5 Ways To Encourage Independent Play

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Independence is something we want to encourage in our children. We want them to grow and venture out into the world to make the most of their lives. And in the short term we would simply like 15 minutes (or even 5!) to finish our household tasks without interruption.

I recently read a post by someone who said that children don’t need to play with adults. Now Hand in Hand parenting is an approach that really values the connection between parent and child. It’s not just about cooking, and cleaning up after them, and reading bedtime stories at night. It’s also about getting down on the floor with them, having a glimpse into their world, and an understanding that the power of our attention can be deeply healing.

An adult can’t replace a child’s need to have friends, and playmates. But an adult can connect in a way that meets a child’s need to process, and recover from any stress and upset in their lives.

Using the Hand in Hand parenting listening tools, naturally fosters independence in our children. With a big dose of connection they can internalise us as a safe base to go off and explore the world, whether it’s across the room, or away on a play date or sleepover.

Here are 5 tips for using Hand in Hand parenting to encourage our children’s independence.

  1. Get Some Listening Time For Yourself – How do you feel about your child’s ability to play independently? Do you feel frustrated by their clingyness and constant demands to ‘play with me!’? The emotional part of our children’s brain contains mirror neurons that reflect and pick up on the moods of the people around them. If we’re getting frustrated at their clingyness or constant need for attention, they’ll sense something is wrong and might respond by becoming even more clingy! When we get listened to we can clear out our minds, of all the feelings that get in the way of thinking clearly about what to do. Then we’ll be in good emotional shape for the next steps.
  2. Give Your Child Some Attention – Larry Cohen the author of Playful Parenting
    says, I’m always amazed when adults say that children “just did that to get attention”. Naturally children who need attention will do all kinds of things to get it. Why not just give it to them? When we try to get our child to play independently by saying ‘go play,’ or telling them we’re busy this can be counterproductive. If their requests for play are constantly rebuffed they may start asking for attention in more challenging ways. They might then go and hit a sibling, or pull the cat’s tail. If we can respond by saying yes, when children ask to play their connection cup gets full so they’ll be more chance of them playing independently in the future. I found this Ted talk by Shonda Rimes incredibly moving. She talks about how for one year she said yes every time her children asked her to play. I actually don’t think we should say yes every single time (see my further tips!) but saying yes as much as we can is a good aim to have.
  3. Do Some Special Time – Make special time a regular part of your life. It could be that a fixed time each week works for you. It could be that you notice the moments when your child feels disconnected, and use special time to build a sense of connection again. Sometimes when special time is over they will continue to play contentedly as happened in my story here. Special time helps our children internalise our presence so they feel safe to explore by themselves.
  4. Listen To Big Upsets – So you just did special time and found that your child did not happily continue playing with their Lego as per step 3!  Instead they started lying on the floor and tantrumming because you told them you had to go and tidy up the kitchen. Contrary to popular belief, crying is not necessarily a sign that your parenting methods aren’t working. Sometimes it’s actually a sign that they are working. As you’ll know if you’re a regular reader of my blog, crying is a healing process. If you have played and given your child attention then they sense that you are available to listen to their bigger feelings. They use your limit as a trigger to release these feelings. Holding the limit while listening and staying close lets your child release feelings that get in the way of them feeling safe enough to play independently. Whenever upsets come up, it’s always good to stay in the moment and listen, rather than trying to distract or fix. Releasing big feelings in your presence allows children to connect deeply to you, and with that connection internalised they feel safer to play independently.
  5. Use Giggle Parenting You might find that you finish special time and your child doesn’t happily continue playing by themselves, nor do they throw a big tantrum. Instead they whine and moan, and follow you around. In this case, they may need to build their sense of connection with giggle parenting. If you’re going to tidy up, you might like to invite them to be ‘untidy’ to get the laughter flowing, as I did in this blog post here. Or you might want to put items away in the wrong places and then start exclaiming, ”oh no! That’s not right! Where does that go again?” get confused at your mistakes. Soon enough they’ll either be happily helping or you, or decide they’d rather play by themselves.

