5 ways to connect with your children

  @FortuneMagazine May 6, 2013: 8:25 AM ET
VER20 connecting with your children
(Fortune)

You can connect with your kids, no matter how busy you are. (Hint: a little planning helps .)

1. Don't ask them about their day

Pouncing on your children the moment they get home only annoys them, and you'll probably just get a one-word response anyway. Break the habit and let your kids, especially the older ones, unwind. They'll be more willing to tell you what's going on if you let them come to you later, when they're ready. Meanwhile, check in with someone who really wants to report on the day: your spouse.

2. Work from home when you can

Even if it's just one afternoon a week, it'll create more opportunities to see your children and give them a better sense of security. Richard Branson is adamant about running the Virgin Group from home because it helps his family life so much, and following his example has improved my own enormously. Kids want quantity time, not quality time, says Rabbi Stephen Baars, author of Bliss: The Marriage and Parenting Book.

3. Eat dinner as a family

You can't say no to every business dinner, but the payoff for steering clients to lunch meetings is huge. Studies show that children will be less likely to smoke, drink, or take drugs if you dine together. It also improves children's vocabulary, test scores, and chances of getting A's in school. Focusing on positive current events, like a cool scientific discovery, always sparks great discussions in my family.

4. Play the way they want to

My son Quinn, who is 5, often grabs my face and turns it to look at him when I'm working, making me feel incredibly guilty. He does it less often now that I set aside 15 minutes every evening to do whatever he wants to do -- the way he wants to do it. Usually we end up playing a lot longer. If I expected myself to give him an hour every night, I don't think I'd be able to keep the commitment. But if you commit to a little, you may find you give a lot.

5. Plan one-on-one getaways

Schedule a quick trip alone with each of your children at least once a year. Build it into the normal flight path of your life so you don't put it off. One of my favorite memories is going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with my son Cameron after a speech I gave in Cleveland. Kids love coming on business trips -- and spending time with them sure beats hanging out in the hotel lounge.

Verne Harnish is the CEO of Gazelles Inc., an executive education firm.

This story is from the May 20, 2013 issue of Fortune. To top of page



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