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While we often think of parenting as a collective thing—as “doing things with our kids”—in actual fact the most real and effective parenting is done individually—one parent with one child. It is this one-on-one time that is the focus of best-parenting-idea-number 8.

So many good parents we know and have observed, both moms and dads, manage to get this one-on-one time through the simple habit and practice of “mommy dates” or “daddy dates.” Often this practice begins with small children, but we have seen it continue to be beneficial and meaningful right up into the teen years.

The basic idea, of course, is to give a child all of your attention and focus during a little outing that could range from a special evening together to picking him up from school to go to lunch together to simply taking her along on a couple of errands.

The best “dates” are the ones where the child gets to decide where you will go so that he feels real ownership in the date and in the relationship. And there is a cumulative relationship-improving benefit is the dates happen regularly. While once a week would be wonderful, once a month may be more realistic. Schedule your date with each child well in advance and put it on a calendar so you both can look forward to it.

Then, when it happens, make the effort to focus all of your attention on that individual child. Ask questions that go beneath the surface. Use the word “feel” in your questions. “How do you feel about a certain class in school, about a particular friend, about the team you are on, about your relationship with your brother…” Avoid the temptation to lecture or advise or judge. Just ask and listen.

Find genuine things to complement the child about—be specific about what you love about him or her.

Keep some kind or record or list of your “dates” with each child, something you can both take pleasure in remembering. One way to do this is to have a simple notebook into which you tape some little tangible reminder of each date—a bit of sagebrush from the hike you went on, the wrapping from the straw you drank your beverage from at the lunch place, the front of the program from the concert. These “daddy date books” can become treasures of personal, bonding memories as the years pass.

Sometimes, particularly if there is a need to have a more extended one-on-one talk about a particular problem or concern, or if there are some behavior problems to sort out or a relationship with a child that has gone a bit sour, there may be need for a longer and more extended mommy or daddy date. In these instances you might consider taking a child one-on-one on a longer trip It could be a business trip (it may be expensive and inconvenient, but it can pay huge dividends) or a long weekend trip, or a hike or campout, or anything else you can conjure up. Just being alone together while traveling allows communication to develop. Don’t push too hard — don’t interrogate. Use the techniques of “active listening,” (paraphrasing back each thing the child says) “ranking,” (how much are you enjoying that English class—from one to ten?). Let topics develop naturally. Be willing to talk about things you’re not particularly interested in. Express your joy in being together. Express your confidence and love and tell the child he is your priority and you are committed to him unconditionally. Be satisfied with small progress. Don’t expect one trip to solve everything.

Work out your own formula and schedule for daddy dates or mommy dates, but have them, and have them regularly. The benefits will last forever!

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