Roll on the good times with the kids

Helen O’Callaghan says kids thrive when given attention.

As we look ahead to a new year, what small changes can we make that will make a big difference to family life? Early Childhood Ireland CEO Teresa Heeney says what children want more than anything is to spend time with parents where they’re the focus.

“Everything is about driving that. How you do it doesn’t hugely matter.” She suggests the
following small changes for big results: 

Encourage outdoor activity and play

“With very little preparation, it’s possible to be out even in the coldest weather. Apart from very windy weather, there’s no such thing as bad weather but bad clothing,” says Teresa.

She says Early Childhood Ireland staff are seeing parents increasingly investing in warm comfortable and waterproof clothing so they and their children can be outdoors.

“Going to the park or woods is very stimulating for children. They’re at their happiest and most energetic when they’re playing. Being outdoors gives lots of exercise and fresh air, which gives better appetite and sleep.”

Cook or bake together

This has the knock-on effect of making it likely you’ll eat/ have a meal

“Children love to bake. They love the mess, the textures. It’s a very sensory experience.

"They learn about science — about what happens when you put eggs or baking powder into something.”

They’re also learning life lessons, says Teresa — about cleaning up, about reading a recipe and following instructions.

“Cooking/baking together engages positive attitudes to food and cooking. It gives insight into where food comes from. Then you set the table, eat together, talk about the day and plan.”

Allocate one hour a day/week when everybody is forbidden to look at screens

We must recognise that the amount of time kids are spending on screens is far above recommended age guidelines, says Teresa.

“It’s really challenging for parents to say no when they’re on their own phones/ tablets. Taking an hour each evening or at the weekend where you all do something together like play cards sends an important message.”

Each parent should try to set aside time, even once a month, to spend one-on-one with each child.

“We often tend to operate as an entire family group so we don’t see an individual child’s particular challenges.

"It may not happen every week but even once a month, it’s attractive for a child to think they’re the sole focus of that parent."

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