Baby explores inside of a tub

Special Time in Big Brother’s Room

Special Time – a one-on-one, child led, dedicated playtime between adult and child – is a wonderful Tool for building closeness, co-operation and easing tensions in relationships. But parents of really young children often ask me “How will I know what my child wants to do in Special Time?”.

This story shows just how it can work with a pre-verbal child.  All younger children have feelings about their older siblings – and their desire to join their older brothers and sisters in play can be a point of tension.   This mother uses Special Time to allow her younger child to have “free reign” in his brother’s room.  He can fill his cup of curiosity and interest, which relieves the tension when his older brother is around at other times.

As a one year old with a five year old brother, my younger son, J, is no stranger to being kept away from enticing toys and interesting looking items.  My older son, S, is still working on the fine art of feeling comfortable sharing his treasured toys with J, and we try to respect that. So often times his room is off limits to J, which can lead to big feelings for my younger son. If S is playing in his room with the door closed, J will stand at the other side and shout and bang on the door wanting to come in.

I decided that opening up this forbidden space in Special Time for J when S was at preschool could be a wonderful way for him to explore something that was normally off limits. I set the timer for 15 minutes and told J that we could do anything he wanted. I sat on the floor with him in S’s room and he looked at me with excitement. We crawled around the room and he slowly picked up a variety of items to inspect with great interest. Although of course he is not yet verbal, his babbling was filled with enthusiastic joy, as he seemed to explain to me what he found fascinating in the books and play instruments. He spent a good amount of time tapping a long wooden drumstick on the different furniture, waving the stick around in the air like an orchestra conductor, and hitting it loudly against the floor. This stick was something that he always wanted to play with in S’s room, but was often grabbed out of his hands by S, or taken from him by me because he would wave it so close to our faces. It was clear that being allowed free choice to play with the stick as he wanted was truly delightful for him.

Before this experience, I think I felt like Special Time wouldn’t really work for a child who is still a baby. However, It was clear after only a few minutes, that giving J a chance to show me what he finds interesting, and connecting through exploring S’s room was just as valuable as doing Special Time with an older child. There were several times that we would make eye contact and laugh as he tapped on the floor with the stick and wildly waved it over his head.

When the timer went off I told him that it was time to stop Special Time and that we needed to put the stick down and get ready to go. He was mostly agreeable, as we were quickly transitioning to something else, but I also noticed he seemed to be in a wonderful mood. As we began to make this option for Special Time more of a regular occurrence, J became less frantic and focused on crawling as fast as he could to his brother’s room. For me, opening up S’s room for J in this way has helped lighten the feeling I have had that I constantly have to keep him from going into S’s room. It has also shown me that no child is too young to benefit from his parent’s full attention and delight in his interests.


A mother in California, USA


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© 2018 by Madeleine Winter.

The image above is Somebody’s Having Fun by Rachel CC-BY-ND-NC-2.0.