I hope these tips help your process the feelings that can get in the way of them playing independently. Do let me know how you get on in the comments below!

Further Resources 

A Little Special Time In The Morning – How Starting the day off right encourages independent play.

Giggle Parenting Inspiration for a clingy, ‘shy’ Toddler  – How a little laughter can encourage independent play.

10 Ways To Use Special Time To Transform Your Day – Adding little moments of special time throughout your day can encourage independent play.

15 Tips For Getting Out Of The House With Kids

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Thanks to Crappy Pictures for this image.

One of the biggest shocks to me as a parent was just how getting out of the house suddenly turned into mission impossible. Speaking to other parents I know I’m not alone in this!

Our children just aren’t born for our busy, modern society. They like to take their time, and get deeply involved in play. It must come as a complete shock to them when we start hurrying them out of the door, and lecturing them about being ‘on time.’

I’d love to live in a world where my daughter could take her time,  where I could just open the back door and she could run out and play with other children all day.

Unfortunately our world is not that simple. Most of us out of necessity have to, at least some of the time, get our children out of the house. And we a have a time limit.

Luckily Hand in Hand parenting has some amazing tools to help us complete this challenge. Follow these steps to get your children out of the house. There are lots of playful tips here so if you use them all you might be in for a very long getting ready process! Incorporate them here and there whenever it seems necessary to add fun and connection into your daily routine.

1. Don’t underestimate the scale of this challenge! – It seems like the simplest thing in the world. Putting on clothes and shoes, opening the door and leaving the house – before having children. Afterwards life will never be the same again. Be easy on yourself, and forgive yourself for the times you’ve snapped and lost your patience. Children’s brain’s aren’t really wired to be rushed about from place to place. But because of our lifestyle’s it’s often a necessity. So, if it gets hard, don’t think of it as some sort of ‘failing’ in you as a parent. Caring for children and their emotional lives is one of the most challenging jobs in the world.

2. Instead, seek support. Get some listening time. When we have a parenting difficulty that recurs day after day we’ll often find that as time goes on more and more feelings build up inside of us. The first step towards change is to have somewhere to take these feelings. Having another adult who can listen as we talk, moan and express how we feel means that these feelings will come up less and less in our life. So have a laugh and a cry about how hard it is to get out of the house. Then notice how your perspective shifts after being listened to. When we clear out our mind of upset we can think more clearly and can often come up with playful and creative ways to deal with the situation.

3. Have lots of connection the day before – Connection helps our children to co-operate with us. If your child feels disconnected you can bet they will tell you about it by refusing to put on clothes, clean teeth etc. Any time we connect with our children it is an investment of time that will make things go more smoothly the next day. Do some special time the day before, and plan for regular roughhousing before bed. Bedtime is the ideal time to add in extra giggles to not only make your child sleep easier, but also give children the connection they need to co-operate the next day.

4. Have a bed party – While your child is sleeping, arrange every single fluffy toy they own on their bed. As your child slowly wakes, make up a silly song like ‘welcome to the bed party,’ and have the toys throw and catch balloons. Do silly thing that make your child laugh.  Perhaps they start trying to lift your child’s pillow up instead of a balloon, or all the toys decide to leave the party by hiding under the pillow. This is the perfect alarm clock for our little ones. You can read more about this idea here.

5. Have a puppet or fluffy toy do the getting ready tasks – After hosting the bed party, have your child choose a toy to get them ready. Have the toy say silly things like, ”now I’m going to take you to the pee-pee otorium,” and ”welcome to the restaurant now I’m going to show you the breakfast choices.” Everything goes a little more smoothly when a friendly toy is the one doing the talking instead of a nagging parent!

6. Have a getting ready song. We like Hit The Road Jack By Ray Charles. If you want to add in some playfulness, you could try pretending the song is making you put on your coat and shoes, but have the song get it all wrong, for example by making you pile ten jumpers on top of you, or put on your child’s shoes.

