Turning shopping into a bonding experience

Dear Mr. Dad: How can I spend quality time with my eleven-year-old daughter outside of going shopping all day? I realize that’s her passion these days, but honestly, I don’t have much to contribute on a shopping spree (except money, of course).

A: Oh, come on, shopping isn’t that bad! Actually, I’m with you on this one. There’s something about setting foot in a department store that makes my back hurt and my head ache. Fortunately, with a little advance planning, it’s possible to survive your tween’s occasional shopping trips while building a solid relationship along the way.

To start with, show some enthusiasm—even a little will help. If you can’t bring yourself to get excited about the stores or merchandise, think ahead to the final result: she’ll be having fun and taking care of some personal needs along the way. Saying things like, “I think we’re going to have fun today” shows you’re invested in the experience, even if your part of the fun will come at the very end, when you’re back in your car and driving home.

Be sure to set a time limit on your excursion, otherwise you could be out there all day. Arrange to start and finish at set times, and you can even split up for a while you get a cup of coffee or a cone and she visits the cool teen shop that you don’t want to be caught dead in. If she asks for your opinion, give it to her honestly, unless it’s a question like “Do these jeans make my butt look big?” which it’s best to avoid answering altogether. Be thankful she still values your advice; it won’t be long before what her friends think will trump your opinion every time (even if you’re right).

End your outing on pleasant note, like a restaurant luncheon or a movie. That’ll make the day more fun for you and will reinforce in your daughter’s mind that you actually value your time together.

Beyond shopping, try other activities with your daughter. If she’s athletic, play one-on-one with the basketball outside or get a pair of tickets to see her favorite team—the sport doesn’t matter– when they next come to town. Take a musically-inclined daughter to a concert, and an artsy girl to a play or a museum. If you’re feeling particularly brave, have her invite a friend along. Try for productions that both of you will enjoy, but let her have 51 percent of the votes. Even if you don’t like her choice, you’ll still learn a lot about who your daughter is and what she likes.

Back at home, working side-by-side can create a special bond. Cook a meal together, clean the garage, or plant a garden. For a laugh, try exchanging chores—you clean her room while she mows the lawn. Of course, make sure she knows how to operate the equipment safely.

Volunteering together is another nice joint bonding activity. Start by helping an elderly neighbor pull weeds. Then the two of you can sign up to serve food at a soup kitchen once a month or deliver meals to homebound people. Charitable work provides rich opportunities to teach life lessons through example and by observing the lives of others—those who help the needy and those who need the help.

Finally, don’t overlook simple activities like watching a sunset, reading together, or talking about life’s mysteries. Whatever you end up doing with your daughter, try to enjoy and treasure every moment.