“Special Time”

There’s nothing a child loves more than having Mom or Dad’s undivided attention. I’m not talking about the time spent under the microscope when she’s in trouble and getting a lecture, although if that’s her only option, she’ll probably take it. I’m talking about free, unhurried time that includes just the two of you and is spent doing something she loves. The truth is, there is absolutely no substitute for you, and small amounts of meaningful time together can work wonders in creating a warm and close relationship.

In my family when the kids were little we set aside “special time” each week and marked it on the calendar in ink. Since we had three kids there was always a lot going on, so each child really treasured that golden half hour or so that belonged just to them. Whichever parent was not involved took care of the other two kids and we were careful not to let anything else get in the way. No phone calls or interruptions were allowed–unless, of course, there was an emergency. As the day and time approached, the two of us would talk about what we were going to do and the child got to pick as long as his choice was reasonable. Last minute decisions were fine. It had to be something that allowed us to “play” together so television and movies were out.

Depending on their age, it might be 30 minutes playing dolls or coloring, building with Legos or making cupcakes, playing a board game or cards, or painting each others toenails. It could be laying on the floor, looking up at the ceiling, and making up jokes or silly songs. It could be endless games of Tick-Tack-Toe or Hangman or making playdough people with garlic press hair. The cheaper and simpler the better. No “teaching” or “helping them improve” at some talent or skill was allowed. And the focus and conversation revolved around them and their life, never my husband’s or mine. Think Mr. Rogers.

As they got older, the 30 minutes became 60 and when they turned into adolescents we began to occasionally plan outings together that sometimes evolved into a whole afternoon or evening. It was never about “fancy” or “expensive.”  It was about talking and laughing and playing. It was about getting to know each other and creating memories and discovering things that we liked to do together. It was about letting them know that we valued them and our time with them.

My daughter is now in college and studying abroad in Paris for the academic year. Once the decision had been made and she was flying off for several months of adventure I thought to myself, “What a perfect opportunity for “special time!” So in the fall, my husband took off for a guided tour of the City of Light compliments of our daughter, a true Francophile, who was thrilled to show her dad around. And I just got back from my own private tour in mid-April. We had so much fun. All those times spent playing and exploring together as she grew allowed us to develop a warm and friendly relationship that I treasure. Now she’s learning how to take the reigns and be the host. Wow.

A recent survey showed that the people children most want to spend time with are their parents. They have a deep need for one-on-one time with their mom or dad. They want to be heard, questioned, listened to, and talked to by their parents and helped to gain the perspective that comes with age and experience. As kids get older, they need to sound out their ideas, hopes and dreams with someone they trust who loves them unconditionally and is on their side. But if you expect them to be able to talk to you about the stuff that’s scary or challenging or confusing when they hit adolescence and beyond, you need to have created and nurtured a space in which that can happen first.

So often time with a child is split between other kids, making dinner, driving back and forth from soccer or music lessons, talking on the phone or to another adult, supervising baths or homework or cleaning up a mess on the floor. That’s just life and there’s really no way around it. But “special time” is their time. It lets them know that you see them as wonderful, fun and worthy of your time and attention. This is how you build self-esteem. A little goes a long way. So go ahead, make their day! Set a date and a time to play together, just the two of you. Make it a habit and make sure you honor it. Keep it simple. Then, just relax and enjoy getting to know that special little person who calls you mom.

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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3 responses to ““Special Time””

  1. Does Your Child Have “Affluenza?” Uh Oh.

    […] Spend time with your child playing, talking, and goofing around. Institute Family Game Night and “Special Time” and keep it going. The more quality time they spend with you away from the t.v. and computer, the […]

  2. Kristen Race, Ph.D.

    Excellent Post. I love the specified “Special Time” that you create. My husband and I often speak about how our oldest always had time alone with us before the youngest was born, and the youngest has so rarely had time alone. Designated times, with activites planned and phones left behind are so valuable. i also appreciate your link to self-esteem building through these positive interactions and relationships. Thanks for sharing this,


  3. Recipe For The Anti-Bully

    […] Make sure that their emotional needs are being met. Spend lots of quality time with them showing that you care. They will be more able to feel compassion for others if they have strong, loving relationships of their own. […]

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