Special Time=Happier Children and Happier Parents
By Marina Bochkur-Dratver, Psy.D.
Wouldn’t it be nice if instead of seeing frowns on your children’s faces and acting-out behaviors, you would see more smiles and cooperation? There is a way! With our very busy schedules, it’s often easy to overlook children’s good behaviors and qualities and be quick to point out to them all the things that they do wrong. Therefore, they get attention primarily for their negative behaviors. To a child, that kind of negative attention is better than no attention at all. So children begin to act-out in order to get attention from their parents. Then no one is happy. The way to break this negative cycle is to increase positive interactions with your children in order to decrease their need to act out to get your attention. “Special Time” is one way to do that.
There are several types of “special time” that parents could spend with their children, i.e.: family special time and one-on-one special time. Family special time is when parents and children all do something together, such as have a family dinner, play board games, etc. This article will focus on the one-on-one special time. Through one-on-one special time interactions with one’s children, parents would begin to set a foundation for a strong relationship and bond between themselves and their kids.
One-on-one special time involves several aspects. It needs to be one-on-one, meaning one parent and one child. It needs to be prearranged, which means that parents need to set a date with their child, just like we do for most other things in our lives. Write it on a calendar, for example, so both of you are aware of the plans. Ideally, about 15 minutes a day per child is recommended; however, more than what you already do now is best. It’s important that the activity that you and your child do is something that the child wants and likes to do. During this one-on-one time there should be no distractions such as television, telephone, other kids interrupting, etc. Do not discuss any problems or concerns during this time, but focus only on positive things about your child. It’s best to do something that’s interactive, such as playing a game, going to the park, playing sports, arts and crafts, cooking, reading or telling stories, having ice cream, etc. (Anything that the child enjoys which involves interacting together.) Watching television or playing video games, are not good one-on-one special time activities because there is minimal interaction occurring and the objects are distractions. Special time doesn’t have to cost any money; however, some kids, particularly adolescents, may want to spend money as part of their one-on-one special time with their parent, such as going shopping. If that is acceptable for the parent, that’s fine, but it’s important to set a limit in advance of how much money is okay to spend, so that an argument doesn’t occur later.
Children really begin to look forward to their individual time with their parent. It provides them with the assurance that their parents are available to them and only them; in a consistent and positive way. This will make them feel happy and secure. Then they won’t need to act-out to get some attention because they know exactly when it’s just their special time. Once the acting-out behaviors decrease, you will be happier as well. In addition, special time with one’s child helps develop a strong and trusting relationship between you and your child. They will feel that they can come to you for help when they need it because you’ve been available to them in a consistent and positive way. After all, isn’t that the kind of relationship that all parents hope to have with their children?
What Your Child Wants Most:
More Attention, Stricter Rules, and a Lot Less Yelling
Written by Ron Taffel, Ph.D., a contributing editor of Parents Magazine
Article in Parent Magazine, October, 1998
Recently, I set out to find the answers to a simple question: What do parents do that children like, and what do they do that kids don’t like? I went right to the horse’s mouth, so to speak: I asked kids themselves.
In classroom interviews with 150 youngsters between ages 4 and 11, from a variety of backgrounds, I learned two things. First, by and large, most of these kids are okay – well-adjusted, no huge problems, getting on with life as they should. They love their parents, and they think their parents, and they think their mothers and fathers are trying hard to raise them well.
But what struck me forcibly was how much anger they expressed. Child after child spoke of having violent outbursts – “destroying things”, “beating up on my brother,” “breaking stuff in the kitchen.” One angelic-looking 5-year-old summed it up: “When I get mad, I go into the bathroom…and I just scream!” Again, I must stress that despite their anger, these are not “problem children.” But what, then, is disturbing them so?
Though it’s easy to blame outside influences, such as violence in the media or pop-culture values, I believe the primary answer lies at home. In a number of ways, the children revealed that they’re not getting enough of what they want most from their parents. This had nothing to do with how much “stuff” they had or didn’t have; there was almost no sign of “the gimmes” we all worry so much about. Nor were they complaining about their parents being too strict. Here’s what these kids wish they could tell their parents.
