Connecting with your child shouldn’t cost a fortune. It doesn’t have to cost a thing. The most important thing we can provide to children is our attention. Finding creative ways to give attention can be tricky, but well worth investigating. Here are ten budget-friendly ways to connect with your child.

1. Spend time with them

Busy parents know the value of time. Chaotic work schedules often hinder the amount of real-time spent with loved ones. It is crucial to make the most of small pockets of one-on-one time with children.

Leave work early one day and spend the day with your child. Choose one night each week for a date night. On that night, you and your child make plans together. Go to the park, or even take a walk around the neighborhood.

Maybe you and your child choose a dinner each week to make together. Sharing time through participating in activities together not only promotes cooperation, but it also nurtures attachment and bonding.

Take your child on errands. It turns an ordinary trip into an adventure. Use the time to talk to your child about the community. A post office trip affords a chance to talk about the mail and how the postal system works.

2. Ask about their day

Who doesn’t like being asked about their day? Children experience so much throughout their days, and talking about these experiences validates them. Ask children about what they learned or their favorite part of their day.

Choose a time with minimal interruptions when you will be able to provide full attention. Look at your child and relate to their stories with visual cues. Smiles, frowns, and laughter help children see that you are hearing them and understanding their situations.

Schedule time every day to check in with them. Make it a healthy habit. Whether at dinner or on the way to school, check to see how they are feeling. Ask about a test they had or an assignment about which they were worried.

Use bedtime as a chance for children to debrief about worries. Allow children to express concerns and process difficult emotions. It teaches children to acknowledge complicated feelings while also learning how to put problem-solving on hold for the night. Ensure children know that it is okay not to have things figured out before shut-eye and that there is always tomorrow to figure out something.

3. Do engaging activities together

Some children are not as verbal as expressing themselves. That’s okay. Not everyone is a good “talker.” For some children, the movement will provide the best means for connection. 

Take up a sport together. Tennis, racquetball, catch, and running are all activities a pair can do together. Remember being there in the moment with them can be as powerful as a conversation.

Perform activities that require working together. Flying a kite, gardening, and doing dishes are all activities that are necessary or are better with help. It teaches collaboration and connectedness.

Participate in activities requiring thought and patience. Sit cross-legged in front of your child and ask them to close their eyes. With both of your sitting with closed eyes, ask them to raise their hands, and mirror your movements. Move your hands and try to connect with their hands without touching. Open your eyes to see how close you both came to connecting.

4. Go on a walk with them

Walks are a free way to connect with your child and help them connect with the world around them. Exploring with your child provides an opportunity to teach safety and provide information about your community.

Take your child on a nature walk and talk about the plants and trees where you live. Create a scavenger hunt allowing children to search for identified items. Place a reward at the final item on the list. 

These walks teach children appropriate ways to release energy. It reiterates the mind-body connection and helps them learn the control they have over how they feel.

Any movement activities promote health and wellness. Teach children how walks help build muscle and release tension. Use this time to talk about health, in general, and the ways they can stay healthy.

When possible, walk to community sites with value. Visit the local firehouse and talk to the firefighters in your neighborhood. Take cookies to the retirement home down the street. Have children bring a bag and use gloves to pick up trash to discard.

5. Journal with your child

Journals for kids help them express themselves, especially when talking may be difficult. Use a journal to communicate back and forth to one another. Give them the freedom to write about anything knowing you will read about it.

Create a journal jar with random topics. Choose a time each day to sit and journal with your child. Take turns choosing a topic and then spend a specific amount of time writing about it and then sharing. 

Use journals to share riddles and clues with children. Have children follow directions or maps with rewards as a treasure. Allow children to do the same with the prize being that time spent together.

Younger children can use magazines to cut out a picture and create a story. Provide a topic or theme and have children tell a story with various images of their choosing. Use this activity to provide an outlet for children to discuss their wants and needs.

6. Read a book together

Create literacy moments, fostering a love for reading. Create areas in the home with easily assessed reading materials. Place children’s books towards the bottoms of bookshelves within reach of children.

Set aside time every evening for the entire family to read. Younger children may require picture books and shorter periods. Make sure to take part. Modeling is everything when it comes to literacy.

Cuddle up with a book before bedtime. Reading provides a calming activity that not only fosters bonding but helps children unwind. Reading helps promote imaginations and problem solving when caregivers ask questions about characters and the plot. 

