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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Giving the Gift of Quality Time to Children

LAS CRUCES - Parents shopping for their children's holiday gifts should consider putting their wallets away and giving the gift of time, said a New Mexico State University family scientist.

Children expect to find traditional presents under the Christmas tree, but quality time spent with a child will make a more positive, longer-lasting impression, said Robert DelCampo, a licensed family therapist and professor of family science at NMSU's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences .

"Every minute that a parent spends one-on-one with each child that they have is like money in the bank in terms of reinforcing their relationship," DelCampo said. "I think it can certainly decrease the possibility or the probability of the children being involved in gangs, drug abuse and other undesirable behaviors as they get older."

DelCampo said a recent study showed parents in 1965 spent an average 30 hours per week in direct contact with their children, while parents in 1985 spent only 17 hours each week. Other research indicates families today spend much more time watching television.

"We're spending more time in front of the TV than in front of our children," he said. "But that's okay if you're watching a program and interacting with your child as you're watching."

DelCampo suggests other activities to create better interaction. "Children like to be like mommy and daddy," he said. "So if you enjoy baking bread, set up a session where your pre-schooler helps you do the baking by putting the ingredients together and kneading the dough."

Parents also can read stories to younger children to help them build their vocabulary. Activities with older children could include playing or discussing sports with them.

"For generations, a natural conversation topic between parents and their kids has been sports," DelCampo said. "Talk about anything from the World Series to a recent trade from one team to another and how that trade could affect each team.

DelCampo also recommends popular music as an open door to conversation with children.

"Instead of walking into a living room and turning down the 'noise' of your child's music, try to talk about it to determine what it is about that particular song or music type that your child likes," he said.

Trying to appear "cool" in front of their peers during adolescence brings tremendous pressure on children. "Children often don't feel that their parents know what's cool and what's happening, so they turn to their peer group for the answers by trying to imitate them."

By starting regular interaction while their children are young, parents can ensure that their kids will use them as their role models and not their peer groups, DelCampo said.

"Time spent with children enhances the parent-child relationship, so that in their later life children will emulate their parents' values and attitudes -- and that makes the gift of time the greatest gift of all," DelCampo added.