Children under two require a lot of time and are not really old enough to comprehend special time. As long as they feel your enjoyment, scheduled special time is not necessary. Between the ages of two to six, children need at least ten minutes a day of special time that they can count on. Even more time is better, but you’ll be surprised how magical it can be even if 10 minutes of special time is all you can manage in your busy schedule.
From six two twelve, children may not require special time every day (you be the judge), but they like to count on at least half an hour a week. The particular time and amount would be individual for each family. It could be cookies and milk while sharing after school, or an hour every Saturday. The important part is that children know exactly when they can count on time that has been set aside especially for them. Teenagers may not want to spend special time with you. At this age their friends are more important than family. Don’t worry, the older they get, the more important family becomes. Meanwhile ask your teenager to humor you and spend 30 minutes a week with you because you need it. One idea would be to take them across town to a hamburger joint so their friends won’t have to see them doing something so dorky as spending time with you. Do anything that helps you keep your sense of humor in tact so you don’t take this stage personally.
There are several reasons why special time is so encouraging:
- Children feel a sense of connection when they can count on special time with you. They feel that they are important to you. This decreases their need to misbehavior as a mistaken way to find belonging and significance.
- Scheduled special is a reminder to you about why you had children in the first place—to enjoy them.
- When you are busy and your children want your attention, it is easier for them to accept that you don’t have time when you say, "Honey, I can’t right now, but I sure am looking forward to our special time at 4:30."
- Plan the special time with your children. Brainstorm a list of things you would like to do together during your special time. When first brainstorming your list, don’t evaluate or eliminate. Later you can look at your list together and categorize. If some things cost too much money, put them on a list of things to save money for. If the list contains things that take longer than the 10 to 30 minutes you have scheduled for the special time, put these items on a list that can be put on a calendar for longer family fun times.
I often suggest that parents take the phone off the hook for special emphasis that this is special, uninterrupted time. However, one mother would leave the phone on the hook during her special time with her three-year-old daughter. If the phone would ring, she would answer and say, "I’m sorry I can’t talk with you now. This is my special time with Lori." Lori would grin as she heard her mother tell other people how important it was to spend time with her.
Teachers may be surprised at how effective it can be to spend two or three minutes after school with a child and NOT talk about the child’s problems. Instead they can ask questions such as, "What is your favorite thing to do for fun?" Then share what you like to do for fun. Students feel very special when a teacher also shares things that reveal who they are as a person. Many teachers have reported that simply spending a few minutes after school with a child for special time has helped the child feel encouraged enough to stop misbehaving, even though the misbehavior is not mentioned during this time.
Mrs. Petersen was concerned about a child in her room whose mistaken goal was power. Debbie often refused to do her work and openly displayed hostility with sneers and sullen looks. Mrs. Petersen asked Debbie to stay after school one day. Debbie stayed, looking as if she were ready for a battle. Mrs. Petersen did not mention any problem behavior; she instead asked Debbie if she would tell her about the most fun thing she had done the night before. Debbie would not answer. Mrs. Petersen thought, "This isn’t working," but continued "Well, I would like to tell you what I did for fun last night." She then went on to share something she had done with her family the night before. Debbie still refused to respond. Mrs. Petersen told Debbie she could leave, but she would love to hear from her anytime she felt like sharing what she liked to do for fun.
Mrs. Petersen felt discouraged, thinking the exchange had not been very helpful. However, the next day she noticed Debbie no longer had a chip on her shoulder and did not display any hostility. After school Debbie showed Mrs. Petersen a picture she had drawn of herself and a friend riding bikes. She explained this was the most fun thing she had done the night before. Mrs. Petersen then shared another fun thing she had done.
If you analyze it, you will understand why such a brief exchange can have such dramatic results. First, the child feels singled out for special attention. The child may reject this special attention at first because of his or her suspicion that it will probably be another session for blaming and lecturing. Second, the child experiences the unexpected when the teacher ignores behavior problems. Third, adults often show interest in having children share, but they don’t demonstrate mutual respect by sharing themselves. A child may feel extra belonging and significance when you share something about yourself.
It is suggested that teachers spend a few minutes of special time with each student in their class during the year. Start with the children who seem the most discouraged, but keep track to make sure you don’t miss anyone.
Many teachers complain that they don’t have time for special time. It is true that teacher’s are feeling so much pressure to help students pass academic tests. However, teachers who understand that encouragement is just as important (if not more) as academics find a few minutes while children are doing seat work or walking in line.
Parents can apply the concept of special time as part of the bedtime routine (although the bedtime routine should not replace daytime special time). When Mrs. Bruner tucks her children into bed at night, she asks them first to share the saddest thing that happened to them during the day and then the happiest thing. She then shares her saddest and happiest events.
At first her children went overboard on this opportunity to complain about sad things and would sometimes end up crying. She would patiently wait for them to calm down and then say, "I’m glad you can share your feelings with me. Tomorrow, when you don’t feel so upset, we’ll talk about it some more to see if we can figure out some solutions. Now tell me your happiest thing." If the child couldn’t think of a happy thing, Mrs. Bruner would share her happy event. After the children got used to this routine, the sad events were reported in a matter of fact way, followed by ideas for solving or avoiding a similar problem in the future. The children soon enjoyed sharing their happy events more than their sad events.