It’s More Than Just ‘Being There’ That Matters

Experts say ‘quality time’ with a child has life-long benefits.

By Jacqueline Garcia, EGP Staff Writer

Boyle Heights resident Nydia Gonzalez vividly remembers the day her 4-year-old daughter reminded her of the importance of “quality time.”

Little Yaretzy had arrived from school and started talking about her day to her mother who was hurrying to make dinner and wash the dishes, distracted by the work and the sound of running water.

Holding her cheeks in her hands in desperation, Yaretzy “told me, ‘Mom I’m talking, please look at me in the eyes!’” Gonzales recently recalled.

Lea este artículo en Español: Lo Importante No Es Solo Estar Presente, Es Mucho Más

That was my wake up call, she told EGP in Spanish. “My daughter wanted attention.”

“I stopped everything I was doing and sat down to hear what she had learned in school,” understanding for the first time the importance of spending “special time” with her daughter, Gonzalez said.

The value of special, or quality time, is one of the many parenting tools Gonzalez learned with other mothers at a 6-week long workshop offered by Centro de Alegria in Boyle Heights.

Whether it is five minutes or an hour, parents should set aside a specific time for each child and let the child choose what he/she wants to do, “within the limits of safety and reason,” says the center’s director, Ray Ramirez.

Centro de Alegria is one of two early childhood education centers run by Proyecto Pastoral, a nonprofit serving low-income Latinos in Boyle Heights. The center offers relevant and culturally sensitive low-and no-cost childcare and preschool services to children ages 18 months to 5 years. It also holds workshops to help parents gain the skills they need to help their children flourish academically and socially.

Children from Centro de Alegria in Boyle Heights play while learning about shapes and colors. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

Children from Centro de Alegria in Boyle Heights play while learning about shapes and colors. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

There’s no doubt parents love their children, but I have seen parents who do not even know if their child can hold a pencil, remarked Ramirez, explaining the importance of teaching parents how a child’s brain develops, which the center does during its parenting courses.

Minerva Belen has taken the course and told EGP she learned how to better connect with her 4-year-old son Dereck.

“Sometimes we think we know everything, or we think, ‘[my child] is very young and doesn’t understand,’ so we don’t put any effort into his development,” Belen told EGP in Spanish.

When a child feels comfortable, he is more sociable and that’s what I want for my son, said Belen, adding that she practices what she’s learned at home.

Belen says the workshops have taught her the importance of hugging, caressing, looking straight into her child’s eyes and saying “I love you.”

“That’s the best part of my special time with my son,” she said with a smile.

Some parents think they are too busy to spend quality time with their children, or don’t have time to take parenting classes, but as little as 5 minutes can help a parent start bonding with a child, according to First 5 LA—a Los Angeles County-based child-advocacy agency funded with money from Proposition 10, California’s tax on tobacco.

On its new parenting website, First 5 LA offers some easy ways to spend quality time with a child and explains the benefits to be gained.

Minerva Belen says she spends at least an hour of quality time every day with her son Dereck. (Courtesy of Minerva Belen)

Minerva Belen says she spends at least an hour of quality time every day with her son Dereck. (Courtesy of Minerva Belen)

“80 percent of a child’s brain is developed by age 3, which means that a child’s success in school and life starts from the earliest moments – before birth, at home, and with her parents and caregivers,” explains First 5 on its website.

Bonding is vitally important because a baby learns to trust that his or her needs will be met by spending time with parents and caregivers, explains Barbara DuBransky, director of program development for First 5 LA.

“When a baby feels secure and becomes attached to caregivers through bonding, it improves his or her development and growth in the first five years of life—and beyond,” she told EGP via email.

Studies have shown that what happens to young children today will impact society in the future.

Through relationships with the primary caregiver, usually the mother, an infant develops expectations about the extent to which he/she can acquire and maintain secure relationships, as well as beliefs about others’ trustworthiness in relationships, writes Dr. Peter Ernest Haiman.

“More recently, research has shown that the type of attachment formed during infancy affects right brain development,” he states. “A biologic foundation that can last a lifetime.”

It’s why basic actions, like holding, hugging, singing, reading and playing with a child are important to making them feel protected.

There are an estimated 800,000 children under age 5 in LA County and many are in blue-collar families where parents work long hours.

Jennifer Alonso, 19, works at Centro de Alegria as a substitute teacher; her 4-year-old sister is also enrolled there.

Alonso told EGP she attends the parenting workshops—even though she herself is not yet a mother—so she can teach her sisters what her mother didn’t have time to teach her because she worked long hours.

It’s easy for parents to assume they know what their child feels, but not really understand, said Alma Guerrero, assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine during a presentation last month on Early Childhood Education at Hope Street Family Center in Los Angeles.

“We feed them, we tell them what to do, but we are not really spending time with them,” she said. She advises parents to ask questions that do not require a yes or no answer. “Have them be more explicit, ask ‘tell me more.’”

Gonzalez said she spends at least 20 minutes of quality time a day with each of her daughters. While the younger one likes to go play outside with her scooter or toys, the 11-year-old likes to play board games and “likes to win.”

Belen said she spends one hour almost every day with her child doing different activities.
“We play ball, we go to the playground, we go down the slide,” she said, adding it makes her “feel like a kid again.”

Changes she has made have helped her son feel more secure, and he now tells her “mommy I love you” and hugs and kisses her, she said.

Gonzalez told EGP she’s learned a lot about the importance of patience.
“Having your child after the age of 30 is more difficult and for me it was a great help to learn some parenting skills,” she noted.

Children function at their best when there is a strong sense of safety and connection with adults, especially their parents, explains Ramirez.

They feel more than what they understand, he said, pointing out that “What you say has much more meaning [depending on] how you say it.”

This story was written as part of a fellowship with New America Media.


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July 21, 2016  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


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