7. Beat The Clock. Hand in Hand instructor Marilupe De La Calle says, ”We pretend that the clock is an actual person who’s trying to beat us. I say, playfully: “Oh, no! the clock is already eating his breakfast”… and my girls rush to the table. Then I keep going…”He’s putting his shoes on!! quick, put yours on!”…”Oh, he is already in his car!!!”..My girls love to “get him.” We win if we get to our destination on time.

8. Beat The Song From Marilupe De La Calle. Another trick we use is to play a song on the music player and we try to get ready (get dressed, hair done, shoes on) before it’s over. My girls get to choose the song, and this is especially funny when they pick a silly one, like a Christmas song in March.

9. The Confusion Game  Hand in Hand instructor Skye Munroe of Nurturing Connections says,  ”I like to pretend to be confused about the process – things like “ok ok I know we need to get somewhere right now , I just can’t remember what to do … Hmm ok maybe I have to open this big silver thing ( fridge) and it will be able to help me ?”
My gems will then be giggling and saying things like “no no we have to put our shoes and coats on and go out the door” and then I may open a cupboard door or similair – just goofing around so that the kids help ME ( us) get out.”

10. Squeeze in some special time. Even five minute can make a difference as this story from Hand in Hand instructor trainee Isabela Budusan shows. Starting the day with special time can be really effective. If you start the day with a bed party, you’ll already have started the day with a dose of connection, so you might want to move onto doing all the getting ready tasks, and then have special time right before leaving the house.

11. Music Montage from Ariadne Brill of Positive Parenting Connection. One of our favourite ways to get ready without struggles is to do a music montage (just like those fun scenes in movie). We choose one or two favourite songs to get shoes, coats, bags in order and dance and get ready at the same time. When the song is over we meet by the door.

12 The checking game From Ariadne Brill. Something we did when my boys were 2 and 4 years old was an airplane pilot check list. “One shoe on? Check! Another shoe on? Check! Coats? Check! A toy to bring along? Check! Everyone ready? check! Everyone buckled? Check! the children loved this game, especially if we built in silly moments like jump three times to get to the door? Check!!” feel free to edit as you need!

13. Lets leave the house – Put on a playfully serious voice and tell your child it’s time to leave the house. Take them by the hand, and lead them to the door the bathroom, and say, ”oh whoops! That’s not the way out of the house.” Repeat with other doors for different rooms, or wardrobe doors, cupboards etc.

14. Pack a silly bag – Pack a silly bag the night before full of random objects. Start talking about how you need to take this bag for you and how you need to check the objects. Pull out a swimming costume although you’re going to the park, a winter hat and gloves in summer, or some rocks from the garden. Act all surprised and confused as your child laughs and laughs.

15. Make Time For Big Feelings – If your child has a big meltdown at any time during this process it’s counter-productive to try and distract them or stop the tears. There’s a lot of articles out there about how to stop a tantrum, but this is why I recommend going with the flow and allowing feelings. Even if we do end up being late, our child will be in much better emotional shape to enjoy their day when they’ve release those feelings.

I hope these tips help the getting ready process become a joy for you and your children. If you try them out I’d love to hear about how you get on. You can let me know in the comments section below. And if you come up with any fun and playful games of your own I’d love to hear from you too!

A good morning starts with a good night’s sleep! If you need some help in this area check out my 5 Sleep Secrets For Peaceful Nights and Hand in Hand parenting’s online self study course Helping Young Children Sleep

The Secret Diary of Agent Spitback

The Power Of Saying Yes

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This week I was wondering why my daughter and I were feeling disconnected from each other. We’d been busy, and so much of my time was spent figuring out how to get us out the door, how to use giggles to get her to co-operate etc.

Suddenly I was realising that I was focusing so much on what to do to ‘make’ my daughter laugh, that I was forgetting about the other Hand in Hand parenting tools!

After my daughter came back from her playgroup I decided that the rest of the day would be a ‘yes’ day – a simply and powerful concept I read about on the Abundant Mama’s blog.

I felt like I’d been in a battle all week to control screentime, so the first thing I decided to do was let my daughter watch the screen for as long as she wanted. I realised that I actually do want her to get to know the feeling of having ‘too much screen,’ so that instead of me telling her why it’s important to get off the screen she can actually feel the effects for herself, and judge for herself.

