As parents, we all strive for “those days.”
Those days when we all get up and eat breakfast together.
Those days when everyone's bags are packed and it's smiles all the way to school.
Those days when your toddler puts his blocks away happily and nestles down for nap.
Those days when your tween takes a minute to tidy his room without being asked.
But why do those days seem so far out of reach on most days?
There's one answer: Disconnection.
Why Do Our Brains Need Connection?
One area in our brain is particularly attuned to scan for connection. The job of this area, the limbic brain, is to scan, continuously, for environments that feel safe, warm and supportive. That's why, when a block falls off her tower, one of the first things your little one might do is look to you, or whoever is taking care of her, for reassurance. It's also why, when we take a minute to snuggle up to our older son on his iPad, and ask what game he is playing before mentioning that it's five minutes until dinner and he'll need to switch off often results in a more peaceful resolution than if we were to yell up the stairs from the kitchen.
In each of these interactions, we show that there is safety and support. We reconnect.
All too often the pace of everyday life is cause enough for connections to slide. Packed to-do lists mean we don't have much time for meaningful interactions, even when we intend to. At other times an experience might surprise or scare a child and the feelings that rock them will result in them trying to reconnect in ways that look like off-track behavior. This is natural.
We might not understand the need for the reconnection, but we can see it in action:
These are just four of the “attention-seeking behaviors” we might see that are a child's way to show he or she needs. There's a great example in this post about a young girl who arrived back home from a playdate full of aggression. Later, when she had reconnected with her mom, she revealed the source of her upset: She'd taken something from her friend without asking and felt incredibly bad about it.
She needed to reconnect with her mom to restore her feelings that she was loved and the world was secure before she could come up with a plan to own up to her friend.
It's good in these moments to lean into the upset, offer a kind, listening ear, and let the reconnection happen. But there is one way to regularly restore connection before behaviors like these occur.
Try This Tool To Boost Your Child's Sense of Connection
“Special time is the is the tool that we use to keep topping our children up and keeping them topped up connection,” says Hand in Hand Parenting's Stephanie Parker. What is Special Time?
Simply put, it's one-on-one time with your child. It's best regularly scheduled, and it's best when you have some time to spend dedicated to that child with no other distractions. Try this list for fitting in Special Time when you have more than one child.
All that's involved is setting aside that time and following your child in whatever activity they choose to do. Set up rules on safety or expense ahead if you need to, but as far as possible say “yes” to whatever your child most wants to do. Set a timer so that for the 10 or 15 minutes you have, you really devote that time to this moment, Stephanie says.
As parents it can feel quite hard to step back, to avoid making suggestions of directing the activity, but when we can our children cherish it.
“Our job is to really pour our love and pour our attention to our children,” says Stephanie. “This is really good news for their limbic brains because this time really meets that need for them to feel loved, to feel you know that they belong.”
Why is Special Time Good for The Brain?
Special Time gives a regular boost of connectedness to our children, and that nourishes them for times we can't be there or they find themselves confronting potentially fearful incidents. When children's limbic systems are picking up on this sense of security and closeness, our children can relax and feel more open to doing what needs to get done. In this way, we can see how Special Time increases cooperation. But how does it help your child's growing brain?
The limbic system is located in the pre-frontal cortex, where a child's learning takes place. When children feel connected, they are better able to learn and absorb new experiences. “When you slow down and connect while they are learning to tie their laces,” Stephanie says, new neurons fire and you actually help them learn these new things.
Why Is This Tool Helpful for Parents Too?
There's one more reason Special Time is worth a try. You. As parents, we are busy. It's not hard to miss little connecting moments. To notice what's really going on with your child. A few minutes of Special Time helps us step back and take in what we really find special about our children – even when they want to play video games we'd normally dislike, or do things we might not generally approve of. (This post is helpful when kids ask to break the rules!).
So there you have it. Special Time – a tool for “super connectedness” that fosters better times between you and your children, and boosts cooperation and learning.
Give it a try and see what a difference it makes to your family.
More Resources for Special Time
Click here for a Checklist on How to Make the Most of Special Time
Get a free chapter on Special Time from our book Listen: Five Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges
Watch Stephanie talking about the neuroscience behind connection and special time with instructor Anna Cole.