As Ms Annabelle Chew’s family grew bigger over the years, her ideas about spending quality time together evolved.

Ms Chew, 46, a vice-principal of a pre-school, and her husband, operations manager Victor Ong, 51, have five children aged between three and 21.

She says: “Back when we had two or three kids, I used to think everybody must gather together for family time. But I realised that as the children grew older, they had different needs and interests. It was better to be flexible, to connect with each child, one to one.”

She decided to go on individual outings with each of her five kids, in addition to spending time together as an entire family. Her husband sometimes does so too.

Over the years, their cycling sessions or meals out with individual kids expanded to include spa days or trips to Johor Baru. “The child gets undivided attention. You get to listen to each other. The bonding is a bit better,” Ms Chew says.

Mr Richard Hoon, chairman of Centre for Fathering, a non-profit organisation, recently revealed that his late wife had advised him to “date” each of their three daughters individually, to get to know them better – and he did.

In the article, he said he realised his children “equated love with time” and “all that mattered to them was that I was available for them”.

Now that he is 60, his daughters, who are in their 20s, take turns to “date” him.

His story was warmly received on social media.

Other parents who go on “dates” or even holidays with one child at a time agree that it is worth making time to take such breaks from the daily routine.

Going on “dates” sends the message to children that they are special, which helps them feel secure and loved, says Ms Theresa Bung, who counsels families and couples as the principal therapist at the charity, Family Life Society.

Ms Kathryn Chai, 49, has gone on individual holidays with each of her four daughters and one son, aged between eight and 23.

Fairness should be observed. Ms Loh says: “Ideally, both parents could have individual ‘dates’ with the children as each parent plays a different role to the children.

“Parents will need to be fair to all their children in terms of understanding what each child needs so they can explain to the child the different activities, duration and frequency planned.”

Family Life Society’s Ms Bung says: “One-on-one time is precious. Parents should be mindful to have fun, encourage, teach and share with the child, and not nag. The child may ask to not talk about school, for instance. Neither the child nor the parent should use smartphones or other devices.”

The focus should be on the child, she adds. For example, she has come across parents who say that driving their child to school is one way of spending one-on-one time with him.

“Some people see this kind of ‘dating’ as doing things for the child. But is the child enjoying the conversation in the car or are you? The activity should be enjoyable for both parties,” she says.

Ms Loh stresses that “dating” is just one way to bond.

“Individual ‘dates’ with children may not work for every family as family dynamics differ. The main objective is to build closer relationships between parents and children, and families can do this in different ways,” says Ms Loh.

For Ms Harjit Kaur, 46, simple outings with each of her two children helped her impart values to Banipreet, 14, and Jaskirat, 17, when they were younger.


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