After two hours my daughter came to me and asked for special time. I decided we would do a longer hour special time. We played Lego and made pretend birthday parties for each other, by wrapping up her toys.

There was not a single power struggle, simply because I’d let go of my need to control, and in it’s place came connection. We simply enjoyed each other’s company.

I think there are important times when we should set limits, that Hand in Hand covers in their free setting limits e-book. But children need us to say yes a lot of the time. When we learn how to listen, our children can release the feelings that get in the way of their thinking. Then they can actually have good judgement. We can help build, happy, confident children when we trust their thinking, and respect their choices.

Yesterday was a ‘yes’ day, and I’m thinking how I can incorporate more and more ‘yes’s’ in our lives. It’s not always easy,  life puts many constraints on us, so that we are sometimes forced to say no. But living lives with more freedom, joy and ‘yes’s’ is my aim!

The tools from Hand in Hand parenting really do work, and often what’s happening when they aren’t working is that we’re neglecting one or more of the tools. So if you’re having a challenging day, or week, you can ask yourself, which tool aren’t I using? Which one would help now?

If you’re new to Hand in Hand, you can read all about the parenting tools here

Want to know more about how and when to say no to children? Check out Hand in Hand parenting’s online self study course on setting limits

5 Tips For Having Fun Playing With Your Kids

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A few weeks ago, some friends came over who have a ten-year old daughter who my daughter loves playing with. Watching the two of them play together made me reflect on just how much stamina children have for playing with each other. They could carry on for hours. For me on the other hand, after a while I get drained and ‘bored’ by play. I desperately want to do something other than play, like tidy up the house, clean the kitchen, or zone out on my computer.

But I also know that deep down my feelings are not really because I find my daughter’s play ‘boring’ or because I can’t play or don’t like to play. Actually I love spending her time in her imaginary world, sharing her joy and creativity. But I do get drained after a while.

Why is play so hard for us? Is it because we know we’ve got a million and one jobs to do in our busy lives? For sure. but there’s more to it than that.We all have moments in our days when we get triggered by our children. Play can often be one of those times. We start to feel exhausted, we start to feel stressed, we find it hard to muster the enthusiasm.

Play is hard because when we were children our parents may not have spent hours playing with us. They may have been busy just getting on with things, and may not have understand how important it was simply to be there with us. There may have been times when we wished they could give us more quality attention. We may have given up even expecting it.

When we spend time with our children, it’s as if we have an invisible river of our own childhood memories running through us. We not be conscious of these memories, but they are there, beneath the surface, often getting triggered when we are stressed or overwhelmed. So when our child says ”play with me,” we can often feel reluctant to leap up and join them because we have our own hurt child inside of us who didn’t get all the play and connection we needed.

But there’s nothing innately non-playful about any of us. We can recover our natural joy and have fun playing with our kids.

Here are a few things that you can try.

  1. Have some grown up fun! Recovering our own sense of fun, can be really helpful. Go to a live music or comedy gig. Have drinks with friends. Dance to the songs you loved when you were younger. Life gets pretty serious sometimes for adults. But it doesn’t have to be.
  2. Have some listening time – Exchanging time talking and listening with another parent about how parenting is going Tell your listening partner how much you ‘hate’ playing with your kids. Talk, moan, even scream into a pillow about how hard it is. Have a laugh or cry if you need to. After expressing your feelings with a partner you may find that these feelings are not your thoughts, and that you actually don’t hate playing. Yo may just need to release some of your own emotional baggage to find the joy in it.
  3. Play in short bursts. Don’t give yourself a hard time, or pretend to enjoy playing when you aren’t actually in the mood. Your child will pick up on your feelings, and it’s likely neither of you will have much fun. Instead try shorts bursts of special time, (1-1 time with a child doing something of their choice) that feel manageable to you. Even 5 minutes can deepen the connection with your child, and make you both feel better. You can gradually extend your capacity for play, as you get listened to, and work through your feelings about play.
  4. Let your agenda slide. If possible try to have some lazy days where you aren’t running around, and can just hang out and enjoy the company of your children. Is there anything non-essential you can leave off your to-do list? Get some ready meals in and leave the washing up till tomorrow. I always find I’m at my most playful when we’re at home with little to do. After I’ve nurtured myself with adult company, and my cup is full I’ll try to have a mellow day at home where we just chill out, connect and play.
  5. Have some adult-to-adult special time – The first time I tried special time with another adult I was amazed how much fun it was, and how novel it felt to have someone shine their attention on me while I got do whatever I wanted. You can try this with a friend or your partner, so that you can nourish yourself with the deep sense of connection that you want to give your children.

