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Scheduling regular one-on-one dates (outings) with kids is a fun way for families to build lasting bonds while setting kids up with the skills and experience needed to grow healthy relationships for life.

Every parent knows there are a multitude of forces pulling at the hearts of children and that if parents don’t give kids the time and affection they crave, someone or something will come along to fill that space in their lives – especially as kids grow more independent.

Parents strengthen bonds and help kids become confident, caring adults by modeling love and respect. There’s no better way to deliver the message, “You’re special and I love you” than a regular outing with Mom or Dad.

Here’s why to make parent/child dates a regular part of your family’s routine.

How Kids Benefit
Leo and Suzanne Brendis of 4S Ranch are the parents of three young adult daughters. Leo started having regular dates with the girls when they were about 7 years old, with a simple intention: “I wanted to set the bar for how they should be treated,” he says, “by pulling out the chair, having manners and holding the door. But their takeaway was different from what I was trying to teach.”

“The girls felt important and understood, which is a huge thing,” says Suzanne. “They felt [their dad] was truly interested in what mattered to them.”

Feeling heard, seen, loved and valued are necessary ingredients for kids to develop healthy self-esteem and unshakeable confidence. When kids experience what it feels like to give and receive honor and respect, they learn to expect the same from others. Sharing these values happens naturally when parents model how to prioritize the people they care about.

East County father of five, Brian Berry says, “Hands down, one-on-one time with my kids is the single best parenting investment I’ve ever made. It has built bonds. It has produced amazing conversations. It has blessed us and our kids so much that they complain when we miss.”

One-on-one time helps parents get to know kids outside of family roles and birth order and gives kids a chance to talk about things they might be too shy to bring up at the dinner table or in front of siblings. “It gives my kids no excuse to say ‘We never had a chance to talk about that,’” says Berry, “because they have regular opportunities to share their fears, concerns, joys and hopes with me.”

Time Well Spent
Making room for individual dates with kids in an already full family schedule requires two things: commitment and flexibility.

“We have had one-on-ones after school, on weekends, in the evening and even in the morning on late-start Wednesdays,” says Berry. “[The timing] has changed as seasons, family schedules and job situations change, but they still remain a high priority.”

Don’t worry if you can’t block off hours at a time. Even 30 minutes creates space for kids to feel special as they spend focused time with parents. Alternating between Mom and Dad helps with scheduling, and comes with the added bonus of helping kids learn how to communicate and relate to both parents.

The Key to a Great Parent/Child Date
The best dates begin with listening and adjusting to meet kids where they are. The Brendis’ youngest daughter Bryana was a shy child who had little to say on her dates with Dad. When he once suggested they skip dinner and go to Dave & Buster's to play games instead, it made a big impact.

“It was like hearing, ‘It’s not about talking because that’s not where you are right now. We’re just going to spend time together and have fun,’” Bryana shares. “It made me feel loved.”

Start by asking your child what she would like to do. Pay attention to her interests and make suggestions. If you or your spouse struggle with how to engage, that’s OK. What matters most to kids is your willingness and interest to spend time with them, so choose an activity you both enjoy and relax. You’ll create a positive experience and a comfortable space for conversations to flow freely, if and when kids want to talk.

“The best conversations are usually the ones I stumble upon, not the ones I plan,” Berry says.

One-on-one time with each parent gives kids the self-confidence, inner strength and security they need to grow into caring adults. Your focused time together communicates love and respect like nothing else can and sets kids up with the skills and experience they need to enjoy healthy relationships for life.

Jody Lee Cates is a local freelance writer and mom who cherishes one-on-one time with her kids.

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