A parent’s undivided attention, priceless.


(Hadley Hooper forThe Washington Post)
August 13

Question: My 4-year-old daughter is a frenzy of activity and wants to draw, sing and pretend all the time. Lately, though, we’ve both gotten a bit bored with painting and coloring, and the projects suggested by the parenting blogs seem a bit ambitious to me, especially after I’ve put in a long day at the office.

Do you have any recommendations for craft projects that are high on creativity and low — or at least lower — on the prepping? And bonus points, please, if it introduces us to any music other than “Let It Go.”

Answer: Your child doesn’t want to paint and color with you as much as she wants you to listen to her, to enjoy her and to admire her so she will know that you love her as much as she loves you. Just giving 10 minutes of individual attention every day, without sneaking a peek at the paper, glancing at the evening news or talking on your cell, can sometimes satisfy the neediest child.

Ten minutes a day may not sound like much, but even that little bit of time is hard for a parent to find when she has to work, buy groceries, cook meals, do laundry, bathe a child and put her to bed. Don’t waste this precious time on anything that bores you, if only because a young child is as self-centered as a teenager. If you’re bored, she will think that you are bored with her and that only she can fix the problem. And when she can’t, she cries, gets sulky, has a tantrum or acts wilder and wilder simply because she doesn’t know what else to do.

You can stop this problem before it starts if you’re willing to change your own behavior a bit.

Because you must be pretty tired when you get home from work, why don’t you just give her a silk scarf, lay on the sofa and ask her to dance with it or to put on a play for you? Or ask her to bring a cup of pretend tea to you and then praise her profusely, even though your tea tastes an awful lot like water.

Whenever you play with your daughter or read to her, the playtime and the books should be fun and interesting for both of you. If you love to garden, wait for the weekend when you have more energy and then invite your child to garden with you. Whether you’re teaching her how to dig up a dandelion, separate a chrysanthemum or use the Latin name for a lily, you’ll both be smiling because you’re working in your beloved garden and she knows that you’re so glad she’s helping you.

If you’d rather cook than garden, let your child take credit for your dessert because she was the one who dumped your raspberries and sugar into the blender, turned it on and made the sauce for the peaches you poached. And though you made pockets out of parchment paper and baked the fish, let her think that she made it herself because she slipped the fish and the herbs into those pockets, she buttered them shut and she’s only 4 years old. For all of those reasons, you should praise her for cooking and let her hear you brag about it, too. Overheard praise is the sweetest praise of all.

Your child’s cooking will be even better if you let her use fine, simple recipes and pure ingredients. It takes time to teach a young child to cook from scratch, but it’s good for her ego; it teaches math much better than flashcards; and it helps her learn the difference between better and best.

You should arrange playtime with your neighbors, too. If you ask one or two families to your house for a game of charades occasionally, all the children will have a blast. Teach them the rules first, and use the titles of their books and movies rather than yours. This will give the young a better chance to win.

And when “Let It Go” is driving you batty, download “Smart Songs for Active Children” by Vincent Nunes (Lighthouse Records; $15) or “Appetite for Construction” by the PopUps (Kugelsongs; $12) so your daughter can listen to them on your iPod. With any luck, she’ll think that they are winners, too.

Send questions about parenting to advice@margueritekelly.com.

Chat Thursday at noon Join Kelly for a live Q&A about parenting and other family relationships at washingtonpost.com/advice , where you can also read past columns.

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