I hope these tips help you to enjoy playing with your kids. I love hearing from you, so please feel free to leave a comment about how you get on.

For more tips on play and connection with your kids, check out my book Tears Heal: How to listen to our children

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25 Tips For Having Fun Tidying Up With Kids

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Hand in Hand instructor Skye Marilyn Munroe‘s family in playful tidying up mode! Her son throws items of wet washing to his dad, and he then hangs the on the line.

We all want to live in a tidy house but it’s not easy with kids around. We have a lot of responsibilities in our busy lives, and it’s hard to enjoy chores. They probably didn’t seem fun when we were young, and we can pass on these negative associations to our children.

In her article about chores here, Patty Wipfler explains that we often assume children should do their chores alone as most of us had to do when we were young. However work is so much more fun, and enjoyable when we can work together. So put the emphasis on fun and connection, and the chores get done as if by magic!

Here are 20 fun tips for tidying up with your kids. Thanks to my friends, Hand in Hand instructors and and parent educators who have shared what works in their household.

  1. Do special time beforehand. Connection breeds co-operation so our children are much more likely to enjoy helping us out if we’ve spent some time doing what they love.
  2. Have a clean up song, Deanna and her son sing this together, ”Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere. Clean up clean up everybody do your share.” I sang this with my daughter and also added in some silly verses, like ”put mummy’s clothes in the bin” and then I would say in a playful horrified tone. ”Oh dear! why I did I sing that. I don’t want my clothes in the bin!” My daughter found this hilarious. Laughter is a great way to increase co-operation, and all the giggles release tension and grumpiness.
  3. Song Race – Ariadne Brill from Positive Parenting Connection says, ”We like to race against some of our favourite songs. One of our favourite chore songs is a astronaut and space song so sometimes my youngest will also put on a space helmet to put her laundry into her closet or to dry dishes.
  4. Playlistening – The art of getting our kids laughing while we’re in the less powerful role, is the perfect way to get the chores done. There’s lots of possible ways to incorporate playlistening into your tidying up fun. Stephanie Parker, Hand in Hand instructor in the UK recommends saying in a loud, playful voice, ”there is so much to tidy up, but there’s no way I am going to do it. I am going to sit here and do nothing instead.” Then get your child to force you to tidy up, with lots of giggles to release any tension about tidying!
  5. Making Mistakes Tidying – Playlistening is all about making mistakes and doing so while tidying is a recipe for a giggle fest. So put away your forks in the fridge or your milk in the dishwasher, and then exclaim, ”oh no! I didn’t mean to do that.” This even works for the under two’s  and is ideal for clingy little ones that won’t let you tidy up. This can make tidying up take a little longer, but in the long run it can build the close connections children need to play independently while we got on with tidying.
  6. Soapy water mop up Julianne Idleman says, ‘My daughter used to love to be given a dish pan of soapy water to splash around with on a floor that needed mopping. Then she would happily mop up all the bubbles and all I had to do was the final sweep through to get the corners and make sure the bulk of the water was up.”
  7. Shower or Bath Clean With Colourful Sponges ”My daughter would also happily scrub the (bottom half) of the shower glass as long as she got to be in there naked playing with colorful sponges while she did it. Drawing soapy pictures on the shower walls was always a good way to get them an eventual clean.” – Julianne Idleman
  8. Shoe Mops. Parent educator Sarah MacLaughlin recommends these fun shoe mops, to give mopping the floor a bit of novelty value.
  9. Tidying Emergency – We have a toy ambulance with a siren, so sometimes I turn it on and say, ”emergency! There’s a giant mess, somebody save us now!”
  10. Tidy up your child – If you’re tidying up, pass by your child and say, ”hmm what needs tidying up, perhaps this”’ and start to pick up your child, and then say ”oh whoops! sorry, that’s (insert child’s name). I don’t need to tidy you up!” The laughter and connection can help your child feel upbeat about helping.
  11. Have some sort of vehicle that can deliver objects. My daughter has a scooter with a small basket that hangs on the handlebars. She loves playing ‘tidying up scooter’ where I search for objects and put them in her basket while she delivers them to the right place. My daughter will even stop watching TV to play ‘tidying up scooter.’ It has been a tidying miracle for us.
