When I signed up for Special Time, I wasn’t sure I signed up for days like this. But now I see that leaning in when Special Time feels hard or challenging is a gift that gives back.
One day my then seven-year-old daughter asked for Special Time. I said okay and set the timer on the stove for 15 minutes to do whatever she wanted.
As soon as the timer started though her mood quickly shifted. “I don't want special time anymore,” she said, in her school-age “I'm-not-going-to-be-your-friend” tone.
This tone has become a common occurrence in our house. I'm not sure, but I'm guessing it has to do with areas where she is feeling rejected in her life.
To counter that feeling I decided to playfully beg to spend time with her. “Aww, come on, let's have Special Time! Puh-leaze!!”
“She climbed up onto the counter and had to lean over the stove.”
She went straight to the stove and stood on her tiptoes to reach over it and turn the timer off. It was a stretch for her to reach and I noticed she seemed proud that she could do it. I playfully begged a little more to have Special Time with her. She stretched to reach the timer buttons again to adjust the time.
When she realized she could only reach the on-off button, she climbed up onto the counter to set the time and had to lean over the stove to do this. I gulped. Was I really going to let her do something that is generally off-limits?
I decided to trust the process and said, “We MUST be having Special Time because this is NOT something we usually do.”
She liked this and ran with the idea! She put her hands over the (turned off) burners, then grabbed the dish towel and dangled it over them. She grinned from ear to ear as I said, “Yep, we are definitely having Special Time. We do NOT do this when it's not Special Time.”
She had a mischievous grin now and I could see she was starting to enjoy herself.
She set the timer for 15 minutes and hopped off the counter.
Why to lean in when your child's Special Time requests test your boundaries.
“Hmmm,” she said. “What else do we NOT usually do?” She immediately went to my room, opened the sock drawer and began flinging the socks out! At first I had to resist cringing at clothes being flung onto the floor. I could feel my body tense and tighten as I thought about the “mess”.
I quickly shifted my attention to her joy and creativity, took a deep breath, and leaned into the play with her. She opened another drawer and flung more things out. I playfully begged and pleaded for her to stop and took clothes from the floor and playfully threw them toward her.
I reminded myself that Special Time is all about letting our child lead the way. It seemed ridiculous to allow this (and I'm not sure that I would outside of Special Time) but I reminded myself that I was building trust with her by following her lead with enthusiasm during this short time.
I was also modeling cooperation.
How many times has she had to go to the grocery store, wash her hair, eat a dinner she didn't like much, clean up, stop playing, go to school, and more, when she really didn't want to?
I decided I could give her this 15 minutes each day to be in charge.
When she was done she giggled more and said, “What else do we NOT usually do?”
She went to the kitchen and threw an orange on the floor and then in the living room tried to play the piano backwards! I leaned in and let myself just delight in her and what she was showing me.
She seemed thoroughly pleased with herself. For her final “hurrah”, she got a stack of playing cards and had us both throw them in her room. With cards all over the floor, I playfully tackled her and we wrestled a little, until the timer beeped.
I hugged and thanked her for a fun Special Time and then asked her if she wanted to pick up the cards or the clothes. She chose the cards and picked them up while I gathered the clothes.
The rest of the morning was a breeze. She got dressed, brushed her teeth, and helped get all of her things ready for school.
If you're new to Special Time, don't worry, this isn't usually how it goes.
Most of the time we color or dance or do some other fun thing like play with her stuffed animals.
But sometimes, children do bring more challenging things in Special Time. They may try playing with “bad” language or want to play roughhousing games we find difficult to enjoy.
They may pick a game we hate to see if we are serious when we say we'll play anything they want!
If we can keep to the spirit of Special Time and allow this (outside of anything truly harmful or dangerous) our children really begin to trust that we will just listen and let them lead the way during this time.
When you set the timer for Special Time, it is your time to shine a bright beam of love on your child and model the same cooperation you'd like from them, by sometimes doing things you don't love to do.
Even if you cringe at where that takes you once in a while.
I found that when I could lean into Special Time, cooperation followed. Try it and see if you find this too.
If Special Time feels challenging, here are a few tips to let go and lean in:
You don't even have to like what your child asks you to do.
- Embrace the timer
- Try shorter amounts of time for your kids to be in charge. The idea is to be relaxed and enjoy this time with your children. If what they choose makes you tense, it's best to pick an amount of time that you can handle in a relaxed way. When this preschooler started throwing food a 2-minute Special Time was the perfect solution.
- Knowing the time is limited not only helps you when the activities are challenging, it also helps safeguard the time for your child as they learn you will not leave unexpectedly.
- Stay in the present moment
- If you hate what your child chooses to do, remember to focus more on THEM than the activity. You don't have to enjoy the activity, just enjoy your child and notice what they like about what they chose. You can see how this works in How to Make Screen Time Special Time
- If your mind wanders off, bring it back into the present by refocusing on your child. Notice the subtleties of their face and the expressions they make. Be available for eye contact when they look your way. Show genuine interest in what they're doing and how they do it.
- Move in close if they like that and offer affection on their terms.
- Get some listening time
- One of the reasons Special Time can be hard for us as parents is that often we didn't get what we're trying to offer our children. Can you imagine your parents saying, “I have 10-minutes to do WHATEVER you want to do?” Take time with your listening partner to work on whatever feelings you have about this. You might try starting with, “I never got Special Time!! Why should they!?” and see where it leads you.
- Explore what you would have done as a child in Special Time if it had been offered to you.
- Use your listening time as adult-to-adult Special Time and DO whatever you want with your listening partner's full delight and attention. This can open up space for you to test things that are usually off-limits, or to get some much needed fun time for yourself in parenting, or to gain a really good understanding of how rich Special Time can be for your child. If you like this idea, our Special Time Toolkit has 20 ideas to get started. Get it here.
Be part of the movement putting kindness, connection and laughter at the heart of parenting.
Get everything you need to get started with Special Time. Give a $6 donation to Hand in Hand Parenting's Special Time fundraiser, and you'll receive guides, checklists, planners and prompts as a thank you.
Go to the Special Time Fundraiser and give now.