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What's Special About Special Time

Part II: How to start special time.

Special Time is preventive maintenance that will change your child’s behavior and help your entire family dynamic. These tips will help you get started:

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1. Announce that you want to have special time with each child.

This will be for 10 minutes a day (or 20, if you can swing it), as often as you can. Call it by the most special name there is — your child's name. So in your house it might be Talia time or Oliver time.

2. Choose a time when any other children are being looked after by someone else...

...unless they're old enough to stay safely occupied without adult supervision. If you have more than one child, you'll want to set up a schedule so all siblings know their special time is coming soon. One good strategy for siblings as you do time with one child is an audiobook, which absorbs their attention enough to keep them from noticing you laughing with their sibling. (Headphones are essential, and if they need something to do with their hands, give them drawing materials to illustrate as they listen. Great for brain development!)

3. Set a timer for 10 minutes.

Turn off all phones so you can't hear incoming calls. Is 10 minutes long enough? I suggest starting with 10 minutes because it will seem like an eternity if you aren't used to being fully present in the moment with another person. Don't worry, it gets easier, and you do start to enjoy it!

4. Decide if you will also have other time most days to roughhouse with your child to get her laughing.

Roughhousing is also essential, but it can often involve more than one child. If you can squeeze in some roughhousing and laughter at another point in the day, then daily Special Time is your child's to use as she sees fit. But if not — let's say you work outside the home and have limited time with your child — then you do need to reserve some time for roughhousing. In that case, I recommend that you alternate days. The first day, your child decides how to use the Special Time. The next day, you get decide, and you always choose roughhousing/laughter.

5. Say, "I am all yours for the next 10 minutes..."

"The only things we can't do are read or use screens. This time is just to play. What would you like to do?"

Or, if you are including roughhousing in special time, add, "Today you get to decide what we will do with our 'Jonah time.' Tomorrow, I get to decide. We'll alternate."

6. Follow your child's lead with 110% of your attention with no agenda and no distractions.

Just connect to your child with all your heart. Really notice your child, and follow his lead. If he wants to play with his blocks, don't rush in to tell him how to build the tower. Instead, watch with every bit of your attention. Occasionally, say what you see without interfering: "You are making that tower even are standing on your tiptoes to get that block up there..."

If she wants you to pull her in a circle on her skates until she falls down, over and over, resist "teaching" her to skate. Consider it your workout for the day, and make it fun: "For special time, my daughter took us out into the cul-de-sac to roller skate. I pulled her in a circle round and round so hard and she laughed and laughed until she fell on the ground. She kept coming back for more. After all this laughing, we had a great night!"

Resist the urge to judge or evaluate your child. Don't take control or suggest your own ideas unless he asks. Refrain from checking your phone. Just show up and give your child the tremendous gift of being seen and acknowledged. (If you've ever really been seen and appreciated, you know just how great a gift this is.) Your child may not be able to articulate it, but he will know when you're really being present with him. Kids sense our presence and they "follow" it like a magnet.

My next post will feature five more essential tips on how to use Special Time to strengthen and sweeten your relationship with your child.