  12. Reverse Psychology – Roma Norriss, Hand in Hand instructor in Bristol, UK says to her kids – “I’d be SO shocked if some elves came and tidied up this room… I’m just going upstairs for a minute.” And then I come back and fall over with surprise.”
  13. Gadgets and Spraying, Anything that involves spraying and my kids are in. Also the mini-hoover is a huge hit at the mo. It is all about the gadgets for them, says Hannah Gauri Ma, from Loving Earth Mama, in the UK.
  14. Animate Objects – My daughter is much more likely to put things away if I animate them asking to be tidied up. For example when she takes her shoes off and throws them down in the middle of the floor, I pick up the mummy shoe, and say, ”Oh where are my baby shoes, I want them close to me on the shoe rack!”
  15. Dirty Laundry Basketball – ”We pretend that the dirty washing is the basketball, and the laundry basket is the hoops,” says Deanna Lobbi
  16. Have A Tidying Up Party Parenting coach Torsten Klaus of Dad’s Talk Community says, ”Turn the music up, have a dance with the vacuum cleaner and wear the kitchen apron on your head. In no time your offspring want to join in and help. Believe me. Yes, you look silly. But that’s part of the parenting, isn’t it?”
  17. Fairies For Extreme Mess – Skye Marilyn Munroe of Nurturing Connections says, ”If things are out of control messy in my home I do mock gasp “oh nooo the mess monsters have been again , please please cleaning fairies come & help us ! We pop on some wings and clean together.” 
  18. Vacuum Kids Suzy says, ”I used to “plug” my kids in like they were a vacuum and send them off to pick up toys. Also pretending that the bag or box is hungry for the toys and say “yum, yum” when things are put in.”
  19. Tidying Up Cupboard Monster – (or other less scary animal) – Pretend there is a very hungry monster living in your cupboard/draw that needs to be fed with the right things , says Jessica.
  20. Jigsaw Puzzle  ”Some toys (like blocks) actually become an interesting puzzle to put back into a box in a way that fits and we often comment how that is the best bit.” Says Hannah Gauri Ma of Loving Earth Mama
  21. Setting Limits – Okay so setting limits might not sound like much fun, but with Hand in Hand parenting, it can be a way to build closer connections and actually can involve some fun and laughter! When we see that our children are old enough to take responsibility for helping with chores there may be times that they can’t get motivated. Sometimes it can help to set a limit, and listen to the feelings under the surface that make it hard for them to find the joy in daily tasks.
  22. Washing Delivery – My husband gives my daughter clean washing bit by bit and she delivers it to the right bedroom using her tidying up scooter. Yesterday evening, I was in our bedroom feeling really tired and she kept coming in with more washing for me to put away. I kept playfully complaining, ”oh no, please, I’m so tired, please don’t bring me any more washing,” and of course this only encouraged her to bring me more and more washing while laughing with delight!  I hid under the covers and told her I was hiding so I didn’t have to do anymore, and she threw washing on top of me and ran away laughing. The play got a bit wild, but this isn’t a bad thing. Giving our children the freedom to be ‘naughty’ in a controlled way, while we are there to connect with them and get the giggle flowing, helps them get behaviour out of their system and get back on track.
  23. Recycling Team Ariadne Brill from Positive Parenting Connection ”We build a chain passing paper and bottles for example from the storage area to the front of the house on pick up day. Working together like this keeps everyone motivated and more likely to play along.”
  24. Laminated Cards. Hand in Hand instructor Sabina Veronelli from Melbourne Australia says, ”We use a Montessori inspired idea. We have created sets of laminated cards, every set has one task broken down into steps (eg for doing laundry: carrying laundry basket, loading washing machine, the cycle to choose, the amount of laundry liquid in its dispenser, close door, press on. ). So, when it is time to clean, we divide numbers of chores equally. My son is able to be independent, while I don’t need to repeat how to do things, which can trigger me. This gives me the energy, to staylisten, playlisten or set limits if I need to, to get the chores done.”
  25. Tidy up for them.There will be times when we just want to get the job done, and that’s okay. Children love to imitate us. Tidying up for them can actually be a great model. And if do have the energy to do it in a fun, joy-filled way, they may just want to join in too!

