So you’ve just gotten home from work, but there are a few papers you still need to look at for that upcoming meeting. The grass needs to be cut, the dishes need to be washed, and your wife’s freaking about getting enough food ready tomorrow for the Bible study that’s meeting at your house after work. Your head pounds from the tension you’ve been gathering all week as you sit down for a quick dinner before going back to the office, when you notice your daughter’s silence at the dinner table.
Shes’ not usually a quiet kid, but for the last week or so, she’s talked much less than you’re used to. You wonder what could be wrong. She’s also busy, staying occupied with soccer, school, and piano lessons, as well as the three birthday parties she was invited to last week. Her brother has basketball practice, a game this weekend, karate lessons, and is involved in the school Chess Club, but he’s chatting up a storm like normal. The youngest is vying for your attention by trying to put a noodle up his nose.
You go back to the office, but now your main concern isn’t the meeting, it’s your daughter. You wish you knew what she looked so worried about at dinner. If only you had the time to talk with her.
Why You and Your Children Need Dates
When is the last time you went on a date with your child? Some parents do it religiously once a month, while others might fit it in a few times a year. Others haven’t ever considered going on dates with their children. And that’s okay. What we’re going to discuss today, however, is why you might want to, and how you can do it on a budget.
Children experience stress and anxiety just like adults do. Whether it’s a more serious problem, such as a childhood anxiety disorder, or an argument with a friend at school, your child isn’t going to live a perfect life, as much as you wish she could. When they’re little, children are more likely to tell you about this problem immediately than when they’re older, but they might not tell you at all if they feel like there’s no proper time.
“But I’m right here!” you may think. “I tuck my kids into bed every night, make their dinner, and watch TV with them. Why don’t they think there’s a good time to talk to me?” Well, several reasons, and I’ll use my highly anxious childhood self as an example:
- They probably don’t want to talk about problems in front of siblings. I mean, I loved my little brothers, but I didn’t want to discuss my dance class issues in front of them. They wouldn’t have understood, and would have just interrupted the conversation to make jokes.
- They might think you’re too busy or distracted to listen. If I was going to bring up something important, I didn’t want to worry about distracting my parents from work problems. If they seemed to busy, I was likely just to wait until they were less busy.
- It can be scary to talk about big problems. While the problems may not seem that big to you, your child might need at least an hour to work up the guts to even start the hard conversation. What seems like a big deal to her might not seem big to you, but it’s consuming her whole world. She might need some time with you just to warm up to the thought of discussing it.
Dates were highly prized in my family. Every few weeks, one of my parents would take one of us out for some alone time, something we’d nearly fight to the death for. We loved each other, but the idea of having Mom and Dad just to ourselves was irresistible. Dates did 3 things for us:
- Dates proved our parents thought we were worth time and money…particularly time.
- Dates proved our parents wanted to spend time with us…we were desirable to them.
- Dates provided chances for us to bring up problems we might have been having, and they gave our parents time to respond to our problems without interruption from our siblings.
- Dates set patterns for our teen and adult years in both communication and time allotment. Instead of our parents making time for us in their busy schedules, we make time for them in ours, and we do it happily.
I hope you see how important it is for adults to take time for our children out of our busy schedules. We may not be able to do a date a week, but the way we plan chunks of time now is planting seeds we’ll reap in the future: we can either reaps seeds that bring our children to come to us with advice and spend time with us as adults, or we can reap seeds where our children go to others for advice and find others who desire to spend time with them instead.
10 Date Ideas on the Cheap
Another reason I say these date ideas can bring about stress relief is because they’re cheap. You don’t need to stress about dropping loads of cash so your child has fun. Children don’t need expensive dates. What they’ll crave most is your time. These dates can all be done for around or under $10, and they can be mixed and matched depending on what you and your child prefer.
1) Wal-Mart and Wendy’s
This idea is owed to my father. We actually did this date for years. When my parents hardly had any money, my dad would take me to Wendy’s and get me the Junior Frosty. We’d sit at Wendy’s for a while and talk, just the two of us. Then we’d go to Wal-Mart and just browse, talking more as we went. We’d often find funny products on sale and laugh about them. Sometimes, my dad would even buy me a toy from the dollar section.
2) Cafe and Used Bookstore
Husband and I just discovered the coolest used bookstore in the Little Rock area. We had a great time perusing random books, and none cost over $5. What better time can you spend with your child than looking through literature? Perhaps you’ll even find a common interest by looking through kids’ books, like geology or spaceships or cookbooks. (If you want, help your child understand money by giving her $3 and telling her she can use that in the bookstore, then help her find a book that costs $3 that she’ll enjoy.)
Afterward (or before), you can find a refreshment by hitting up a local cafe. If you’re strapped for cash, get your child a small drink, and forgo your own. Again, do what you can just to get your child out of her normal setting for a while and into a world shared by just the two of you.
3) Park and a Popsicle
This is a great idea for a family who can’t spend $10. (We had times where my parents couldn’t.) Still, it gets the child out of the house for a bit and alone with you. When they’re younger, you can bring a ball or frisbee to the park, or you can play tag with your child. (They’re much faster than they look.) If they’re older, just take a walk with them. And who knows? They might still want to toss a football or kick the soccer ball around.
If you have one of those popsicle or ice cream vendors nearby, you can get your child a popsicle if you feel like you can afford it. If not, pack a picnic lunch or bring snacks.
