Here’s a story of a mother and her daughter at the beginning of their long summer break. She’s trying to get through the holidays by doing Special Time early in the day with her 8 year old daughter, to get things set the right way at the beginning of the day.
Special Time is…Special
Special Time is an adult-child playtime, focussed on and led by the child. It’s announced and timed – so everyone understands the commitment that is being made and that it has a beginning and an end. This way you know how long you have got to last, and your child knows how long they have got you for.
However perfectly you’d like to be able to parent, it’s simply not possible to offer your child indefinite Special Time – there is too much that needs to be done to get through the day. Special Time is not All-The-Time, or it wouldn’t be Special!
Plus, the end of Special Time can serve another purpose – to pull to the surface any feelings your child might have about endings and transitions…Feelings about not always having your attention when they would like it…In fact, the end of Special Time can be a chance for a child to offload feelings about all sorts of things, some quite unrelated to what has just happened. But that story is for another day.
Building Emotional Safety
Your commitment to paying warm-attention-and-interested-approval during Special Time is what builds “emotional safety”. The regular practice of Special Time can achieve many things, but this is the real jewel in the crown. Once it is established that your child can count on you to stay connected, present and paying warm attention, no matter what they bring up, then they will feel safe to bring up difficult subjects if they need. Most Special Time is pretty hum drum. Sometimes, we adults find it exceptionally boring. But every now and again, a child will bring something up during Special Time, introduce a theme in play, or share something, which gives you information about their world, their joys, worries and concerns, that you would not otherwise know.
As Patty Wipfler, founder of Hand in Hand Parenting says “What your child chooses [to do in Special Time] will help you understand more about what he loves and what he wants. This is very important communication for you to receive. When your child can show you what he loves while you pay warm attention, he’ll feel closer to you. That closeness is at the heart of resilience. And your child’s delight in having your uninterrupted attention is likely to capture your heart, as well, so that the bond between you becomes stronger.”
And Special Time is mostly…ordinary
Here’s this mother’s story. Her Special Time with her daughter was low key and ordinary. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t serve its purpose – she’s depositing Connection Credits in her Relationship Bank Account with her daughter. Those Credits will come in handy at some other time, when she needs to set a limit.
I set the timer for 30 minutes and gave it my best shot at offering warm, enthusiastic attention and complete cooperation until the time was up. In this time, my daughter was in charge of things. My job was to pay attention and follow along so she could feel my love and willingness to connect. Hanging out all day with her isn’t something I find easy, and often my attention is on all the things I could be doing if she wasn’t there (though if she wasn’t there I would be missing her!). So doing Special Time helps me feel better about the day (I know I’ve given her at least some of the undivided attention she needs).
It’s amazing how many excuses I can find not to do Special Time, even though it always improves things. I guess it was just not how I was raised. I can’t remember ever being played with, although I am sure it happened sometimes. As a consequence, I don’t have much to draw from in my family history to back up my resolve to do Special Time. All I have is the decision to do it because I know it works. And, to be completely honest, at least half the benefit is that I feel better about the day. Special Time forces me to pull my attention away from the dishes, and the washing and the work I have to do, and actually stop to notice how my daughter is, connect with her, see what she wants to tell me, and listen to her.
My daughter often asks for Special Time. I don’t always agree – sometimes it’s just not possible. But when she asks, it tells me that she is feeling the need for connection. Sometimes it is fine not to take up her request: I can explain that I am busy, and perhaps make time for a quick hug, tussle or chase around the kitchen. This only takes a few seconds, but boosts our connection enough to get through the task at hand.
At other times I refuse the request for Special Time at my peril. When she really needs this “connection injection” and doesn’t get it, things can go off the rails.
Mostly though, I use Special Time as an insurance policy: get in early, and grease the wheels before they get squeaky.
Today in Special Time, she bounced on the bed for a bit, we played a clapping game, then she settled on some drawing. Nothing dramatic, but just a process of her absorbing that I am there. After this, the day seemed to go more smoothly, with fewer upsets, because we had connected properly at the beginning.
No need to go it alone!
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Wipfler, Patty. “Backbone and Bounce: Building Resilience.” Hand in Hand Parenting, 9 Aug. 2013, Accessed 24 Mar 2023 https://www.handinhandparenting.org/2013/08/backbone-and-bounce-building-resilience/.
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