If I had a magic wand for parents, it would be this: daily Special Time.
Special Time is different from the usual time you spend being a parent when you are busy doing the tasks of daily life, feeding, dressing, teaching, driving, even bedtime reading that is part of getting ready to go to sleep. Special Time is the time when you let your child be the leader while you give him or her your full attention, without interruption.
SPECIAL TIME is simple: 15 minutes every day to be alone with your child. It is time alone for a parent and child with NO interruptions.
Your child gets to choose any activity that can reasonably fit within 15 minutes, except for any type of screen time. Your child may want you to play or to watch while he or she does an activity.
SPECIAL TIME is a time to be engaged and responsive, not to teach or to entertain. Your job is to follow your child’s lead, which is not always easy.
It usually works best to use a timer to mark the beginning and end of the 15 minutes. That way you don’t have to check your watch, which signals boredom. It is the bell that signals time is up.
SPECIAL TIME should always be 15 minutes, not more. Why? Because if you change the amount of time each day your child will feel deprived when you have less time some days. If you want to continue playing past 15 minutes, you can tell your child that Special Time is over and you have to take a quick bathroom break. When you return, you resume play—but it is no longer SPECIAL TIME. If your child wants to do an activity that usually takes more than 15 minutes, tell him or her that you can play for 15 minutes and continue the next day. Negotiating will spoil the good feeling of Special Time.
Every day, if possible. If you find you are not able to set aside 15 minutes at least five days a week, it may be because you are spending time in less enjoyable ways. You might notice that you are spending more than 15 minutes each day nagging! SPECIAL TIME usually frees up time that is spent in conflicts. You may discover that you are spending time on activities that can be postponed or even eliminated.
Every parent I know who has started SPECIAL TIME notices positive changes in their child’s behavior within a week. Try it!