Make sure to include fun voices and mannerisms in your narrations. Children will engage more thoroughly, and those moments are made more memorable. It also provides an opportunity to practice the identification of emotions.

Take a trip to the library and allow children to pick out books of interest to them. Make it a scheduled weekly event to which children look forward. Have them choose a bag to be their library bag.

7. Eat as a family

Spend at least one mealtime together, preferably dinner. Families who eat together experience stronger bonding when mealtime is made meaningful.

Use dinner as a time to talk and listen to one another about their days. Ask about high points and low points. Help children begin problem-solving those lows to avoid them or make them teachable moments.

Turn off distractions like TV. Make mealtime mindful by focusing on eating. Help children use all of their senses to experience their meal.

Make it fancy. Use full place settings with fabric napkins. Light some candles and turn on some jazz or classical music to stretch out eating time. Use the opportunity to talk about manners and expectations when dining.

Don’t worry if your culinary skills aren’t up to par. Children enjoy the moment, not the perfect meal. If a meal burns or doesn’t come out as expected, use it as a chance to work through failure. Show children it is okay to make mistakes. Make sure to try the meal again and discuss practice and how it can make progress.

8. Bond at the Holidays

Holidays play an important role in bonds. They are an opportunity for annually scheduled time together. Like dinnertime, holidays provide something for children to look forward to knowing they will have your attention.

Create family rituals and unique routines for holidays. Having a special breakfast on Christmas morning or making latkes together for Hanukkah are examples of individualizing your family’s events.

Cultural holidays provide an opportunity to teach children pride in who they are and their family connectedness. Dia de Los Muertos is an example of a holiday that promotes family and the importance our memories are when children have lost loved ones.

Maintain a holiday book where pictures and other sentimental items are added. Keep one for each family holiday.

Use holidays to teach empathy and kindness. Help children identify causes with which to volunteer or donate. Have children use holidays as a time to talk about gratitude. Have the family go through their items and donate things they no longer want or need.

9. Cook together

Cooking can become less of a chore with help. It may be surprising how helpful little hands can be in the kitchen. Depending on age, provide children with age-appropriate tasks for dinner completion.

Have children peruse food sites for potential meals. Work together to create a weekly schedule of dinner options. Further, have children help make the shopping list to accommodate these meals.

Use this time as an opportunity to teach about food and nutrition. Have children taste raw veggies and then cooked veggies and discuss the differences. Help children identify textures, colors, and other identifiers of food.

Cooking together also provides an opportunity to discuss safety. Show children how to move pots and pans safely to avoid burns. Explain why aprons are helpful, not only for messy spills but for avoiding oil splatters and other potential dangers. Teach knife safety and how to handle sharps.

Be mindful of your child’s allergies and any food restrictions. Use the opportunity to teach them about substitutions and alternatives. Help children identify their favorite things and allow them space to talk about disappointments when they can’t pick a favorite food.

10. Have a slumber party

Stormy nights or special occasions are the perfect backdrops for slumber parties. These events can be planned or impromptu and can be as extravagant or simple as you’d like.

Make some fun and healthy snacks for the event. Popcorn is an enjoyable snack children have fun making. Shakes and smoothies are another participatory activity allowing children to choose their ingredients and press the blender buttons to create magic.

Play card games, board games, or spoken games like “Would you rather…” Allow children to choose games or make up their own. Even simple games like “Eye spy” nurture bonding while also teaching problem-solving and turn-taking.

Wear fun pajamas. Do your hair in rollers and do facials. Children will have fun making face masks out of food ingredients. Promote self-care by teaching children how to give themselves hand massages and other tension releasing tricks.

Tell adventure tales. Turn out the lights and pass a flashlight around for the storyteller to hold—light candles for ambiance. Make a sofa fort or other shelter for slumber party central.

The great thing about parenting is that there is so much you can do without spending money. By creating special moments with your child, you foster attachment while also making memories to last a lifetime. These special times offer connections to each other and teach valuable skills at the same time. The best way to connect with your child is to find single moments and make them unique.

About the Author: Alexandra Eidens is the founder of Big Life Journal, a series of engaging journals for kids to help them develop a resilient growth mindset so they can face life’s challenges with confidence.