Dr. Spock: Quality Time

Parenting advice from one of America's favorite experts.

Dr. Benjamin Spock has been giving parents advice about raising their children for decades. In this excerpt from his landmark work, Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care, he shares one of the 19 points he believes are most important for parents to keep in mind about their role in their child's life.

    Quality time

    When both parents, or single parents, have outside jobs, they usually try to arrange work schedules that will give them maximum time with their young children. In two-parent families, the attention of one parent at a time can be quite satisfying to children. Preschool children can be regularly allowed to stay up late in the evenings if it is possible for them to regularly sleep late in the mornings or have a nap at day care. The exact number of hours of companionship is less important than the quality or spirit of the time spent together, and this is what's behind the expression "quality time."

    From a practical point of view, "quality time" implies interactions that are close, nurturing, and lovingly responsive. Quality time can occur during driving time, mealtimes, any and all routine times together. Trips to the supermarket or department store can always be enhanced with time for talking and listening and teaching. So quality time does not imply doing anything out of the ordinary. It is the accumulated day-to-day interactions, not dramatic trips to the circus, that have the most profound effect on the child's development.

    The idea of quality time in itself is fine. But I'm concerned that a few conscientious, hardworking parents take it as an obligation to be talking, playing, reading with their children, long after patience and enjoyment have run out. Parents who regularly ignore their own needs and wishes in order to provide quality time for their children may come to resent the sacrifice, and then the spirit of friendliness and responsiveness dissipates. And a child who senses that he can make his parent give him more time than the parent feels like giving is encouraged to become pesky and demanding.

    I have another concern about the expression "quality time." Some parents misinterpret the phrase to mean that it really doesn't matter how much time they spend with their children, as long as the time they do spend is jam-packed with "quality." But quantity of time is also important -- time spent together in unexciting tasks with mundane interactions. Children need to simply be around their parents, watching them in action, learning from their day-to-day example, and knowing they are an important part of their lives. The trick is to find the right balance: to spend as much time as possible with your children, but not at the expense of fulfilling some of your own personal needs.

      Excerpted with permission from Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care, Revised Seventh Edition, Pocket Books.

      Copyright 1945, 1946, © 1957, 1968, 1976, 1985, 1992 by Benjamin Spock, MD. Copyright renewed © 1973, 1974, 1985, 1996 by Benjamin Spock, MD. Revised and updated material copyright © by The Benjamin Spock Trust

      The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.