Tips and ideas for daily quality time with your child

This guest post is contributed by Dr Margot Sunderland, Director of Education and Training at The Centre for Child Mental Health London who has recently produced a DVD series entitled “Best Relationship with Your Child

About the DVDs

With all the endless tasks of being a modern day parent, making sure you fit in daily quality time with your children can sometimes be a real struggle. Those lovely bonding times enjoyed in babyhood can all too easily take a back seat. Yet scientific research shows that special relationship times are as important for an eight year old as they are for your eight month year old, vital not only for bonding but for brain development. So my three DVDs in the Best Relationship with your Child series are designed to equip parents with tools, skills and practical ideas to strengthen their relationship with their child (from age 0 to 12) not just for now, but as an investment for life. Using the latest neuroscience research and illustrated throughout with delightful footage of parent-child quality time, the films are designed to support parent-child relationships in amazing ways. There are three in the Best Relationship with your Child series. They are called “ The First Five Years” “ Creative Quality Time’ and ‘ Age Five to Twelve”

Creative_5.indd First Five years_4.indd Five-twelve years_4.indd

What inspired me to create the DVDs?

I was all too aware that there is so much out there on how to get children to behave, but actually very little on how to enhance parent- child relationships on a day -to -day basis. As a parent myself, I know how easy it is, on some days, to lose connection with your child, (statistic: two thirds of communication between parent and child is about daily routine.) So I wanted to provide a resource, which would give parents a rich menu of hands on ideas for lovely ways of connecting with their child. Also, as author of the science based parenting book, ‘What Every Parent Needs to Know’ and with my 17 years of research on the long-term impact of parent- child interactions on the child’s developing brain, I wanted to convey to parents how attachment play is also key for healthy brain development and long-term mental health. So I talk about this on the DVDs too, using accessible language and images of course.

How will the DVDs benefit parents?

After the first five years, many parents grow disheartened and feel de-skilled in maintaining regular quality time with their children: their increased independence, hobbies, time spent with peers, and the allure of all that technology! (In fact statistics show that a third of parents and their children use devices at the dinner table.) So the films are designed to empower and inspire parents with a fabulous new resource of ideas to make the time spent with their child fun, engaging and deeply rewarding. Children, even up to the age of 12 love the attachment play and having watched the DVDs, parents often say they feel a new confidence and excitement in relating to their children in ways that really deepen their attachment bond. Also we know that attachment play communicates key psychological messages vital for self- esteem:

  • You have my full attention
  • I delight in being with you
  • You are delightful


Key tips and ideas for daily quality time

Recent studies have found that the average parent-child quality time is about 1 hour a day for mothers and 35 minutes a day for fathers (Sevilla, A 2014 Economic and Social Research Council Britain in 2014 June). But I think it’s important to point out that this can be made up of lots of separate ‘moments of meeting’ over the course of the day, rather than just one big block of 60 minutes. It’s often far more powerful that way. So here are some examples of what you can do (all illustrated on the DVDs).

Kids that don’t want to get up in the morning: Give them a menu of animal rides on your back (see below) to carry them downstairs, so starting the day with giggles rather than grumpiness. For example you might ask, “ Do you want a Wonky Stonky Tickle Ride or a Gruffly Goat with Giggles Ride?”

Or ask them what they want you to be whilst they ride on your back. For example the boy on the picture below has just asked Uncle Simon to be a grizzly tiger.



Boring Waiting Times (e.g. long queues, at the bus stop or waiting for the meal to arrive in a café: Imagine that familiar scene when you’re sitting in a café, the service is bad and your child starts playing with the sugar or climbing on the seats. Try some clapping games. One or our favourites on the DVD is ‘ Breakfast Bonanza’ which ends up in ‘pretend eating of the child ‘ (A game enjoyed by two years old right up to nine year olds!)

IATE_You_Me_COMPILE_08.Still012 copy

In the picture above here Uncle Simon and Flint (age 9) are playing “Shimmy shimmy cocopap. Secret animal up your back, which animal did that? “ In this game you simply take it in turns to draw an animal on the other person’s back (with or without sounds). They have then got to guess what the animal is. (It can be done with numbers too). Or with younger children, play hiding a little toy under plastic beakers, swizzle them round and then ask the child to guess which beaker has the toy.

