My son came home from school yesterday quite distressed. Again. There has been a pattern of reported incidents at school of rough play. As he cried and sobbed, my mind was racing with ideas of what needed to be done to help him, and images of myself riding into battle, like the conquering cavalry of old, to defend my wounded boy. However, my attempts to help him were rebuffed, with every suggestion seeming to only escalate his emotions. We were both becoming frustrated with each other, and I was feeling unhelpful…until I just gave in. Almost defeated, I felt that all I could offer was my time, with him, right then, in that moment. My years of training as a clinical psychologist, and many more years working with many young people and their families, ironically with some having similar concerns, culminated in the complex intervention offered to my son of watching a funny TV show together and eating some ice-cream. As time passed, his emotions settled, and he nestled in to my chest. We chuckled together, and the tension eased. Not long after, he took himself off to bed and I sat in his room for a little while, until he went off to sleep.
Decades of laboratory studies, observations in naturalistic settings, surveys, and self-reports, have lead psychological research to this embarrassingly simple scientific discovery – quality time matters. “Quality time is to mental health what clean water is to physical health” (Lee, 2010). It seems that quality time is the most beneficial ailment for wounded relationships, hurt feelings, and personal distress. Quality time given to our loved ones heals wounded hearts, repairs broken ties, and replenishes the soul. For both family and intimate relationships, it is often the common factor in both the deterioration in relationships, and in their restoration. In my couples counselling experience, it is often the starting point of our work together. When couples are willing to just be in each others presence and spend time nurturing their friendship base, the relationship starts to show better promise of recovery.
Having run many parenting programs professionally over the years, my personal and professional experiences still bring me back to this point; there is nothing as powerful as spending quality time with our children, more than any strategy, tool or technique. Not to say that sometimes things need to be done. Action may be needed. There is more that my wife and I must do to assist our son with his struggles at school. But without our first being willing to be fully present with him in his times of distress, and to let our time and presence with him be a soothing balm, not much else is likely to work. Because the best intervention we as parents can offer our children is our time. In that moment, we convey to our children that they matter, their feelings matter, and that we are their safe harbour in times when the seas are rough.