We live in a world where parenting is under-supported and many of us are juggling so many other commitments in our daily lives. When people ask me for parenting advice, one of the most important things I suggest is Special Time. I often see that look cross over their faces that says “HOW am I supposed to factor in extra time for one-on-one?!” followed by the question of “How often?” and then when I say “Well, daily would be ideal…” I can see that it sounds like the most ludicrous, unimaginable concept.
BUT when I say this, I am actually thinking ideally about 10 minutes a day. I love to tag some rough-housing on the end so I tend to do 10 minutes and 3-5 minutes roughhousing as there are multiple benefits in having a child experience one-on-one roughhousing with each caregiver.
10 minutes a day is something most people can fit in. Maybe it has to be every other day for those with 3 or more children but it should still be doable (even if it pushes bedtime back slightly).
I actually think the ideal amount of Special Time is 10-20 minutes. Special Time is child-led, one-on-one play in which you shut off the outside world and just delight in your child with as much warm eye contact as possible, so I personally am not superhuman enough to give it much more time than that if I am being honest and true to the process.
I call Special Time connection superfood. I know most of us do our best to have lovely quality time and create beautiful memories as a family but Special Time is next level (which is why you name it and use a timer to mark it clearly). It’s their chance to have all of you and see how much you love them and be the object of your pure delight. It fills their cups!
But what if your cup isn’t full? What if you are running on empty? What if you recoil in horror at the idea of carving out this time? What if you just don’t have the time… well, again, that one I would just make happen… even if it has to be 5 minutes or perhaps every other day or just longer periods on the weekend.
If you are struggling mentally and/or emotionally to do Special Time I would explore that with a loving Listener. Were you played with as a child? What happened if you asked to play? Did parents even play with their children when you were growing up? How was play looked at? Were your caregivers very busy? / Very stressed? / Somewhat disconnected? What does this all bring up for you?
Have a look at how to fit it into your day. Special Time can be fantastic for helping children with separations so morning is often a great time for many families. For us it’s better in the afternoons or in the evening before or after a bath.
There are many reasons we may struggle with Special Time that aren’t related to time constraints such as not wanting to give up control or not even being able to. Most of us are trying to shed years of messaging that parenting is about control so situations in which you hand the reins to your child can feel very triggering (but it’s also why it’s a great exercise to give yourself over to). You may struggle with turning off the brain chatter and this is another great reason for the timer… you need only tell your mind “I can come back to that later, this 10 minutes is just for …”. Another problem is sometimes you just don’t feel like delighting in that particularly child and that’s where I would push yourself to conjure up an image when you felt most loving towards them, perhaps as a babe in arms.
Harder still is a physical limitation. Some people don’t have the ability to perform any task their child may want to do and I would encourage you to have many of these discussions well before Special Time if it’s a permanent or long-term factor in your play and help your child think ahead about what you can and can’t do. Remind them that the reason this is such a unique time is because rules can be bent, so whilst you may have physical restrictions, there’s other ways to make things fun like letting them do something messier or out of the usual rules of conduct. There’s also a lot of things you can do from the floor or without moving around too much. Let them lead but let them know what your physical boundaries need to be. I have been tired in the last few special times and found myself sitting mostly but moving around from a seated position.. don’t think my child even noticed but it felt less exerting for me!
It may be hard at both ends to get Special Time going. Maybe your child is not that enthusiastic either? This one is tricky because Special Time strengthens connection but what if no one wants to do it? What if it’s starting to feel like a chore?
Obviously there’s Listening Time but if you can’t get that playful connection, bonding and validation through Special Time then you can also utilise Playlistening which is following the giggles and finding moments of play and laughter to connect or traverse certain issues.
Then there’s just helping your child unload emotionally so they can free up their good, clear thinking and joy and we do that by welcoming and allowing emotional upsets and meeting those emotional releases with “Staylistening” which means coming in with warmth, eye contact, light touch (if allowed) and empathy. No fixing, not much talking… just indicating you are there, their feelings are welcome, they are safe and they have every right to let out whatever upsets they might have. Also understanding that it’s not usually about whatever “pre-text” they have jumped on to allow those emotions and we don’t need to know what it is about, just that they are following their body’s intelligent process for clearing out the gunk. I’ve heard this referred to as “emptying the emotional backpack” and children who free up their backpack regularly are happier, more emotionally intelligent and able to think clearly leading to less off-track behaviour and a much better ability to connect.
Once you have restored the clear-thinking, the connection will follow and you can try for Special Time once more.
Good luck, good parent! xx