In some parts of society, there is a belief that spending time playing can be unproductive and frivolous. Don’t you think we’ve lost the joy, sense of fun and playfulness in our lives? This may be even more challenging in lockdown!
I believe offering your full attention to your child is an expression of love!
If you knew that 15 minutes a day of Special time a day or three times a week might deepen your connection with your child, you would do it wouldn’t you? It is especially important if your child is having tantrums or is struggling in Lockdown. You can really help them by playing together. Parents often attend my clinic when dynamics are stuck. Special time is an opportunity to change.
There are so many different types of play, social, imaginative, object, ritual and so many more. So, let’s reflect on the importance of play and how using special time strengthens your connection with your children.
Why is Play Time so important?
1. It teaches us how to socialise and learn how to cooperate.
If we really look, play is everywhere in the animal kingdom. Bears, rats, cats, and dogs are all known for liking a tussle or playfight. Play not only helps animals to hunt but in addition how to socialise. Studies showed that despite depriving them of play fighting, they could still hunt, however, what they never learn to do is socialise. ( p32 Stuart Brown, M.D Play, How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul)
This is one of the reasons why rough, tumble, and tumble ( assertive play) has an important function in humans too. It not only helps children to understand boundaries, where to push or stop but in addition the balance between teasing and taunting.
2. It helps with Emotional Regulation
Rough and tumble play is so important in Lockdown, even though we may not be outside as much. Jaak Panksepp, renowned play researcher shows it stimulates growth factor that enhances the higher human brain which helps us to better manage emotions and be more empathic.
3. It promotes attunement ( connection)
There is a large amount of evidence from developmental psychology about the importance of “serve and return” interactions. Even if your child is a baby, it’s as simple as you gaze at them, they babble, smile and you respond. You may sing to them too. These interactions enable brain currents to sync between you and your child. This is called “attunement” and when it happens, it feels great too. This does not have to cease as your children get older, we just need to find other ways of playing with them.
4. Encourages imagination, promotes creativity and problem solving.
Children naturally go between pretend and reality. Imaginative play enables the sense of making a coherent narrative ( story of their worlds). We continue to do that all the way through our lives. Imagination is the cornerstone of creativity, problem solving, and innovation. Society is going to need that following Lockdown.
How to implement Special Time
What is Special time?
I first came across the idea of Special time from Dr. Carolyn Webster Stratton, who developed the Incredible Years Parenting Programme. This is recommended in NICE guidelines for ADHD. I was lucky to be offered the training whilst working in CAMHS in the NHS.
- She believed that it was helpful to set aside a time each day ( or at least twice a week) for 10 minutes minimum ( most parents I work with find this limiting, so 15-20 minutes may be more suitable).
- Use a timer and be clear on the start and finish time.
- It’s good to have the same time during the day and not too near bedtime. ( This may overstimulate your child prior to sleeping) .
- Call it a special time. It is 1 to 1 time and great for sibling rivalries too.
- Let them choose what to do, children have so little power. If they don’t know, offer two choices.
- Ensure they have your total presence and focus for that time.
You may feel you are playing with your child all the time in lockdown or may be juggling a job and taking care of the children too. Special time may be the answer. When you are busy and your children want your attention. Children feel that they are important to you. This decreases their need to misbehave as a mistaken way to find belonging and significance. It is easier for them to accept that you don’t have time when you say:
“I can’t right now, but I am looking forward to our special time at
Ideas of Play in Special time
I know not everyone feels comfortable or good at playing with their children. Please be compassionate with yourself, you may simply not had much one to one play as a child. Using props can help such as footballs, balls, balloons, puppets, feathers, cards, or colouring books. I’ve spent hours with my own children and many of the boys I worked with. We don’t always need to make it complicated, keep it simple.
- You can blow on their tummies and wrestle. Lots of rough and tumble play. If you are concerned your child becomes over assertive and excited ( you can set a boundary, we will have a break when this happens…….It is always helpful to discuss the boundary priort to starting. Your child will then understand your expectation)
- Engage in role play and make believe.
- Let’s make a den, let’s build a castle.
- Offer them your presence, take a deep breath prior to starting. Turn off your phone.
- Refrain from competing with your children.
- Don’t expect too much and keep going. If your child is especially oppositional, they may reject it at first. Don’t give up and sometimes doing something different can initiate a change.
- The focus is on interacting and doing free play. Hence, is not the time when you read, do homework, or watch a screen. Bedtime rituals are separate.
- Try not to criticise, encourage their ability to work it out, so curb your desire to help.
- Encourage problem-solving, taking turns, and their creativity.
It is an understatement to say this is not the easiest of times. We are all having to dig deep and reflect on our lives. I hope that these ideas will encourage you to offer your attention for a moment. Thank you for taking the time to read this. You are welcome to subscribe to my newsletter for events, blogs, and other goodies I don’t place on Facebook. If you need some support and want to change your relationship with your child, contact me for a Zoom or Telephone Consultation. With Love and Gratitude Catherine.