If you’re a parent then you are probably always hoping for magical quick-fixes to any of your woes. Let me tell you about my number one go-to a.k.a. Special Time.
Connection is the cornerstone to good relationships with your kids. Undesirable behaviour or limit testing is always due to an unmet need and (more often than not) a call for deeper connection. I know when this was first mentioned to me it REALLY teed me off! I mean, I was connected to my daughter… pretty much 24/7 and every time I was told my child needed more connection I got really defensive and annoyed. Hello!? I love that kid more than anything in the world. I do absolutely everything for her and I’m there for her in every way!
Thank God I found Dr Laura Markham of www.ahaparenting.com who was able to explain this concept a lot better and (better yet) introduce me to the invaluable tool that is Special Time (which I believe originated with Patty Wipfler of Hand In Hand Parenting).
Now most parents spend heaps of Quality Time with their kids which is so wonderful and integral to their growth but Special Time or ST is a different kettle of fish. It is intensive, connected, one-on-one cup-filling and it honestly does the trick.
So here is how you do it:
1. Turn off or put any devices out of sight (research shows if you can see or hear your phone you are distracted by it)
2. Tell your child you are going to do Special Time (you may want to replace “Special” with their name)
3. Set a timer for a specific amount of time (15 minutes is a good starting point)
4. Give yourself over to this process and to your child – Delight in them (sometimes this is hard when things have been a bit off so picture them as that snuggly babe in arms that they once were). If any distracting thoughts come, tell them you will get back to them later and if you notice something out of place just ignore it until after
5. Be led – This is a time you are completely at their disposal. Don’t introduce your own ideas and just go along with whatever they throw at you. This also means different rules apply to ST so unless it is incredibly dangerous you even allow things that are usually off-limits
6. End with an acknowledgment of connection – a kiss and hug is a nice way to end or “Thank you, I’ve really enjoyed our time together!” or anything along those lines
7. Welcome the tears – Connection is a great tool for harmony and cooperation within the household but the flipside is that a connected child feels safe and loved and that kind of comfort and safety allows vulnerability. Such intensive, connected play will often serve as a catalyst for children to let out whatever hurts they have been holding and this is a good thing! Those hurts need to come out, so don’t give in to extending ST (although, it’s ok to do every now and then) instead allow them to get their gunk out. Hold them (if you can), otherwise just stay close and empathise:
“I know… we were having so much fun and the timer went off, it’s really hard…”
“I know, it’s so hard isn’t it?”
“I’m here and I won’t leave you alone with those big feelings…”
“I’m right here…”
With really young children it is good to name and validate feelings, with older children less is more so aim to say little but have your supportive presence be shown in your ability to stay close and calm.
Please note that ST is unstructured/free play time so save books and board-games for Quality Time.
One of the saddest things about being an adult is that we lose our sense of play and imagination over time and some of us find it really hard to engage in child’s play. A few of us are carrying a lot of hurts and others just can’t turn off their “to-do list”.
I highly recommend Dr Lawrence Cohen’s book “Playful Parenting”* which not only offers practical advice on parenting in general but also explains why some of us are reluctant to play. It suggests good jumping off points and games and also reinforces the importance of us allowing children to do their one and only job.
ST is intensive child-led play so I don’t recommend you use it to push your own agenda but as play is our children’s native language it IS a very good tool for sorting through things. I just suggest you initiate that type of play outside of ST. So if your child is having fears around school, you play games where you are the student and they are the teacher or where you are the incompetent teacher who has no idea what they are doing, etc.
I also like to tack on a period of roughhousing after ST. I usually add another 10 minutes of that. It is incredibly important that all parents/guardians spend time engaging in one-on-one roughhousing with kids not only is this a great tool for releasing aggression and sorting through playground issues, it also allows power reversal (which is essential for children who are, let’s face it, being told what to do all day) and research has shown it elicits a positive hormonal response that they will relate with you and your time together.
Regular roughhousing is great for kids who are engaging in throwing, hitting, raging, etc. Plus it provides a safe outlet for aggressive impulses and it’s actually a lot of fun! Pillow-fighting is always a good starter or play wrestling or you sit opposite them and say “You can’t knock me over…” and they push you and of course, you fall easily and dramatically and make a comical fuss of being thwarted. The key to this is they win every time and you play up your role as the bumbling fool. The other great outcome of this type of play is that you will usually get some laughter out of it and that’s another great release of tension for kids!
During the week I must admit I only tend to manage to do about 10 minutes ST and 5 minutes roughhousing per child and on the weekend my husband and I take one each, do both ST and roughhousing and then swap.
If you are having any issues with your children this is one of the first things I would suggest, implementing regular ST. I just did Helena Mooney’s Special Time challenge (where you commit to fitting it in for 7 days in a row) and it was good to keep me on track with finding the time. I’ve also done Marion Rose’s Attachment Play course which provides great background and practical ideas.
I know we get busy and exhausted and just “ugh” but like most things within this parenting realm, what feels like effort actually ends up taking the edge off!
I am super excited to be attending Dr Larry Cohen’s Playful Parenting workshop next month so I will have plenty more helpful tools! In the meantime I would love to hear your thoughts and shared experiences with this type of play and I’m also happy to provide specific suggestions so don’t be shy, just ask Aunty Ask!
* Playful Parenting is one of my favourite resources and you will see me refer to it over and over but in particular, if every man only reads one book in his life I highly recommend this one as it really gives credence to a lot of the struggles men and Dads face and practical advice to move forward.