Tuesday, October 08, 2013
Special time is the practice of regularly setting aside time to follow a child's lead in play. This article originally appeared in Park Slope Parents.
It’s no mystery that one of the biggest gifts you can give to your child is the gift of time and your undivided attention. It’s tough to give our complete attention these days, given that our adult plates are spilling over with projects, chores, errands, and concerns about what’s going on in the world. And with all of our portable electronic devices at hand, it’s getting harder to slow down the pace at which we live our lives.
There’s a great ritual you can add to your routine that will make it easier to protect the “undivided attention time” you give to your child, whether he is an infant or a teen. It’s called Special Time, and it has a huge and visible impact on the quality of your relationship with your child.
Here’s how Special Time works:
Tell your child in advance that you are setting aside a particular day and a certain length of time – somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour works well – to do exactly what he or she wants to do. By letting your child know ahead of time, you give your child a chance to start working on how to use the Special Time. Ideally, you can carve out this time on a regular basis – whether it’s weekly or a couple of times a month. Make it something your child can depend on and you’ll both reap the best rewards.
Follow up on your promise! Do not answer the phone, scan messages on your BlackBerry, chat with other adults, or wash the dishes during that allotted amount of time. It’s your job to fully respect your child’s mind and see where it takes the two of you. Pay close attention to your child’s verbal and non-verbal cues about what role s/he wants you to take on during Special Time. One child may want to you watch him in whatever he chooses to do; another might want you to play a more physically active role in her chosen pastime.
Believe me, it’s going to be tempting to guide or tweak the play in some way. Resist the pull to say “Hey, here’s an idea” or “Let’s do it this way.” Really see and follow where your child’s mind takes the two of you. If feelings of discomfort, boredom, or frustration arise for you during Special Time, just take mental note of them and keep going. Later, when you’re out of earshot of your child, you can vent to another adult about whatever came up for you. That way, you can keep coming back to Special Time with a fresh perspective.
Special Time, especially if done on a regular basis, has enormous benefits for your children and your relationship with each of them. By providing a safe space to try out ideas without reprimand or interference, you help build your children’s trust in you and the world around them. By following their minds completely, you help them gain confidence in their own thoughts and initiatives.
Special Time strengthens your connection to your child by letting you get to know your child in a different way. By paying close attention to facial expressions, gestures, words, and ideas, you learn more about skills your child wants to master, information he or she aims to make sense of, and tensions or fears to work though.
Over time – or maybe even right away! – your child may use something that happens during special time as a pretext to work through some big emotion that’s built up over time. Even if you don’t know where the upset is coming from, stay close during the tears or the anger, and let the feelings show until s/he is done and ready to go back into the play.
If you decide to give Special Time a try, let me know how it goes! I’d love to know about your successes and what you learn. I’ve been doing Special Time with young ones for more than 20 years, and I still discover something new about them, about me, and about the process each time.