Tips for One-On-One Time with Older Kids

One-on-one time with older kids

If you have older kids with interests beyond coloring and thinking the playplace at McDonald’s is fun, then this article is for you! 

Older kids are notorious for thinking spending time with their parents is gross and weird and lame. And you might even believe you spend too much time with them with all of their extracurriculars (which eat into your weekday evening plans and render your weekends useless). 

As parents, finding ways to actually connect can feel impossible and leave us frustrated. I liken this to the vultures in The Jungle Book where no one knows, or can decide, what they want to do.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but this is how I roll with my kids for that sweet one-on-one time that reminds them that they’re not just a cog in the family machine.

One-On-One Time with Older Kids

I’ll be honest, this is my third attempt to write this article. And through every iteration I realized the common theme was doing something with my kids that took us out of the parent/child dynamic and allowed them to have more autonomy.

Girl Time

With my daughter, K, our preferred method of bonding is going out to get our nails done. Then we grab coffee after, and do some shopping. Initially it irritated me that she asked to tag along on what I considered to be “me time.” 

But after seeing how much it meant to her to go and how fun it was to do together, it became a regular thing. It’s been interesting to see how she chooses to express herself through her nail designs. And I love how it brings us together as we share ideas on who should get what done. 

During these times I get to see who she’s becoming as her own person and what drives her opinions. Which oftentimes isn’t what I think! She absolutely follows the beat of her own drum, and it makes me so happy. 

And our shopping excursions afterwards are equally rewarding. It’s during these times I understand why she keeps asking me for more pairs of black jeans, or yet another oversized fuzzy sweatshirt. Answer? It’s easier to pair her tops with black pants and she’s tired of wearing leggings (I know — what?). And instead of wearing a coat at the bus stop like a normal person, she prefers to be bundled up in sweatshirts.

It’s also eye-opening when she picks things out for me, or expresses her opinion on something that happened.

Mealtime

Like a lot of other parents, we’ve arrived at that point in our lives where weekday dinner is no longer a full family affair. Which means that twice a week, I get to enjoy eating with just my daughter. 

Sometimes she helps me cook, sometimes she shows up just in time to eat. But the best part about this experience is how much more open she is when talking about her day. Instead of getting little snippets of what happened, she’ll engage with me about classes, or tell funny stories, or share photos of her friends. 

There’s no battling with her brother over who’s making the dumb face or talking too loud. And no complaining about why someone got more/less broccoli than the other person.

Through all of these moments, I get to engage with her as her own person. And while she’s still my daughter, she also feels like a gal about town, someone who makes choices for herself (unless mom vetoes the sparkly stiletto heels). She gets to just be. No competing for attention or being hustled about for activities.

Guy Time

On the flip side is our oldest, J, who is 16. He is a carbon copy of his dad and their interests absolutely show that.

It took some time to figure out what our thing would be. Although I’ve tried, I cannot wrap my brain around spending money on so many action figures or be as heavily invested in Marvel’s long-standing mythology of stories and characters.

So I was surprised and giddy when a few years ago J agreed to go to the gym with me. I wouldn’t say he was hooked right away, but we quickly made it the thing we did together.  We are pretty competitive with each other. And it’s fun to playfully egg each other on and then commiserate about it after. 

It’s also really nice that we’ve become each other’s hype man. We push each other to be better, to try harder, and it’s been pretty amazing to have that.

The best thing to come out of this shared time together are the conversations we have.  He’s asked me a lot of questions about working out, fitness, and being healthy. We’ve discussed what it means and that is doesn’t always look the same and everyone will progress at a different rate. And I feel that it’s helped J become more of his own person in a way he might not have if left to his own devices.  

Other Activities

With J being a more introverted homebody, it’s easier to spend time with him at home. On a whim he and I will turn on the PS5 and play a quick game of Overcooked or Ultimate Chicken Horse and have a blast. We easily find our rhythm playing these games together and let ourselves be totally ridiculous where it’s just fun. These lighthearted moments are a balm for when it feels like we’re disconnected and having a hard time.

I also enjoy grabbing one of them for a spur of the moment outing. Sometimes we’ll just run to Barnes & Noble to pick out some books. Maybe we go out for sushi. A few times we’ve done a special movie date.  

Just Being Together

However it happens, finding a common interest or trying something new together has been a fantastic way for us to spend one-on-one time with our older kids.

And it doesn’t always have to be a big thing, it can be as easy and simple as making cookies together or pulling out a board game. 

I feel lucky in having found something that is consistent with each kid. And I know that it isn’t always easy to sprinkle in dedicated time with everyone.  

But if you’re ever in a pinch, here are some tried-and-true outings.

Ideas for One-On-One Time with Older Kids

  1. Go on a coffee date (one of our favorites is Beans, specifically for the mini donuts).
  2. Practice your golf swings at Suite Shots.
  3. Get competitive at KingPinz or Thunder Road.
  4. Dinner date at their favorite restaurant. 
  5. Plays/musicals at any of the high schools or Theatre B.

What are some ways you have found to connect with your older kids? Let us know in the comments below!

And for more ideas on activities for older kids/teens, see 15+ Spots for Tweens and Teens in Fargo.
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Gina Dahl is a semi-experienced parent of 15 years with her husband Andy. On any given day you can find Gina outside running with her giant lapdog, leading early morning yoga, or teaching piano. As a direct result of having teens, Gina is widely known for being super embarrassing and wildly uncool while also talking way too much. She is greatly appreciated by her family, mostly for her tasty cooking skills. At the end of every day, she feels fortunate for the good things and bad things and especially the funny things that happen when you're a parent.

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