“I want you to pay attention”
Most of the children empathized with the fact that their mothers and fathers have to work hard and have little free time. But while they try to understand our other commitments, in the end, the reasons don’t matter. They simply want more of Mom and Dad – and not just “being around” but being truly engaged and offering undivided attention. Four-and-a-half year-old Alicia* said bluntly, “I want my mommy to play dolls with me, but she talks on the phone all the time.” From 10-year-old Ernesto: “My dad is always working or worrying about work.” And across the board, kids complained that the whole family has way too many things to do.
What apparently counts for less than we’d like to think are those moments on the run: “Mom taking me to ballet class” or “Dad driving me to soccer practice.” Even though children enjoy scheduled activities, the drop-off and pickup aren’t remembered as time together: to them, it feels like just more rushing around. So how can you give the kind of parental attention that makes kids feel terrific?
Protect private moments. Again and again, children said that although it’s fun to do things as a family, what they really love is when Mom or Dad carves out some alone time with them. So even if you can manage only half an hour, peel off from the rest of the family for the sole purpose of spending special one-on-one moments with each of your children.
For example, one 8-year-old girl with two siblings said that one of her parents would take each of the children out every so often to do something the child liked – whether it was going to the mall, a public golf course, or a ceramics studio. No one else came along on these jaunts, and each child ended up feeling cherished.
Follow your child’s lead. The kids I talked to put it this way: “Sometimes I want Mom or Dad to do exactly what I like, even if they hate it!” Your child knows that endlessly discussing her Beanie Babies collection or playing computer games is not your idea of a great time, but she loves to meet on “kids’ turf.” Said one third-grader, Alex, “My dad thinks Nintendo is dumb, but it’s great when he plays with me anyway.” Children experience that kind of devotion as undivided attention.
One more critical element: During the time you set aside, do not take or make phone calls. According to these kids, the phone is a major disturbance to the good feelings created by one-on-one time.
“I need rules, even if I try to get around them”
Five-year-old Jack complained, “My parents make a rule, then they forget about it.” Practically all the children I talked to - from limit-testing preschoolers right up to unruly fifth-graders – expressed similar thoughts. This message was coming from the very same kids who, like children everywhere, argue vehemently for another ten minutes before lights-out or try in other ways to get around the rules. In calmer moments, though, it seems they know that some limits are good for them. “When my parents don’t stick to the rules.” a child in one of my groups told me, “I fight too much with my brothers and sister.” One fifth-grader, Tammy, said that when she succeeds in negotiating a later bedtime, she ends up “in a bad mood because I’m so tired” the next morning. “If we don’t have rules in our house,” Peter, an articulate 9-year-old, said, “it’s like chaos.” Here’s what the kids suggested doing about rules. Use or lose the rule.When kids try to talk you out of bedtime routines or the no-snacks before-meals rule, stick to your guns. Although it may be hard to appreciate at the time, your child really does feel the difference – less fatigued, better nourished, even more secure – when you do so. Even the youngest kids in my interviews understood that most of the rules were for their own benefit.
Negotiate sparingly. There’s nothing wrong with being a little flexible from time to time. But remember that kids don’t really want parents who are pushovers. Amy, a fourth-grader, said she thought she should be able to argue her opinion for a couple of minutes. But she knew it was “disrespectful” to have endless bargaining sessions. Amy put it quite simply – “Parents shouldn’t give in all the time.”
If you’ve already established a penalty for an infraction, stick to it. Thomas, a third-grader, told me, “My parents have a rule about not fighting and hitting. If I start picking on my little brother, I want them just to tell me the punishment and get it over with. I get mad when they don’t.”
Do a “post-game wrap-up” If you’ve blown up because the living room is such a mess, wait until everybody has calmed down and call a family meeting. Ask the children what they think would be a better way to keep the room in shape. Even the youngest kids in my groups revealed that rules create much less resentment when parents ask for their input.
“I need my parents to check on me”
This was a surprising source of anger and anxiety across all age groups. The simple interpretation is this: In these fast-paced times, kids need to feel their parents’ protection and love in tangible ways. In addition to making sure that kids eat right, have clean clothes, and get to school on time, what seem to get our love across are spontaneous acts of kindness and affection. These create a sense of security in a modern world that’s spinning a bit too far.
