Are 9 Minutes Really Enough to Connect With Our Kids Each Day? An Expert Weighs In

written by ZARA HANAWALT
the most important minutes in a kids day"
the most important minutes in a kids day
Source: @thewilddecoelis
Source: @thewilddecoelis

If you’ve found yourself on ‘MomTok’ (AKA the side of TikTok where content about motherhood and parenting appears) there’s a good chance you’ve seen videos about the most important minutes in a kid’s day. The videos claim nine minutes are crucial for establishing the parent/child bond. But, as we all know, you can’t believe every single thing you see on social media. So, is there any truth behind the nine-minute trend? Let’s explore.

What is the nine-minute theory?

Ok, so what are the most important nine minutes in every day? According to multiple TikToks about this topic, the most important nine minutes are broken up into three three-minute chunks:

  • The three minutes after a child wakes up
  • The three minutes after they come home from school or daycare
  • The three minutes before they go to bed.

These minutes in the day have the power to change your child’s life, according to the TikToks.

It turns out, they are onto something. But the idea of the importance of these nine minutes in a day didn’t originate on TikTok. This theory is credited to psychologist Jaak Panksepp, who has been hailed as a pioneer in affective neuroscience.

Reena B. Patel, a parenting expert, positive psychologist, and licensed educational board-certified behavior analyst, stands by this theory. She shared her thoughts on how parents can implement this strategy in their own homes. 

Meet the Expert

Reena B. Patel, LEP, BCBA

Reena Patel is a parenting expert, positive psychologist, and licensed educational board-certified behavior analyst whose expertise has been highlighted on CNN, Good Morning America, and more.


How much time should you spend with your child each day?

Caregivers can support kids through vulnerable periods of the day

The three times of day outlined in the nine-minute theory (when a child wakes up, when they go to sleep, and when they transition from school to home) can all feel destabilizing to a child.

“That’s when they’re the most vulnerable,” said Patel of these moments. “They’re kind of reestablishing their balance and grounding.”

“It goes back to feeling grounded and secure. Transitions tend to be the most uneasy. Think about a child being dropped off to school or having to start something new,” she added. “As parents, it’s important for us to be consistent and have a consistent routine. So something a child can look forward to, to anticipate. When an infant wakes up, usually [their parent or primary caretaker is] that first person they’re looking for. And that type of consistency creates that secure attachment, that strong bond.”

Creating this attachment sets your child up for lifelong security

According to attachment theory, when your child knows their primary caregiver is reliable and feels secure in that attachment, it stays with them. That doesn’t necessarily mean your child needs their primary caregiver right next to them 24/7, though—it means carving out moments to give your child your undivided attention. 

“[This attachment is created] so that you feel safe and understood right away as a young child, and you take it with you all the way through your adulthood. And that’s why it is so important to [provide] focused attention—to spend that quality time that is focused and undivided attention with your child,” said Patel. 

Patel added that this doesn’t just apply to little kids. “I am a big believer that it’s through all stages of child development,” she said.

But let’s talk about that after-school window

As a mom of two preschoolers, I can fully understand the importance of those first and last minutes of my child’s day. My kids and I have some of our sweetest interactions in the morning and during their bedtime routine, snuggling and chatting and just enjoying our time together.

But immediately after school? That’s a challenging time, at least in our home. My kids are usually hungry (dare I say… hangry?) for afterschool snacks, and I’m typically stressed about work deadlines while also attempting to help them calm down from the overstimulation of the school day. It’s a tough transition, and emotions can run high—but that’s why this can be such an important time for connection. The transition between school and home can be a tough one for kids. 

“It’s a tough transition, and emotions can run high—but that’s why this can be such an important time for connection.”

“Let’s look at it as a check-in,” said Patel of how to approach this time. “We have this thought process that we need to problem-solve or we need to ask a ton of questions. Being present and being focused doesn’t mean that you need to have a laundry list of questions to ask them. It means that you need to just be there and let them decide what they need from you. It’s creating that opportunity and that safe space.”

most important minutes in a kid's day
Source: @strollergang

What can you do if you’re not home to help your child through that transition?

For parents who are out of the home working full-time, being there for a child when they come home from school may not be possible. But that’s OK! According to Patel, there are still ways to optimize this window for connection.

“Sometimes that would be you’re at work, and you want to do a little FaceTime. Sometimes, it’s going to be after you get home from work. That is OK. It’s just a general estimate,” said Patel. “Of course, you know, you may go over the three minutes or you may go a little bit under the three minutes. A child isn’t going to be looking at their watch. It’s really about being directly connected. Oftentimes [as parents], we’re looking through mail, or we’re checking our email, or on our phone. It’s a reminder to put all of that external noise aside and just be there, right there in front of them, with no distractions.” 

Use the nine-minute theory as a guide, not an absolute rule

Remember the average U.S. parent spends more quality time with their children than they did in previous decades. If your mornings are too hectic for an intentional three-minute window with each child, or you can’t devote those moments when they come from school or even at bedtime, don’t let this lead you down a path of mom guilt. Patel suggested incorporating “little sprinkled opportunities” to connect with your child throughout the day.  

“I would look at this more as a guide, not to create or impose anxiety on any parent. So you do not need to send an alarm clock or feel bad that you missed a time slot,” said Patel. “You do have to carve that [time] out, especially when you have multiple children. But it’s not about the exact time or counting minutes, and more about creating meaningful focused interactions. We want our children to feel valued and we want them to feel loved and we want them to feel secure and safe, and that’s what this whole concept is about.”

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