Quality Vs. Quantity: Your Kids Need Space Too

Sometimes More is Less

The average number of hours parents spent with their children in 1985 was 8.5 hours for mothers and 3 hours for fathers. In 2010 the average hours spent with children increased to 13.7 hours for mothers and 7.2 hours for fathers. [1] The quantity of time we spend with our children is increasing but what about the quality of that time? Are we developing connections and creating family memories like we used to?

What Makes Memories Remarkable

This week I have had the opportunity to self-isolate and reflect on the connections and memories that I have held so dearly over the years. I asked my husband and we considered some of the experiences we had raising our now 3 adult children. Where did the time go…now we create memories with 5 grandchildren. When my husband and I reflected on the memorable moments from so long ago, we asked: What memories are remarkable? The next question, we asked ourselves is what made them remarkable? Without any effort, we found that many of our noteworthy memories held a connection to nature.

Explore More

The experiences had common themes, including creating connections with others, finding confidence in new experiences, applying critical thinking to situations, and appreciating the wonders of nature. Watching our children get themselves safely in and out of trouble through problem solving and resilience brought smiles to our faces and often sighs of relief. One common theme for us was allowing for exploration. Is what they are doing truly a danger to themselves or others? Has anyone ever got seriously hurt from mud puddle jumping?

Story Rocks and Cloud Gazing

Think back to your childhood experience, what emotional connections can you link to nature that provided you with an opportunity to develop social skills that were influenced by your outdoor play? Thompson & Thompson explain that natural outdoor environments provide a context of each kind of play that can be more complex, extended and self-determined. [2] Social-emotional skills can be developed through free exploration, play where children can build and create their own adventures, complement their siblings or peers’ interests or even respond to anger or anxiety; a lesson on empathy or even the art of compromise. Imaginative play can create foundational learning for new concepts and even allow for nuances to experiment with personality development. Who am I? Who do I want to become? Self-expression creates self-confidence and greater self-acceptance. As a child or youth creates stories by holding a rock or gazing up at clouds, they are sharing an expression of vulnerability in their stories. The narrator of the story is trusting they can share and be received without being judged. This experience enhances a child’s ability to take risks and build another piece of the foundation for self-esteem.  

Quality time over quantity

Make It Count

So, is it quantity or quality of time that make remarkable memories? For my husband and I, it was quality time that focused on providing tools and provoking curiosity, then knowing when to step back and have experiences and make choices to develop skills that allowed them to grow into the unique individuals they are today. For us, it was the quality of the connections that helped make memories remarkable, so take this time while we are in tight quarters for work, play, and schooling to focus on quality time. Your children may surprise you if you give them a bit more freedom. Schools are closed, sports teams have ended their seasons, and playgrounds are now off-limits – but that doesn’t mean that parents need to fill all those gaps.  Focus on quality over quantity when it comes to family time; share stories of when you were younger, backyard games you played, imaginary adventures or feats of ingenious cardboard engineering. Then take a step back and let kids do what kids to best – be wild.


Cheryl McDougallCheryl McDougall, MSW, RSW is a social work professional with a background in group programming, advocacy, policy development, mediation and, counselling. She is a mother to three children and grandmother to 5 grandchildren, she loves spending time outdoors hiking, snowshoeing, and gathered around the campfire with family.


[1] Schulte, B. (2015, March 28). Making time for kids? Study says quality trumps quantity. Retrieved March 24, 2020, from


[2] Thompson, J. E., & Thompson, R. A. (2007, November 30). Natural Connections: Children, Nature, and Social-Emotional Development. Retrieved March 24, 2020, from


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