IATE_You_Me_COMPILE_08.Still016 copy

Travel time – always keep a puppet in your bag

A puppet with moving mouth will hold the attention of a child far longer than one that doesn’t



If you need to kill time, bring a finished sock puppet to inspire your child and then a simple sock puppet kit so they can make one before you play –(easy to stick on eyes and wool for hair and then ‘fabric pens ‘so they can draw clothes on the puppet). Then simply go on a sock puppet journey together (see Creative Quality Time DVD) exploring all the nooks and crannies of your current environment (can be a very little space such as an aeroplane seat). Or do a sock puppet dance together. Feeding puppets (see below) is also a lovely thing to do on boring car journeys if you sit in the back for a while with your child


TV and together chill time – Research shows that watching a DVD on your home TV together and commenting and responding to your child’s comments can develop key IQ and EQ (emotional intelligence) centres in the brain. (Researchers found it didn’t work with actual television programmes only films. So if the thought of sitting through an hour of Scooby-Do just fills you with dread, choose a film that you will like too. All the Julia Donaldson films are very powerful for adults as well as children –e.g. Gruffalo, Gruffalo’s Child, Stick Man and Room on a Broom.

Mother with children on a green background watch TV

Spontaneous physical relational play overtures throughout the day

Physical attachment play is amazing not only for brain but for bonding. It activates brain fertilisers, which develop the executive functions in the higher human brain, key for emotional and social intelligence. Also it triggers optimal levels of pro-social brain chemicals (anti- anxiety and anti- aggression chemicals). This is why when we want good behaviour; playful parenting is far more effective than punishing parenting. The latter triggers stress hormones, a key contributory factor in bad behaviour.

There are lots of ideas for physical attachment play on the DVDs.


‘ Twinkling stars’ (lap game)

Here is an example. Put your child (up to age 7) on your lap and say “I’ve got a xxx on my lap” e.g.

“I’ve got a rolling pin on my knee, I’ve got a horse on my knee, I’ve got a seesaw on my knee” then make the sound and movement and hear the child’s shrieks of delight!

Or ask the child what they would like you to be. They can ask you to be anything. The six year old in the picture above asked her carer to be ‘twinkling stars’. Just use your imagination in terms of how you can be a twinkling stars incorporating the child on your lap!

Playing with your child

One of the most lovely things to do in quality time, is to sit next to your child whilst they are making something or drawing something. A common mistake is to use the time to ask your child lots of questions, “ How is school?” What are you doing?” “What are you making?” Questions tend to bring emotional distance not closeness between parents and children and also raise their stress hormone levels. So use the 5 finger rule. To explain: if they are making something or playing with something and you are sitting beside them, make four comments for every one question (hence five finger rule): “Ah so you have painted the peacock a lovely deep purple colour. Hello peacock you do look beautiful “. “I notice how well you are bouncing that ball” “ So now the peacock is sitting on a beautiful little blue house.” Ask, “How would you like me to play with you?” It’s called “parent verbal attention focussing behaviour”, proven to increase your child’s sustained attention, exploratory skills, language skills, social skills and symbolic play competence.  

Also for accompanied playtime with your child, have a “You-me special playtime box” It should contain bubbles, stickers, balls, Play Doh feathers and other interesting things. Make up games (and ask them to do the same) that you can make with the things in the box. The box is only to be used for your special You- Me time.


Bathtime– (for the under sevens) get in there with them still using the sit opposite rule for best eye contact and connection. Have lots of funnels and plastic jugs to play with ( just were swimming costume or t- shirt if you want)

Giving games

On the DVD in the series called “Best Relationship with your Child Age 5- 12”, there are lots of giving and receiving games involving lovely gift giving tasks. Here is one of them, in which eight year old Felix is making a lovely cocktail for his father whilst his father accompanies him with a drum appreciation song!



Where can people find more information about your DVD or your work?

On my website or through the work of my Centre, The Centre for Child Mental Health London

References for the science and psychology research referred to above

Buie, E (2011) Gift of the gab: why teachers should turn to banter. Times Educational Supplement 13 May 2011

Burgdorf, J, Kroes, RA, Beinfeld, MC, Panksepp, J, Moskal, JR. (2010) Uncovering the molecular basis of positive affect using rough-and-tumble play:. Neuroscience. 2010 Jul 14; 168(3): 769-77.

Fearon RMBelsky J. (1988) The Influence of Adult Intervention on Infants’ Level of Attention Child Development Vol. 59, No. 4 (Aug., 1988), pp. 1125-1135

Halifax Insurance Digital Home Index 2015

Laakso et al ( 1990) Social interactional behaviours and symbolic play competence as predictors of language development and their association with maternal attention- directing strategies. Infant Behaviour and Development 1990 Vol 22

Mar, RA, Tackett, JL, Moore, C. (2009), ‘Exposure to media and theory-of-mind development in pre-schoolers’, Cognitive Development

Panksepp, J. (2010) ‘Science of the brain as a gateway to understanding play’, American Journal of Play, 2010, Neuroscience. 2010 Jul 14; 168(3): 769-77

Parent- Play survey Playmobil UK ( 2013)

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tips and ideas for quality time with your child. simple and practical games and suggestions to try

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