10 Ways To Use Special Time To Transform Your Day



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!

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Aeroplane Games


When my daughter was about 12 months old we went on a long summer trip and took quite a few plane flights. If I was lucky my daughter would sleep, but if not, she would be restless and frustrated because she couldn’t get down and crawl. I had a big bag of toys to try and keep her entertained but she never seemed that interested in them.

On this occasion, she was sitting on my lap. I pulled my cardigan over me to keep warm, and she grabbed it, threw it onto the floor and laughed. It became a game. I would make a big deal out of trying to put my cardigan over me, then she would pull it away, and delightedly throw it onto the floor. We played it over and over again, as she laughed and laughed. Then we enjoyed the rest of the flights as she sat contently on my lap, playing with a plastic cup.

When we travelled a lot by public transport, and when I saw her looking a bit bored and listless in her buggy I try to initiate a quick playlistening session with her. It could be tossing around her socks, and being surprised where they land, or begging her not to throw her toy onto the floor. The laughter helped us both to relax, and gave me more patience, so I wasn’t just focused on getting to our destination, but also enjoying these little moments of connection along the way.

Playlistening is any kind of play where are child laughs while we are in the less powerful role. It can help our child to release stress and frustration that can be common while travelling.

When we go on a journey we may focus on the ‘things’ we need to entertain our baby or toddler but often what they actually need most is a warm relaxed connection with us. If you are travelling this summer be sure to pack some playlistening games in your suitcase!

To find out more about playlistening read my post Giggle Parenting: The Best ‘Discipline’ Tool Out There!

One Single Step To Transforming Parenting


There’s a lot of information out there about parenting. Thousands of books, TV programs, and now with the internet, there are websites, forums, blogs with new posts, and new information flooding our lives everyday. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, it’s easy to get confused, and it’s easy to miss a pearl of wisdom that could completely transform the lives of our children, ourselves, and the communities that we are part of.

When I became a mother, I was sure I wanted to be an attachment parent. Breastfeeding, co-sleeping and carrying my daughter in a sling, seemed like the obvious way I could ensure that we would have a strong connection, not just through her childhood, but to teenage years and to adulthood beyond. I naturally fell into feeding my daughter to sleep, feeding her all the time. Breastfeeding seemed to be like a miracle cure for everything so some attachment parents would tell me, if they fall down and hurt themselves just breastfeed them, if they wake in the night just breastfeed them.

But the thing was, my daughter didn’t actually want to breastfeed when she fell over, much as I tried, or on the plane when we landing and the air pressure was bothering her. At these times. She just wanted to cry. Loudly and freely, she wanted me to hold her as she expressed her feelings. And the other thing was that I felt a strange tension between us, sometimes when I was breastfeeding her, if this was helping her get to sleep, then why was I just counting the minutes, and why was she wriggling her body around as if filled with tension? It didn’t seem very relaxing at all for either of us.

Then there was a fact that the books I’d read about attachment parenting, all emphasised attachment as a sense of physical proximity, using a criteria that it wasn’t always possible to match. Breastfeeding, babywearing, and co-sleeping just don’t work out for everyone, including me. There had to be a something else, a deeper understanding or our emotional connection to our children.

After about nine months, I did began to emerge from the fog of becoming a new mother, and to figure out how my own parenting instincts aligned with a book I’d read before my daughter was born that explained about the healing power of tears. Could it be true? Could it be that our role as parents wasn’t always just to stop our children from crying, to fix, or talk a lot to reason the out of our feelings? Could it be that if breastfeeding had become a habit that was stopping her from expressing herself?

I knew from my own experience just how good crying could be. There had been a long period of my life when I had felt really, really angry, and it was only when I started to access the softer feelings beneath the anger, that I was able to finally to be sad, to cry, and finally heal and move on. If this was the path to emotional well-being, that I didn’t want to stop my daughter from crying, I wanted to figure out how to listen.

When I saw the benefits of listening to my daughter’s feelings, as a baby, and then beyond into toddler tantrums, when I started getting listened to as a parent, I realised just how big this pearl of wisdom can be. When my daughter was stressed, and tense her sleep was bad, her behaviour challenging. When I began to address the times she had feelings to release instead of an actual need, things became a lot better. There were less tense and edgy moments between us, less power struggles. I realised that she wasn’t hungry just before bed, and when she woke up crying, even at a year old, it wasn’t because she was starving, it was because while sleeping, feelings had risen to the surface, that she wanted to tell me about, without words.

