Starting school – for the first time, or at a new school, or even after the long summer break, can be a challenge for both our children and ourselves. We carefully pack their school bag with the things that will help them through their day – a nutritious lunch, a spare pair of pants and pencils. But it’s easy to forget our children carry an emotional backpack as well. Our special role, as parents and carers, is to help them pack and unpack that bag. It’s at least as important as a healthy lunch or a good night’s sleep. Continue reading
My friend and I were doing Special Time together with her 4-year-old son, Cameron, at the local park. There were a lot of bull-ants (a large and very aggressive kind of ant) on the ground.
Cameron told us that ants were very dangerous, and scary, and that we should get out of their way. So following his lead, my friend and I did all the things we could think to do to get away from the ants: we hopped around, we shrieked, we climbed onto the picnic table and danced around on the benches. We pushed each other aside in our haste to get away from the ants; I jumped into my friend’s arms.
The more scared of the ants we looked, the more pleased Cameron got. He giggled and giggled as we frantically tried to get away. His instructions about exactly how to look scared of the ants got more and more specific. “No,” he said, “You can’t walk over there; you have to get up on the table and dance around. Watch out, there are ants on your leg!” After about 20 minutes the timer went off, marking the end of Special Time, and we went home.
In a vague kind of way, I wondered what all the fuss was about the ants. Sometimes, you can make a pretty good guess about what a child’s Special Time is about – after all, as a parent, you know a lot about the life story of your child. But sometimes, you have no idea what experiences the child is trying to work through. However, I’ve done lots of Special Time with young people, and have seen first-hand the benefits – the way it creates a sense of trust and closeness. I trusted that Cameron had worked on what he needed to do. I guessed that laughing at us big people acting like we were deathly scared of ants had drained some tension for him.
Indeed, his mother later told me that she knew exactly what that Special Time was about: not long after Cameron had started to walk, his father had taken him to the park and he had got caught in a bull-ant nest and had been badly bitten.
Cameron’s Special Time highlighted that not knowing the “back story” behind the themes in a child’s play doesn’t mean that the play is not important. Even though Cameron was not much more than 1 year old when he was bitten by the ants, the experience was somewhere in his mind, waiting to be replayed – this time from the safe role of the onlooker who was not being attacked by ants. Giving us instructions about how to act around the ants made it safe for him to laugh off the fear he had been carrying.
Free for reuse as long as you credit the author. See our copyright page for details.
© 2020 by Madeleine Winter.
Please click on images for more information about them.
When our kids first start school, it can be so infuriating that they often aren’t interested in telling us much about their day. (And as the parent of a teen, I can tell you that it is often the same when they get older!)
Patty Wipfler, founder of Hand in Hand Parenting, explains why you don’t get much of an answer when you ask the question “How was school today?”. She explains how to use Special Time to reconnect – with young children, and those heading into adolescence. Continue reading
It’s easy to put off Special Time. After all, family life is busy, and in some ways gets oddly busier when we have older children. But Special Time it brings rich benefits when we do it. Most importantly it builds emotional safety.
Even when it is “pretty basic”, as this mother puts it, Special Time refreshes and renews our children’s sense of our confidence in and for them, and reassures them of our love for them. This is what our children need in order to begin offloading the emotional backpacks they are carrying around. As they get older, those backpacks are more tightly buckled down that they used to be. Our children learn to “suck it up” and hold it in for fear of social death if they let their feelings show.
So after Special Time, this mother finds her 11 year old daughter’s grumpy mood dissolves, and out rolls a big upset. It can be hard to know whether to go or stay when our children tell us to go away. At least sometimes, however, it’s worth staying, and listening it out… Continue reading
We parents want to stay close to our young people as they get older. And they want us to stay close to them too, even though it doesn’t always feel like they do! But how do we do that? Continue reading
As parents, how do we respond to shocking and violent events – whether they are terrorism, wars, awful mass shootings, or natural disasters?
We can get Listening Time for ourselves, we can listen to our children and answer their questions with pictures of what humans can do together for good, and offer them the huge resassurance of regular Special Time.
Plus some free resources as you move towards the start of school, and courses starting in the New Year.
Here’s our November 2015 Newsletter. Enjoy!
More on the topic of Pre-Teens. If you have Pre-Teen children, you will know that things start to change. Special Time can be a great tool for parents and children to stay connected through times of change, including times when we don’t feel we really understand each other.
Special Time – a dedicated period of time where we put aside our pre-occupations and concerns, pay full attention to our child, and delight in them – begins to change as your children’s interests change. But the magic that it works still applies: it builds emotional safety into our relationship with our children at a particularly important time.
And when we do this, children will start to show us their upsets. By the time they are 8, 9 10, some of those upsets will be about us, and much will be about what it has been like being a young person for 10 years or so, in a world that does not treat young people with much respect.
We need to listen warmly at these times, giving our children all the attention we can muster. Inevitably, the upsets will tend to be scrappier and less direct than using the process with younger children. When they were little we could being them onto our lap and hold them as they sobbed out their sorrows, but now they are more “defended” and their sorrows have hardened into anger, and we are working hard just to keep our foot in the door, before it slams (literally and metaphorically!).
But every bit of warm, non-judgemental hanging-in-there with our Pre-Teens makes a difference. They notice EVERYTHING we do, and it all still matters to them.
Here’s a great article by Hand in Hand Founder, Patty Wipfler, on just what is going on for our Pre-Teen children, and for us:
You probably have a list of things that you make sure you put into your child’s backpack every morning before school. Their lunch, a hat, sunscreen, their homework or “show and tell”. Those things are all important, and whatever happens – don’t forget them, or it might mean you have to go all the way back home again to get them!
There’s something else that children really need in their backpack, also. And now I am talking about their emotional backpack. They carry this to and from school, too. We don’t always see this backpack, but we often feel it – when it is too full of hard feelings, accumulated through the day, or not full enough of the important feelings – a sense of being loved and connected and cared about. When this happens, this backpack gets really heavy, starts bumping into things, won’t fit in the back of the car. Continue reading