As little as five or 10 minutes following a child in play can transform many of the big challenges parents face raising little ones today. If you want to set a limit on behavior, transition smoothly to a new routine or situation, or guide your child through hurdles including homework, tidy up, or taking medication, this tool, which we like to call Special Time, is simple to use and instantly helps you connect with your child before you tackle a challenge.
Here's how it worked for Yasmeen Almahdy, a Hand in Hand Instructor based in Egypt, when her six-year-old had trouble working through some science homework.
Playing Through Science Woes
“Yesterday, I was studying science with my daughter. She forgot most of the things that they had covered in school. I'm not sure why. Maybe some recent tests had exhausted her, or she hadn't slept well, but science was a struggle for her that day.
After we finished studying, she told me that she needed a special time. Since we started doing Special Time she's become quite an expert and she tends to divide the games she wants to play by the time we have available.
We started with hide and seek for about 10 minutes and I acted surprised when she found me and let her catch me every time.
When Roleplay Reflects A Current Difficulty
Next she told me that she wanted to play teacher and student. So she got me her math book and started to ask me questions. First she asked me whether a paper clip or a crayon was longer. I wanted to play goofy and make her laugh, thinking that might ease the tension she had around homework, so I said playfully “The paper clip is way longer.”
She laughed a lot and said, “No! Really! Tell me which is longer?”
I wanted to promote more laughter, so I repeated what I'd said before. She laughed again, but then she took on a serious tone and asked “No, really mom, tell me the correct answer.”
I told her that the crayon was longer.
After that, she asked me what was heavier, giving a balloon or a ball as my options. I said “Of course the balloon is heavier, its sooo heavy.”
She said that it wasn't, but she was laughing and I was happy about that. But, again, she soon got more serious. “Mom, I'm asking seriously, please don't make me laugh. You are a smart girl who can answer correctly!”
I was surprised when she said that. This felt like it was her way of telling me exactly what she needed. I had thought that laughter would help her relieve her tensions around school and studying, but as she began to instruct me I changed my mind. She was obviously enjoying playing the more powerful teacher role, so I stopped analysing, stopped trying to make her laugh, and just followed her lead.
I did exactly what she told me and answered her questions correctly.
She seemed satisfied and happy with that. After we'd finished special time, she had to revise some of the science terms that had confused her.
She was relaxed about completing this task, and this time got most of the answers right.
Connecting with her through special time helped clear her mind and feel more able to take on the challenge.”
Why it Works:
Homework dredges up lots of fears and emotions for children. They can feel the pressure to succeed in front of you or a teacher, doubt their abilities in the subject, relive a day not gone so well, or feel tired and worn out by following instructions all day long. Sometimes, they arrive home hungry, tired and in real need of a connection boost.
Letting Kids Lead Has Long-Lasting Benefits
Special Time works because in this child-led play they take the lead. They may play through fears using very clear and relevant scenarios, like Yasmeen's daughter, or the play they choose may feel vague or totally unrelated.
By giving them the choice, they are able to play in whatever way feels most helpful to them.
And since parents in Special Time go along whole-heartedly with their child's ideas and don't criticise through direction or suggestions, children feel very supported, free and connected in a way that boosts their overall confidence.
It can be hard to follow a child's lead in play. Sometimes you might find them building a tower, and suggest “a better way,” of doing it, sometimes, like Yasmeen, you might have a hidden agenda – trying to make her daughter laugh. Both of these devices are your way of trying to help, so you shouldn't feel bad if you notice it happening. Yasmeen wanted to help her daughter shed tension through laughter. The parent offering another way to build bricks wants to see their child's structure be successful, or make their child happy at a successful outcome. But children really thrive when they can make decisions, guide the play, and ultimately, they know what's best for them.
If the blocks fall and your child feels sad about it, it's ok to just listen to the feelings he has about that.
Why Special Time Builds Confidence and Connection
Just five or 10 minutes a day when kids can, for once, stop following orders, and just be in the moment with a parent they love, can promote long-term confidence, resilience and strong connections.
Kids develop the trust they need to strive higher, and the support they need for when life doesn't go as well as they'd planned.
Read a free chapter on Special Time and its benefits from the book Listen: Five Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges
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