We all lead busy lives. We spend long hours at work, we make long commutes to get there and we tend to fill what little spare time we have on our phones. This can mean our children spend more time missing us than being in our company, which is hard on them.

So exactly how much time with our children is enough? One theory suggests that eight minutes of quality time per day is better than hours spent not fully engaging with your child. Sheila O’Malley of Practical Parenting agrees.

“One of the greatest gifts you can give your child is to be ‘present’ in their company,” says Sheila. “That means stopping whatever you’re doing, putting down your phone, looking them in the eye, listening to what they’re saying and giving them your full attention.

Modern parents are time poor

“Unfortunately, modern parents are increasingly lacking in time,” she adds. “As a result, they may not be able to give their child their full attention, even for a short period each day. This can have a seriously detrimental effect on the child in the long run.”

She argues that spending short amounts of quality time is therefore better than long periods spent in the child’s company when the parent is not fully engaging.

“Just eight minutes per day may seem very little, but it’s enough to make a connection with the child and make them feel accepted and loved,” she says. “It’s like any relationship, you have to make the person feel special – and time is the key to nurturing a relationship.

Importance of emotional connection

In fact, a study by Oxford University in 2016 found that an emotional connection and strong bond with a child, as opposed to the amount of practical childcare carried out by a parent, had a more positive effect on the child’s upbringing.

“Some misbehaviours occur because of a lack of connection between parent and child,” says Sheila. “Positive parenting leads to a happy child who feels good about themselves and therefore doesn’t need to act out for attention. The more positive attention you can give the less negative attention they will demand!”

What’s more, she says modern-day parenting has become more competitive, with parents tending to fill up their child’s schedule with after school activities. “While it’s good that a child has the opportunity to develop interests, it’s not a substitute for quality time spent with their parents. I would advise spending less time on activities or perhaps finding one activity that they really enjoy and instead focus on giving them more one-on-one time.”

This applies to a family with more than one child too as it not only strengthens the bond between parent and child, it reduces sibling rivalry, improves their self-esteem and overall makes for a happier, more cooperative child.

Don’t feel guilty about going to work

With an increasing number of women working in recent years, it’s often the case that a mother feels guilty about leaving her child for long periods each day. Equally there are some stay-at-home mothers who are doing so out of necessity rather than choice. As Sheila points out, both of these situations can make the mothers in question unhappy and in turn this has a knock-on effect on the child.

“A happy parent makes for a happy child,” she says. “When a parent is stressed, irritable and impatient, the child is going to pick up on this. Look after yourself first – if you feel overwhelmed, make a few minutes for yourself to calm down. Take a deep breath, go for a quick walk if you can. Children mirror our behaviours, so when you’re calmer, so are they!”

At the end of the day, parents have to take care of themselves before they can take care of their kids. “As parents we need to have realistic expectations of ourselves,” she says. “We need to learn to be kind to ourselves. By looking after ourselves, we’re in a better position to give our children the love and attention they need. Let’s face it, every child wants to feel like they matter.” (Source Irish Life Health, 2018)