Help may be at hand for the guilt-ridden, time-poor parents who always think they’re not quite up to the mark!

Here’s my advice on Boots Web MD on how 15 minutes of quality time a day can work wonders for the parent and child relationship

“Parenting is fantastic, rewarding and the most important job in the world but sometimes it’s tough, challenging and time-consuming.

A new parenting technique called FAST could be the answer to stop busy parents beating themselves up and to make our children happier.

At the crux of it is spending 15 minutes a day focusing on your child, without any distractions – quality time in a funsize chunk.

The FAST programme

FAST – Families and Schools Together – is the brainchild of Professor Lynn McDonald. She started up the programme in the United States and now it’s being rolled out in selected UK primary schools.

There are about 50 groups at the moment covering 600 families and the number is set to grow.

It’s an eight-week programme which claims to improve children’s behaviour and their relationships with their parents.

Families meet with each other at schools and do activities together and learn how to listen and play.

15 minutes of focus

The crucial part is the homework. Every day for eight weeks the parents set aside 15 minutes in which the child chooses an activity and the parent follows without telling the child what to do, making suggestions or criticising.

The hard bit is that the the parent can’t be distracted. No having half an eye on the TV, texting friends, checking emails and social networking sites, making tea or tidying up – just pure focus!

Lynn McDonald, who is now Professor of Social Work research at Middlesex University, says, “I was a single mum in the States with two kids and felt as a parent I needed to do something extra.”

As an academic she was teaching about the benefits of spending time with kids and thought she’d put into practice the rule of spending 15 minutes a day with each child.

“I tried it and was astounded; my children really craved it.”

“It’s really hard not to try to teach your child but it’s for me. The 15 minute rule is the most powerful intervention a parent can do.”

“It takes practice … it’s cheap and it doesn’t take much time.

‘Children spell love T-I-M-E’

Sue Atkins is a top parenting expert and author of “Raising Happy Children for Dummies”

She says, “Children spell love T-I-M-E.”

Sue says when she’s coaching she asks parents, “When your children are older how will they see their childhood? Will it be with you nagging and rushing around?”

She says it doesn’t need to be like that. “A child needs to feel valued, not directed or taught.”

Parenting doesn’t come easily to everyone.

“When you get a new washing machine there’s a handbook in 15 different languages… for a child there’s not even a handbook!”
Her advice is instead of saying to your child ` in a minute`, spend that minute with your child, listening to them, filling up the child’s emotional bank. She says they’ll feel better and probably won’t go on to nag and whine at you either.

Popular programme

Funding for FAST has come from local authorities on behalf of schools, Save the Children and the National Academy of Parenting Practitioners.

There are FAST programmes in more than 2,000 schools in the US, Canada, Australia, mainland Europe and Russia as well as in the UK.

Here, Save the Children is planning to build on the success of the 50 that have been running already and start up more.

So crucially does it work?

15 minutes a day per child – surely that can’t be hard? It took me three days to get round to it. I was driving the kids to various activities and busy with swimming lessons, work, making tea and shopping, until I got a grip and thought to myself,

“Am I really so busy I can’t play with my son or daughter for just a quarter of an hour?”

So my son and I made a rocket from a kit he’d had in his room since his birthday five months ago that he’s asked me loads of times to do with him but I was always too busy or basically didn’t really want to. It was fun, we got wet, we had a laugh but the best bit by far was seeing in his eyes that he appreciated the time we were sharing. I felt bad and a bit ashamed at my earlier excuses.

My daughter and I went on a bike ride at her suggestion. It lasted much longer than 15 minutes but it felt good to have one-to-one time with her without her brother and their constant sibling bickering winding me up. She opened up and chatted about school, something I’d usually have to drag out of her!

Eva has two children and she tried it. “My daughter wanted to play board games. I work part time so that I can be there for my children. Nonetheless, I am frequently distracted by my work and the household chores, and it’s all too easy to ignore the children. So I do think it’s a good idea to consciously set aside even small amounts of time to be with them, doing what they want to do. They relax and chat to you about all sorts of things that they might not tell you otherwise.”

Mum Donna thought it would be a breeze to put aside 15 minutes a day to spend focusing on her children individually rather than together and was surprised it took a few days to fit it in. “The boys and I enjoyed the time, playing cards and going on the computer together.”

Naomi Martell is a mum of two and a wellbeing coach. Focusing on her children and spending quality time with them comes naturally to her, but she understands it can be hard to do.

“Even 15 minutes may be too much time for some parents at the beginning. Start with one or two minutes of fully focusing on your child and build on it.”

She says, “There are more expectations placed on parents these days. It’s very different to a generation ago as there is now more focus on relaxed play and encouraging our children to be individuals.

“Techniques like this are really important as they can help you to become a better parent.”

Even with the demands of modern life and all the excuses under the sun, spending 15 minutes a day with your own child doesn’t seem too onerous, especially when it can lead to happier relationships.

People always tell you they’re only children for a short while and to make the most of it. That can seem trite when you’re tearing your hair out at their cheekiness or picking up a billion bits of Lego but the 15 minute rule seems a good way of connecting with your kids and showing them however much we nag and moan, we love them really!”