This single step simply means to listen and offer warmth and connection even in our child’s most challenging moments, isn’t about permitting all behaviour, it’s about allowing all feelings. And when children are fully listened to, a lot of their challenging behaviour melts away.

It’s also about being listened to ourselves, to make up the shortfall between the childhood that we had, and the one we want to give our children. Our parents did the very best they could, but we don’t live in a culture that fully supports the expression of feelings. Things are changing though.

I’m glad that this pearl of wisdom is being discovered, that more and more families, are recovering this lost art of listening to feelings. It’s part of our instinct as humans, to fully feel, and to fully move through our feelings, to come out the other side into a brighter world.

A Little Special Time in the Morning


“She’s so clingy,” I found myself complaining about my one-year-old daughter. “I can’t get anything done!”

Almost all the mothers with babies of a similar age agree with me. We spend our days socializing in baby groups, or at other people’s houses, trying to avoid going back to our own homes. My baby seems fine when we are out and about, but turns into a koala whenever it’s just the two of us.

When I talk to parents of toddlers, and older children, I get worried that it’s not going to get any easier. Children of all ages need attention, and lots of it. It seems that no matter how much we give our children, they always want more. Their need for attention seems infinite!

From my Building Emotional Understanding Course, I learned that the clingy,
attention-seeking nature of our children is actually hard-wired into their brains. It makes biological sense that children evolved to make sure they were under an adults’ radar at all times, to protect them from wolves and other dangers in the wild. There may not be any wolves in our houses these days, but children’s brains are still the same.

According to Patty Wipfler, when children feel connected to their parents, they can be their naturally good selves, happy, relaxed, and eager to co-operate with us. However, their sense of connection is fragile, and is easily broken by something as simple as a parent giving attention to another sibling or getting distracted by a phone call. When children behave in “off track” ways, it’s a signal to us that they need some connection.

But giving children constant attention is impossible. Many of us work all day, and it’s not much easier for stay-at-home parents, who struggle to balance doing the cooking and housework with giving their children one-on-one attention.

Mornings were the worst time for me. I’d be struggling to get breakfast sorted, clean up the kitchen and get out of the house. As I rushed about, my daughter would start screaming for my attention, which stressed me out. As the screams escalated, I would feel more and more stressed, and she would get more and more frustrated. We were reacting to each other, so that by the time we left the house our sense of connection had been lost, and everything I tried to do just seemed to make her whine and complain.

After reading Julianne Idleman’s article ”Start School Days With Special Time” I decided to implement ten minutes of Special Time with my daughter every morning. I loved Julianne’s advice to, “Make sure everyone in the house knows they are loved and cared for, and welcomed into this new day, before any of the many mundane chores gobble up your attention.”

During Special Time I would get down the floor, and follow my daughter as she crawled about exploring. It seemed almost silly to be doing this, to just follow her, doing nothing but simply watching what she was doing. She barely looked at me, as if I wasn’t even there! But then I reminded myself that if I wasn’t with her, she’d be wanting to be picked up. She did feel my presence even if she wasn’t directly interacting with me. She enjoyed this time of exploration, safe in the knowledge that I was close by and giving her my complete attention.

What I noticed is that when Special Time was finished, she was often happy to continue playing even after I stopped to get on with other things. Because I’d invested time with her, she continued to feel a sense of connection, even when that time ended.

Now, whenever my daughter is in a particularly clingy mood, I give her some Special Time, and it often helps her to enjoy playing independently. Daniel Siegel, the co- author of Parenting From The Inside Out says that humans have oscillating needs for connection and solitude. When I have met my daughters need for connection she can confidently go off to explore her world, learning, in self-directed play. The practice of Special Time, together with the other Parenting by Connection listening tools, have helped me to help my daughter discover her independence. It is a joy to watch, and it’s great to get some time to clear up the house too!