I hope this list inspires you. If you try them out please let us know how you get on in the comments below, and If you have any other playful games that worked for you we’d love to hear them!

Run Jump Scrap!

 

Home Etc

Special Time Solution For Screen Time

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Screen time is an ongoing dilemma in our family. How and when, and if to set limits. When to allow my daughter the freedom to explore and enjoy screens and everything they offer so that she feels that her own desires and choices are respected. How to manage my own fears and anxieties about screen time. (listening time helps with that!).

One thing I’ve realised is that I’m no expert when it comes to having a one-size fits all approach to how to deal with screens, I’m more likely decide moment by moment, how to handle the issue. It often depends on what my daughter’s done that day, if she seems disconnected, or has been acting off-track, then I usually try and offer some connection using one of the Hand in Hand parenting listening tools.

Today my daughter was watching her ipad, and I could feel myself getting into a kind of downward spiral in my mind. I felt upset that she was watching the screen, but after a late night watching the fireworks for new year, I didn’t feel like I had the energy to offer much in the way of connection.

Then I remembered the blog post I’d written the day before. 10 Ways To Use Special Time To Transform Your Day. It was time to take my own advice! I didn’t have much to offer in the way of energy, but I could spend 15 minutes of my time, knowing that the timer offered me an escape route so it didn’t seem too foreboding!

Often my daughter will turn off a screen if I offer special time, but not today. She was pretty tired as well. So I snuggled down next to her, and we watched her favourite you tube videos where a mum makes some Lego Friends sets.

As I watched the videos, talking about the sets with her, and seeing how they were built I realised the importance of not just using TV as an electronic babysitter, but also of going into our child’s world. The joy and interest they have in the programmes and videos they love is real. I think we create a disconnect when we try to always to get our kids off screens to do something else, they want to feel like we are their ally, on their side, and facilitating their interests. And as I stepped inside my daughter’s world, we could share connection, and I realised that perhaps the screens aren’t the real problem.

Perhaps the problem is that we were born into this world longing for a deep sense of connection that our parents weren’t always able to provide. Perhaps it’s that we are trying our hardest to parent, in busy, stressful times, when we have to juggle so much, paid work and housework, often without extended family near us. Perhaps it’s because it’s hard to meet our children’s deep, emotional needs, all of the time, because our needs weren’t always met when we were young.

We are doing our best to work it out, to heal our lives, and keep striving for connection with our children. We have some wonderful tools to help us to be the parents we want to be, even when times are hard.

So this New Year’s Day, give yourself a break and snuggle up in front of a screen, if that’s what’s going to work best for you and your family!

 

10 Ways To Use Special Time To Transform Your Day

 

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Special time is a simple yet powerful tool that can transform family life. Simply tell your child they have 10-15 minutes to do whatever they like with you there to shower them with warmth love and attention.

Set a timer so you and your child has a clear idea of how long it will last. Don’t skip this step! There’s something magical that happens when we put the timer on, and set the intention to really give our child our complete  attention. No mobile phone checking or dinner preparing allowed!

Here are ten ways that you can use short bursts of special time to transform your day, and make things go more smoothly. Even 5-10 minutes can make a difference.

