Have you had a power struggle with one of your kids lately?
If you asked me that question 5 years back, I’d promptly ask, “You mean how many power struggles have we had in the past hour?”
My daughter and I are both stubborn and strong-willed. At one point, that meant nonstop, round-the-clock arguments and power struggles. Some days, we’d clock a couple of monster battles before we even made it to the breakfast table!
Now though, if you ask me the same question, I’d have to think long and hard to remember when our last big fight was.
We’re still both stubborn. And strong-willed. We still want things done a certain way. Our Way.
But we’ve learnt to give power struggles a wide berth. Most often, when we disagree we manage to look for a solution that works for both of us. And when that doesn’t happen, we’ve learnt to shrug our shoulders, roll our eyes and let things slide.
What’s made the biggest difference in this time? I’ve embraced positive parenting. At the core of positive parenting is the simple idea that you connect with your kids more deeply, so that everyday situations resolve themselves without resorting to screaming, yelling, drama or power struggles.
Of all the different ways to connect with my daughter, one simple, 10-minute solution called Special Time has made the most remarkable difference in our lives.
So, What is “Special Time”?
You know how some ideas are so simple that you totally gloss over them at first? Well, that’s what I did when I first read about Special Time. The idea of Special Time is super simple – spend an uninterrupted chunk of specially marked time with your child where you are all theirs. That’s it.
Huh. Say what?
But, I do that every day! We have breakfast together. I help her get ready and take her to school. I pick her up in the afternoon and then it’s just her and me until her dad returns from work. Then it’s dinner, playtime, bath and bed.
Clearly, I am spending a fair amount of time with her already, aren’t I?
Here’s the thing…
All this time we spend with our kids is like the rice and beans that we have for every day dinner. They sustain us and provide us with basic nutritional needs. But it’s not all that exciting.
Special time on the other hand is like a visit to a Steak House. Or a Sushi restaurant. Or a home-made feast at grandma’s place.
It’s different. It’s noticeably special. It stands out.
And that makes all the difference.
When done right, Special Time can help you nurture a very strong relationship with your child, which in turn will make both of you loathe to let any situation devolve into such an argument or power struggle that might strain the relationship. Instead you want to protect the relationship you have.
You will still disagree – you are, after all, two different people. But, you tend to resolve your differences more amicably. Or at the worst, agree to disagree.
But Special Time has to be done right. Here are some things I’ve learnt about that –
- Special Time MUST be acknowledged as special: Whether it is scheduled Special Time or an impromptu session, you MUST clearly acknowledge that it is Special Time. You don’t necessarily have to call it by that name – any consistent name you use for it is fine as long as it sets it apart. (We call ours “Mommy-and-N Time.”)
- Special Time MUST be uninterrupted time: During this time you are all theirs. Which means no TV, chores, Facebook, phone calls or any other distractions allowed. To make your Special Time stand out even more in your child’s mind, DON’T turn your phone off. Instead, when you get a call, let it go to voice mail or say clearly to the caller that you are doing something very important at the moment and will have to call them back. This will reinforce the idea in your child’s mind that this time you are spending together is indeed very special.
- Absolutely NO snapping, screaming, arguing, controlling or pushing your agenda during Special Time: Think of Special Time as a sacred time when you just still your mind and everything around you, and just enjoy your child for a few moments. And for your child it is a few moments of completely non-judgmental, unconditional love showered on them. It doesn’t have to be sappy or cloying though. You are welcome to roughhouse or play fight, just as long as no harsh feelings are involved.
- If you have more than one child, try to have Special Time individually with each child: You could make Special Time a family bonding opportunity, but considering that no two kids are alike, and they each have their unique emotional needs, it is best to treat each one to dedicated Special Time with you.
- Be realistic about how long your Special Time will be: Considering all the above, some people can go for longer than others. Be realistic about what works for you. You want to be able to do this again and again, so pick a time limit that best suits both yours and your child’s personality. 10 minutes is what most experts recommend… it’s not too short or not too long. But don’t hesitate to go shorter or longer.
- You MUST stop when the Special Time ends: The first few times, you child will likely be sad and disappointed when the special time ends. They may beg and plead to continue for a bit. They may even throw a fit when you don’t budge. Expect it and treat them with compassion. Promise them that you will do this again. The best option is to have scheduled Special Time, maybe once a day, so you child knows exactly when it will happen next. If that is not an option at least commit to doing this once a week. This is important, or it will not be sustainable in the long-term.
- You MUST keep your promise about when Special Time happens: Whether you commit to doing this once a day, once a week or have impromptu sessions, once you say you will have Special Time, you must go through with it. Staying consistent is key. It will not only make it easier for your child to end future sessions on a happy note, but helps you build trust with your child. And that trust is at the core of the strong relationship you’re embarking on.
- Pick Special Time activities that work for both of you: Some experts suggest that you take turns to pick the Special Time activity. Sadly that did not work for us because I just could not bring myself to enjoy Special Time if my daughter picked an activity that bored me out of my skull. And if I did not enjoy it, chances were we wouldn’t be doing it too often. So we agreed to pick an activity that both of us liked. Even if it wasn’t the most favorite activity for either of us, the fact that we were doing it together made it special and we end up enjoying it a lot.
For the past 3 years now, what has stuck with us after some initial trial and error, is 10-minutes of dedicated Mommy-and-N Time immediately after my daughter comes back from school and has had her snack.
At the beginning of our Special Time, one of us turns on the kitchen timer. I put away the phone. Dinner is either cooked by this time, or has to wait until later.
Then, depending on what we both like at the moment, we do crafts, build with Legos, play card or board games, go for a walk or bike ride, play in the back yard, snuggle up and read to each other, make blanket forts or whatever else strikes our fancy.
When the timer rings, I step away and she either continues what we were doing (in the case of crafts, Legos or reading) or moves on to some other game.
On weekends we have between one and three impromptu Special Time sessions, depending on our schedule.
My daughter is now 8 and to this day, it is one of her favorite things. I know my baby will be all grown up soon, but as long as she keeps asking for it, I will cherish these little Special Time moments.
You might also enjoy, 101 Easy Ways to Show Your Kids Unconditional Love
About Sumitha: Sumitha Bhandarkar is the founder of AFineParent.com. After a few years of fumbling around and feeling like a perpetually crappy mom, one day she had the epiphany that Great Parents are Made, Not Born. She started a community for parents like herself who want to become better parents one itty-bitty step at a time. Now they are 20,000+ parents strong! Want to join them? Click here to signup and get their popular mini-course “How to Be a Positive Parent” for FREE.