Daniel Siegel says that our brains develop during interactions with others. We feel connected, and internalize a sense of the loved ones in our lives so that they are with us even when we separate from them. When we devote time to our children, it helps them to internalize a sense of having a loving safe base that makes them feel confident and secure even in our absence. This could be when we just need five minutes to go to the toilet, or so that children can cope with separations such as daycare or school. Ultimately, our children internalize the sense of feeling safe and connected to us, which means that when our children are grown and fly the nest, they will still feel us with them. I love this idea that when we connect and interact with our children, we are interweaving ourselves together so that we will never really be apart.

You can read more about how we can build secure attachments with our children in Parenting From The Inside Out 

What’s laughter got to do with it?


I started this blog to share the message that listening to tears helps our children to fully express their feelings, so that they are free of the upsets that cause all those off-track kinds of behaviour, such as aggression, whining and all the other challenging behaviours we have to deal with as parents! But I should also mention laughter. Laughter is also part of the way we naturally release stress and tension from our bodies, and there are many physical and emotional health benefits too.

When my daughter was 16 months old, we had a busy time travelling back to the UK for Christmas. We ended up all being ill and the travel combined with the illness meant I didn’t spend much time connecting with her.

When we arrived back home she started fighting me over everything; getting dressed, nappy changing, and going in her buggy. I assumed it was because she was getting older, and I was nervous about how things would become more difficult and challenging as we neared the ‘terrible two’s.’

But I’d also learnt through Hand in Hand parenting, that ‘off-track’ behaviour is a sign that a child is feeling disconnected from us. it is their way of telling us, ‘’I need connection!’’ From this perspective our children are  naturally, good, loving and co-operative, it’s just that sometimes upset feelings, can get in the way of their feeling our warmth and love.

I knew that reconnecting with my daughter would help improve things, but I was still feeling exhausted and recovering from being ill. The first thing I did was call my listening partner. A listening partnership is a scheme where two parents exchange listening time with each other, without offering advice, telling their own stories, or trying to fix things. The idea is, that when someone truly listens to us in a warm and supportive way, without interrupting to ‘help,’ then we can release our negative feelings. Anger, stress, and exhaustion all evaporate when we can really talk to someone about how we are feeling. I’m always amazed that often just five or ten minutes of listening can restore my energy, enthusiasm, and patience for being with my daughter.

Now I was all set to try some playlistening. This is play where we take on a less powerful role, and try to get our children laughing (not the involuntary laughter of tickling). Laughter releases some of the stress, tension and frustration that can accumulate when children feel powerless. It’s ideal for dissolving toddler power struggles. Children often laugh when we try and fail to do the things they’re trying to learn, or when we make ‘mistakes.’

That morning while I was putting on my sock, I pretended to struggle with it, and then ‘pinged’ it across the room and acted surprised. My daughter laughed a lot at this so I repeated it. I kept struggling to put on various items of clothing and she kept laughing. Then I started to walk and fell over again and again over. My daughter found this hilarious. I tried to hang some washing up, and kept saying ‘’oh no!’’ as it repeatedly fell down. Then we were playing on my bed, and my daughter would laugh gleefully, as she threw some clothes off the bed, and I would keep trying to retrieve them, only to have her throw them off again. At naptime, I chased her around the house, and she kept laughing as she managed to ‘escape’ me!

Understanding what makes our children laugh is a hit and miss thing, and sometimes my attempts would fall flat, but I kept trying, using my intuition, to see what would work. We had a really laughter packed morning, as if we were making up for all the playlistening missed while we were on holiday. When she took her nap, she fell asleep much more easily than normal. I was also feeling much more relaxed.

After this morning my connection with my daughter was much better. She stopped fighting me about everyday things. She happily went in her buggy, and let me change her nappy without a fuss. This is something that’s happened many times, that what I think is her getting older, more difficult and ‘toddler-like’ is actually just a period of disconnection that we can overcome by using the Hand in Hand parenting tools. And I’m happy to say that the ‘terrible twos’ never did arrive! Instead thanks to Hand in Hand parenting, they are actually quite terrific!

Check out my Giggle Parenting Archives for laughter based solutions for all your family challenges. And if your struggling with something that’s not on the list, leave me a comment, or send me a message via this contact form and your challenge can be the subject of my next blog post!  

Are you looking for more playlistening inspiration? Playful Parenting By Dr. Lawrence Cohen, is packed full of playlistening ideas.