5 Tips for Setting Up Date Nights with Your Kids

Family Matters on 11.01.11

Photo: pasukaru76/ Creative Commons

A wise parent once told me that the best way to know your children is to schedule one-on-one dates with them. I took that advice to heart and when my daughter turned three we started "dating". Even though I am with my kids 24/7 (we are homeschoolers), my husband and I each set up our own monthly date night with our daughter. With him, she wants to get dressed up for a fancy dinner at our neighborhood diner or go to the local YMCA for some swimming. With me, she likes girl talk at our local coffeehouse. My son is too young for date night (he just turned 1) but his turn will come soon enough -- and I can't wait.

Here are some of our family's best tips for setting aside time with each child -- and making the most of your date nights.

1. Make it just the two of you.
Removing ourselves from the family to be with our daughter by herself -- focusing all of our energy on her -- speaks volumes about how important she is to us. (The added bonus is that your child won't have the opportunity to argue and fight with his sibling(s). Hurray!)

2. Let your child choose the location.  It's best to provide a few options, but you ultimately want your child to be happy with the spot where you end up. Don't drag your child out of the house to someplace they don't want to go -- or your evening will be off to a rough start before it even begins. Some of our family's favorite destinations are coffee shops, the park for a picnic dinner, a bookstore, the bike trails, an ice skating rink, the bowling alley, the pool, restaurants, and arcades. (Look for free or inexpensive locations if you don't want to spend a lot.)

 3. Listen more, talk less. Everyone wants to be heard and understood, and your children are no exception -- so give them plenty of time to talk. Even young children have lots to say about their feelings. Let your child know that it is safe for her to ask questions, express frustration, and be honest. Then keep your word and refrain from judging and lecturing. If the conversation is slow-going at the beginning, don't badger your child with questions; just enjoy the time together and toss in a few open-ended questions here and there. Conversation will happen naturally as your child realizes you are serious about wanting to hear what she has to say.

4. Show your flaws. Although you may want your kids to think you are perfect, that can create unrealistic expectations that they'll struggle to live up to. Share stories with your teen about how you felt inadequate in high school, failed the math final, or were bullied in gym class. Tell your toddler about the time you lost your favorite toy and felt really sad. Lead by being honest about your own life and feelings and your children will open up, too. (Obviously you will need to use your judgment to censor certain things or keep other stories age-appropriate -- it may not be a good idea to tell your teen that you used to steal your mom's car to go joyriding at night.)

5. Stick to it. Choose a night for your date and make it a regularly occuring event. Whether it's the first Tuesday of the month or every other Thursday, you need to show your children you are serious about spending time with them. As you begin to open the lines of communication with your children, you will be amazed by their questions, surprised by their feelings, and, most importantly, you will get to really know them. 

How do you make a point of spending one-on-one time with your kids?

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