4) Scavenger Hunt and a Slurpee
The sky’s the limit with what kind of scavenger hunts you can come up with. You might do a nature scavenger hunt, where you search for earthworms, acorns, and smooth rocks, or you could do a neighborhood hunt, where you look for 3 fire hydrants, 5 blue cars, and 4 stop signs. This can be a great way to get your child to notice the world around him and to open up conversation since being outside can make children feel a little less nervous.
Who doesn’t love Slurpees? (If you don’t live somewhere with a 711 gas station, these are also known as Icees.) Slurpees are still one of the cheapest drinks around. Your child will enjoy picking out her favorite flavor, and it can keep you cool while you’re on your hunt. (Just remember to stay within walking distance of a bathroom!)
5) Craft Store and a Craft
I love craft stores. The possibilities are endless. If you and your child love crafts, this might be a fun place to start. Popular stores like Michaels, Jo-Ann Fabric, and Hobby Lobby have coupons for 40% off your most expensive item nearly every week. (You can find these in the Sunday paper, on their free mobile phone apps, and printable versions online.) If your daughter likes to pain, go to the paint section and pick out a cheap brush, a few acrylic colors, and a canvas, using your coupon.
Go somewhere where you can sit and paint, maybe at a park table with a pretty view. It’s a painting you and your daughter can cherish forever. If she likes beading or drawing better, look for those supplies instead. The key here is to try and do the craft somewhere besides home if you can. If you go home, you run the risk of getting pulled into other demands such as her siblings or chores, and that will cheapen the meaning of the date in her eyes.
6) Ice Cream and the Dollar Theater
Whether you prefer self-serve frozen yogurt (my husband and I are near addicts.) or the traditional ice cream shop, such as Baskin Robbins, getting a frozen treat can be lots of fun. Set your preferred budget ahead of time. Frozen yogurt can be pretty pricey, but if you can go over $10, it can be a lot of fun. You can still have a great time, however, getting kid sized scoops at regular ice cream stores.
If you’ve got a dollar theater, this can be a great way to end the evening. The frozen yogurt gives you talk time, and the movie is something fun you can do together. Many dollar theaters actually cost more like $2, but compared to the typical $9 tickets, that’s a steal. A lot of movie theaters have certain days that are cheaper, particularly Tuesdays. These tickets often do fall to $1 to try and lure people in. The movies that usually show at these dollar theaters are often either just coming out on DVD, or they’re about to, but if you’re willing to wait to see Shrek VII, then it’s totally worth it.
7) Farmers Market and a Fun Memento
You might not have a farmers market in your area, but if you do, they can be great fun. We have a bustling one here in Little Rock (and others nearby), and it’s full of all sorts of surprises. I don’t know about others, but ours is free to get in. Aside from the huge variety of fruits, vegetables, and jars of awesomeness we didn’t even know existed, people are all over the place selling handmade jewelry, clothing, purses, t-shirts, soaps, candles, and meat seasonings.
Because the event itself is free, this can leave a little cash for a little trinket and snacks. (Although you might not need the snacks, as a lot of the stands have little pieces of their wares for you to taste!) It might seem like a small thing, but a little necklace or favorite carved animal might be something your child treasures for years to come to remind him or her of the special day they spent with you. (Just make sure to check the price BEFORE asking your child if he/she likes it!)
8) Shopping Mall and a Sweets Store
There’s a reason it’s so popular to look around the mall…it’s free! Still, it gives you time to talk while you walk, and you can see a lot of fun things while you’re at it. From stopping and playing around at the electronics store to stepping into a home decor shop, there are lots of places to go. Ending the trip with a little stop at the candy store can be a special way to end the day.
9) Starbucks and Scrabble
Starbucks, or any other coffee shop, has a nice slow pace. You don’t feel like you’re rushed in and out. It’s a place many people will sit for hours at while they finish college papers, discuss politics, and have business meetings. Find a tables in a corner, or any area that’s not high traffic, and make a tradition of bringing a board game to play. While you sip your hot chocolate or coffee, you and your child can talk and play without being pestered by other siblings to play as well.
10) Trails and Taking Pictures
While you probably don’t want to pick the hardest trail available, many local nature walks have easy hills you can enjoy with your child. And the older they get, the harder the trail you can move up to if you so wish. And not only should you take pictures, let your child take some pictures, too! You might help your child become a budding photographer! No matter what, your child will have fond memories of your path, as well as pictures to remember it by!
If you wish, you can stop in for drinks after your hike. Sometimes, just a quick stop to the gas station from some frilly drink can be a big deal to kids who don’t often get them.
If you’ve never done something like this, it might take a date or two before you and your kids feel like it’s normal, but don’t despair if it feels a bit awkward at first. Once your kids understand that you want to spend time with them, they might not verbalize it, but it will give them a sense of security, which can lower stress levels. These dates can lower your stress levels as well by giving you a bigger part in your children’s worlds. Taking time out of your busy schedule for fun with your kids also give your hard worked brain a break as well.
A few final date tips:
- Take pictures…everywhere you go (and give copies to your kids).
- Think outside the box…where would you and your child like to go?
- Create traditions…creating traditions can help children feel safe.
And finally? Have fun!
Do you have any fun memories parent/child dates you’d like to share? What about ideas for these dates? Please share your thoughts and comments in the Comment Box below. Also, don’t forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter for extra information on neurological disorders, education, and encouragement. And as always, thanks for reading!
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