Do you & your partner go on date nights? It may not be as frequently as before kids, but do you plan time together that’s just about the 2 of you? If so, how do you feel about your partner afterwards? Closer, more connected, more loving?
Special Time is a concept similar to Date Night. Just like we need to feel connected with our partners, our kids need to feel connected with us. But with kids, they need to be reminded of it nearly all the time.
When we have a baby, we can spend hours just staring at them, cooing at them and smiling. As they get older, we can often be relieved when they’re happy to play on their own. But children still have a strong, innate need to feel connected with us. You may notice how they will go off and play, then come back to you for a quick cuddle, before they go running off again. They need to know that we are still there and they need to actively feel our love for them.
However, daily life can be really busy and between chores, child care, meal times and getting them ready for bed, we can rush through our To Do List and not have so much time or energy to spend focused on each of our children. As a result, they can feel less connected to us and start to feel uncomfortable. When they feel uncomfortable, they start to act out and that’s why a lot of unpleasant behaviour begins.
Similarly, I find that if my husband & I don’t have a date night for a long time, I start to take him for granted, feel more irritated and snap (he says nag!) at him more. I love him but I don’t always feel it. After a date night, I remember why I fell in love with him in the first place and I feel nurtured and loved in return.
So one of the best discipline preventative methods we can use is to ‘fill our children’s emotional cup’ on a regular basis using Special Time as advocated by Hand in Hand Parenting.
The more our children feel actively connected to us, the more resilient they feel and the less likely they are to feel horrible and take out their anger/sadness on someone else.
So what is Special Time & How Do You Do It?
Special Time works best when it is structured in this way. I’m sure you spend time with your children and do fun things with them, but this is different. This is a concentrated, focused amount of time where you give them your undivided attention
1. Name It
This defines your time together and means your child can take ownership of it, look forward to it, and feel especially excited about it.
I have 1 child, so we call it Special Time, but if I had more than one, I’d probably call it Emily Time, to distinguish it between children. You could ask your child to choose the name so they can delight in it even more.
2. Time It
Again, this defines it as a special amount of time together. It can be a quick 5 minutes, or it could be 30 – 60 minutes. However long you have available.
Set a timer so that both of you know how long you’ve got. This provides a sense of security – your child knows they’ve got your full attention for all of that time, and you know that you’re giving them this time and can then go onto your other jobs for the day. It can also help you to know that you’ve only got 30 minutes or so to play Barbies or trains, yet again!
Your child gets to choose exactly what they want to do. And you willingly agree!
This is very important. So much of their time is dictated by us. We chose what time they go to bed, what activities they do, what & when they eat, etc, etc So this helps give them some power & a sense of being in charge.
This is not the time to be teaching them, or judging what they choose to do. It’s about diving in completely to whatever they want to do.
You may notice that they want to do things that could be a bit risky, such as jump from a higher wall. This is because they know they have your full attention and so feel safe to try things they have been too scared to do before. Short of it being incredibly dangerous, let them test themselves and push their abilities. This helps to build their courage and belief in themselves.
4. Give Your Undivided Loving Attention
This means no phone calls, surreptitiously checking Facebook, or tidying up as you go (no matter how tempting any of those things can be!). For the time you’ve both agreed on, you’re theirs. So this is your chance to pour all of your love into them.
If you went out on your Date Night and your partner kept taking calls or being really distracted, you’d probably be pretty annoyed and not feel loved or appreciated. Same with our children. So just pour your love in.
It may even help you to feel more connected with your child again. I often find that, if was feeling irritated with my daughter in the morning, when I do Special Time with her, I’m reminded of how lovely she is again and so I feel nourished too.
5. Be Prepared for Big Feelings Afterwards
This can often take parents by surprise. It’s easy to feel resentful that, after giving all of your gorgeous attention, your child acts up, is ungrateful or has a tantrum. All of this is absolutely normal. It may not happen every time but, particularly in the beginning, or if there has been tension between the 2 of you, it is a perfectly natural response.
Once our child feels that warm, loving connection, all of the horrible feelings & stresses that may have been accumulating, bubble to the surface and out they pop. So view any tantrums or unpleasant behaviour as actually a good thing (I know it’s hard to view it this way!). Know that they are offloading all their yucky feelings to become free of them and revert back to being your gorgeous, cooperative child you love so much.
So when you are setting the timer, allow some time at the end for a potential cry before you need to go on to other things.
6. Plan It Regularly
Special Time works best when you do it on a regular basis. Ideally daily – even if it’s just for 10 minutes. If you do, you’ll notice that your child is less likely to misbehave and more likely to remain her loving, cooperative self.
You could do it strategically such as first thing in the morning, so that the getting out of the door routine runs smoothly, or again first thing after school / daycare so that the evening routine flows.
And that’s it!
It really isn’t too complicated. Obviously your child will love it, but you’ll probably find that you will enjoy it too. Particularly if you’re juggling multiple children, work, household chores, etc, you’ll come to cherish this special one on one time with them. And even if you don’t enjoy the activities, you’ll know that you’ve given your child something vital and this will help assuage any feelings of mother / parent guilt which we can all carry.
So give it a go and let us know in the comments below how you go – we’d would love to hear what you get up to and any changes you notice.