Bedtime is the most vulnerable time of the day for kids. Perhaps it’s residual anxiety from the day, difficulty separating from you, or fear of the dark, but kids repeatedly mentioned wanting their parents to come in and check on them at night. One kindergartner, Christina, spoke for dozens of children when she said, “I love it when my mommy and daddy come in and give me a kiss while I’m sleeping.” It’s reassuring to children to let them know that you do this every night.
Most of the kids from third grade down openly admitted to scheming to get into their parents bedroom. Even ornery preteens reported occasionally asking for “a back scratch” or a “good-night cuddle,” just like preschoolers. With the exception of regularly letting your kids into your bed for the night, I would give in to most requests. In the midst of our harried lives, it underlines an important message: “Don’t worry-I love you and I’m here for you.”
Show that you’re thinking of them. The children I talked to also liked it when, for no reason, “Mom comes over and gives me a hug.” or “Dad sits near me.” If parents work long hours, these demonstrations of affection take on even more importance. Kids in all age groups mentioned how much it mattered “when Mom calls me from work.” These small acts of caring convey a sense of adult presence and communicate the reassuring message “Out of sight does not mean out of mind.”
“I don’t like it when my parents yell”
The children I talked to uniformly had a tough time when parents yelled, even though they felt it was sometimes necessary. A few even said, “Yelling is the only thing that makes me listen!” But lots of shouting – especially when parents go over the top and “lose it” – was deeply disturbing. Younger kids were frightened. “My mommy and daddy scare me when they yell,” admitted one preschooler. A first-grader said, “When my dad yells and his face gets red, I’m afraid he is going to get a heart attack.” For the older children, such parental anger was contagious. Grumbled one fifth-grader, “When my mom screams, all it does is make me want to scream back.”
In one way or another, most kids felt that when parents yell too much, the whole house seems to fill up with “bad feelings.” The message coming through is crystal clear: It’s up to adults to control themselves. Kids learn self-control by observing how their parents deal with stress and anger. Take a time-out. When you feel on the verge of losing it with your child, say, “I’m too angry. I can’t talk about this right now, but I will talk to you later.” Then go into another room and give yourself a moment to cool down.
If you do scream, be sure to apologize later. Even the youngest kids told me it helps for Mom and Dad to make amends. “When my mommy says she’s sorry,” a first-grader confided, “I feel much better.” If you’ve lost your temper, there’s no need to beat your breast; a simple apology means a great deal to children.
“I like when things are the same”
Children appreciate family rituals, routines, and predictability. They feel out of sorts and angry without them. And the regularity of an event is as important as the activity itself.
In fact, the kids I spoke with were not talking about expensive mega-events. Over and over, these children revealed how much they love ordinary, repetitive activities. For one youngster, that meant his family’s Friday-night routine of renting a video and ordering in pizza. Another said his dad reads him one chapter every evening from an adventure series that he loved as a boy. I could literally see the happiness and relaxation in these kids’ faces as they described simple routines that could be counted on. Anger and tension disappeared as they recounted the special times their family spent together.
Schedule, don’t wing it. We’ve all heard the marital advice that says if we leave intimacy to chance, it simply won’t happen. The same rule applies to family rituals. Some kids told me with a great deal of annoyance, “Mom’s always nagging me; we’re always rushing, rushing to get everywhere.” Rituals provide necessary relief from this relentless pressure. Plan simple events and, barring emergencies, set them in stone. Not surprisingly, the moments mentioned most often were bedtime stories and reading together, weekend breakfasts with Mom or Dad, watching a favorite TB show or rented movie together, and ordering in dinner one night a week.
Judging from how the kids I spoke with emphasized the word every, as in “Every Wednesday night, we play Candy Land or Junior Monopoly,” the healing power of a ritual is its predictability – the fact that this is something your child can absolutely look forward to and count on.
The children I met with yearned for a greater sense of connection with their parents. If kids are becoming anxious or angry about disconnected modern living, the message they are offering is one we can’t afford to ignore. In a casual way, by stating honestly, “I like it when…” and “I don’t like it when…” children are revealing what’s truly essential for a healthy future.
(Please note that the resources provided here are for informational purposes only.)
- National Institute of Mental Health
- ADHD (CHADD)
www.chadd.org (Children and Adults)
- ADAA - Anxiety and Depression Association of America