are being so patient,” or “That’s a great imagination you have there,” can go a long way toward helping your child feel good.
  • Don’t worry about teaching. Don’t quiz your child or ask your child to perform. Asking questions like, “What color is that?” or “How many coins is this?” will interfere with your quality time. Instead, get involved or simply comment on what your child’s doing in a positive way without pressuring your child to show off their knowledge.
  • Ignore minor misbehavior. If your child does something that is slightly annoying or obnoxious, ignore it. Look the other way, pretend you don’t hear it, and tune it out. As soon as your child starts behaving, return to your attention. This will show your child that good behavior attracts your attention, not misbehavior.
  • Use consequences when necessary. If your child purposely breaks something or becomes aggressive, use a time-out or take away a privilege. Show your child that unacceptable behavior has consequences, even when it occurs during your special one-on-one time together.
  • Don’t make one-on-one contingent on good behavior. There will likely be days when you think your child’s bad behavior doesn’t warrant quality time with you. But those are the days your child probably needs quality time with you the most. Negative consequences, like time-out, really only work when your child is getting plenty of time-in.
  • Silence your digital devices. Although it may seem tough to do, shutting off your electronics (or simply silencing your phone) can help ensure your child gets your undivided attention. It’s helpful for kids to know that for 10 minutes each day, they’re a top priority in your life, regardless of how many work emails or text messages you receive.
  • Try to avoid using electronics. While playing a video game might be somewhat interactive, look for things to do that don't involve electronics. The goal should be to talk, make eye contact, and engage with one another, which is tough to do when you're engaged in screen time.

A Word From Verywell

Don’t let the pressure to have one-on-one time with your child cause more stress in your life. Instead, stay focused on the bigger overall goal—spend one-on-one time with each child when you can. And stay focused on the quality of your time together, rather than the quantity.

You may need to experiment for a while to determine what works best for your family in terms of a schedule. But, if you stick with it, you’ll likely find that setting aside time to give each child individual attention is a worthwhile investment. 

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pérez-Fuentes MDC, Molero Jurado MDM, Gázquez Linares JJ, Oropesa Ruiz NF, Simón Márquez MDM, Saracostti M. Parenting practices, life satisfaction, and the role of self-esteem in adolescentsInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2019;16(20):E4045. doi:10.3390/ijerph16204045

  2. Milkie MA, Nomaguchi KM, Denny KE. Does the amount of time mothers spend with children or adolescents matter? J Marriage Fam. 2015;77(2):355-372. doi:10.1111/jomf.12170

  3. Opondo C, Redshaw M, Savage-Mcglynn E, Quigley MA. Father involvement in early child-rearing and behavioural outcomes in their pre-adolescent children: evidence from the ALSPAC UK birth cohortBMJ Open. 2016;6(11). doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-012034

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.