  1. First thing in the morning – If we have to rush out of the house to go to daycare and school then our focus can be on results rather than connection. But before trying to persuade our child to get dressed, brush hair and clean teeth, it can be really powerful to start the day on their terms instead. Connection builds co-operation with our children. It’s been scientifically proven. So if we spend 5-10 minutes doing special time, we’ll often find that it’s an investment of time that makes our kids more likely to co-operate when we tell them to get dressed etc. I love this story of how just 5 minutes can make a difference.
  2. Before doing household chores – When we do special time with our children something magical happens. They begin to internalise that close connection with us, so that after special time is finished they’ll be more likely to be happy to continue to play independently while we get on with a bit of cooking and tidying up. You can read more in  this story. This isn’t 100% guaranteed to happen all of the time. Sometimes our kids might be upset that special time has finished. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After soaking up our warm attention often children’s feelings of upset bubble up to the surface, and crying can be a healing process to let them go so they feel better connected to us. Staylistening through the upset can help us stay calm until we get to the other side.
  3. Coming home at the end of the day After a busy day out of the house, whether or not that involves being separated from us, our children may hunger for some warm 1-1 time with us. Special time can act as a bridge between the outside world and home life, helping our child to relax, and get connected to us again.
  4. When your child is whiney, moany or acting off-track – The brain science behind children’s ‘misbehaviour’ points to the fact that they don’t want to act in ways that drive us crazy. It’s just that when children feel disconnected from us, they literally can’t think. The emotional part of their brain, the limbic system senses a kind of ’emotional emergency’ so the pre-frontal cortex – the part of the brain responsible for rationalising and reasoning can’t function well. When children act off-track it’s like they’re sending a red flag saying, ”hey I can’t think I need some connection!” Giving special time during these moments is the ultimate unconditional connection, so our children know we will be there for them no matter how off-track they are. They can soak up our connection, and that along with the other Hand in Hand parenting listening tools is how their behaviour gets back on track.
  5. When you are feeling slightly off-track If you are not having a good day, and are feeling a bit low yourself, but still have a bit of attention to give, then special time can help the parent too! Just like our children long for deep, quality attention with us, we also of course long for those deep, connections with our children. It’s just that sometimes our own responsibilities, and stress can make it hard to give. If we take a leap, and offer a short 1o minute special time, then we get to soak up that warm sense of connection too. If even a short special time feels like too much, then we have a tool that can help!
  6. Before a playdate or when company are coming over Does your child have trouble sharing when their friends come over? Or do they struggle to let you have an adult conversation when extended family or your friends are round? Special time can help to give your child the warm sense of connection they need to be able to share you with others. Also when children are well-connected they can think well, they’ll be more likely to be able to share their toys naturally without us having to persuade them to do so.
  7. Before bed – Children experience sleep as a separation, and often it’s late at night that feelings bubble up that they need our help to deal with. Adding 5 or 10 minutes of special time to our evening routine can be really helpful for children who take a long time to fall asleep, or wake in the night. They internalise a close connection with us, so don’t wake in the night feeling disconnected and needing us.
  8. When you need your child to do something and they aren’t co-operating – If you need to leave the house, or brush your child’s hair and they just aren’t co-operating then special time can help you both take a breather from a frustrating power struggle. After a short special time, they may be feeling more connected and be more able to co-operate with you.
  9. If your child has been watching TV or using electronics – Sometimes the lure of a screen can make our children feel disconnected from us. They don’t seem to ask or need our connection as much while they’re having screen time, but later they may need an extra dose of connection with us. If I’m worried my daughter’s been glued to the screen a lot. I’ll offer her special time, and she often prefers this to TV! I just need enough energy myself to be able to give attention rather than rely on an ‘electronic babysitter.’ Listening time is essential!
  10. If you need to go out – So if you’re lucky enough to have the time and energy for a date night, or night out with friends, then special time can be the perfect way to say goodbye. A 5-10 minute dose of quality attention, can help your child to internalise that deep sense of connection with you, so even if you’re away for an evening or a night, they feel safe and secure.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of ways to make special time a part of your daily life.  Feel free to comment if you have any stories or questions. I’d love to hear how you get on with this wonderful tool!

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