“I’ll do anything you want during Special Time…”
When you offer your children Special Time, sooner or later they realise exciting doors have opened for them.
One of them is screen time.
It took a while for my sweet boys, but then the inevitable happened. One day, they looked at me and said, “Hey, that means I can play on the iPad!”.
Do you have to do screen time for Special Time?
But do you HAVE to do screen Special Time if they request it?
Are there boundaries, other than safety rules, of course, that we can set during Special Time?
The short answer is, it is up to you.
That’s not a non-answer, and here’s why. You are the expert in your own family. That means you are best placed to have the inside scoop on how screens impact your child, and how you want to proceed.
And there is a helpful process you can use to figure out your own solution and experiment with screen time for Special Time in your family.
Screen time for Special Time? Figuring out what works for your family.
Step one: Get Listening Time first
We always recommend this step first, because hard working parents everywhere carry so many feelings about the things our children feel passionate about. Listening Partnerships offers a good space to offload and get clear. You might consider questions like:
- Did you have screens as a child? What were the rules around screen time?
- Do you have any particularly positive memories of connection using screens?
- Do you have any troublesome or challenging memories about screens?
- If your child watched screens all day, what feelings would that bring up for you?
- If your child said, “No thanks Mum, I’m just not that interested in screens” what feelings does that bring up?
Bask in your listener’s warm attention and follow your own intelligence wherever it takes you, trusting that you will figure out a solution.
You may come to a clear resolution, as I did for a long time, that you are just not willing to use screens for Special Time.
That’s fine – you are the expert and you get to decide!
As my boys became older, I revisited this process because I wanted to learn more about this aspect of the world that was becoming increasingly important to them.
This brings us to the second part of the process.
Step two: Say yes…for a while!
This is something that Hand in Hand Parenting recommends considering. Say ‘Yes!’ with your 100% warm, loving and interested presence for a number of screen-based Special Time sessions.
I chose to do about five sessions. And guess what?
It was amazing!
I learned so much about my children’s clever brains and the sophisticated ways they were playing the games they loved. They, in turn, adored the chance to show me their skills and share their enjoyment with me.
Some families decide at this point that screen time for Special Time is absolutely on the table because of benefits like those I described. When a child feels seen, understood and we join them in their delights, the results can be very positive.
Maybe you’ll stop at step two. That’s great! (Did I mention that you are the expert and you get to decide?!).
I learned so much and gained a lot from screen time for Special Time, and my boys loved sharing their online worlds with me. But I noticed that while it was a good opportunity to connect and to offload feelings when the timer went off, my boys wanted it more and more. The rigidity around what we ‘played’ in Special Time meant that I decided to move to the third part of this process – saying no to screen time for Special Time.
Step three: Say a warm and loving no to screen time for Special Time
In my experience, this response can produce some very big feelings. The trick is to understand that this is the storm before the calm and listen well.
Here are some of the words I heard:
- “But you said we could!”
- “That’s not fair!”
- “I hate you!”
Plan to set aside the time your children need to work through their inevitable feelings about this decision.
My response was empathetic, but firm. “I know I said we could, and we did and it was lovely. We might do some more screen time for Special Time, but for now, I just want to be with you, and no screens.”
I know that when my children clean out their emotional pipes, it has a profoundly positive impact on our family life, so I can accept my child’s big feelings as a huge gift for our future selves.
Knowing that my children, when feeling connected and flexible, are easily able to get through a day without screens helped me to hold my limit with warmth and kind attention.
Step four: Shifting resistance through play
The last time I said no, my child’s feelings were tight and rigid rather than angry and tearful. I tried Playlistening as a strategy and it went beautifully.
Here’s how it worked:
After we had screen time for Special Time recently, I announced warmly, “That’s the last screen Special Time for a while.”
The next day, a few minutes into Special Time, my 11-year-old asked to show me a Lego toy on the iPad. I had already mentioned that we wouldn’t do screen time for Special Time that morning, and so I responded with a warm, “Nope, not today.”
His superpower is persistence, so he kept asking and bargaining and negotiating while I kept saying, “Sorry honey, not today,” and variations on that theme. Realising I needed to break the loop, I moved in close and went for Playlistening.
I said, “I’m getting the impression that the computer is more fun than me, but that’s simply not possible. Here I am! I want to play!”
Coming on strong with this playful, happy energy, with my arms wide for a hug and my face beaming at him brought on some huge giggles for him!
I kept saying, ‘Nope, no iPad, but I’m right here!’ and hamming up my openness to play.
“Here I am, fun aren't I?”
Once those giggles quietened down a bit I tried something else. “I know the iPad has lots of bells and whistles but you haven’t tried my buttons. Press one and see what happens!”
I had fun doing lots of silly actions and noises.
Every now and then my son would ask again and I’d go off on a new tangent of silly actions that pressing the button would produce, or offer myself up playfully in place of the iPad.
“Here I am! Fun, aren’t I?”
After around 20 minutes of me offering myself in the place of the iPad, the timer that signalled the end of Special Time went off.
Once the buzzer went off, he said, “Mum can I actually show you now? Just for ten seconds?”
He opened the browser, showed me the Lego set and then put the device down immediately.
He was so open and flexible for the rest of the day, it was wonderful! Now content to share time on other pursuits with me, he hasn’t asked for screen time for Special Time since.
If you are getting stuck on how to handle screen time for Special Time requests, I hope these ideas will help. I’d love to hear how it goes for you and your family.