It’s great to have a goal to spend more special time with your child, but…not only is it sometimes painfully difficult to even find five minutes of concentrated one-on-one time but let’s talk about the transition back.
Have you ever carved time out of your busy schedule to make a special date with your child? Then after your fun time together, you’re ready to transition back. Your to-do list is waiting impatiently, but your intense child begins to protest loudly and acts like you never spend time with her!
It’s easy to respond in frustration, “How ungrateful can this child be?!? It’s never enough! We won’t do special time again for a while if she doesn’t appreciate it!”
Why the time after “special time” often goes south
It helps to understand what’s going on in this “ungrateful” child. Especially if your child is younger, they live in the present. Memories of past events and forward-thinking (primarily frontal lobe functions) take a backseat to now, especially if they are stressed or anxious.
Kids’ gift for living in the “now” is a wonderful trait to help their task-focused parents enter into the joy of the moment. Still, it means that when the “joy of the moment” is over, the only thing that matters to their little brains is that now life is boring and empty, and they might even feel a little unloved… “Mom or Dad doesn’t want to be with me anymore!”
With that in mind, what does your child need to continue to value their special playtime with you when it ends? And how can you help them transition well to whatever is next so your special time doesn’t end in frustration or even tears?
Dorine, a coaching client, knew things had been stressed with her little guy, Carson, lately and that he needed some special time with her. But she dreaded the idea because he predictably would get upset when it was over, and that seemed to erase the joy and the benefit. We discussed a thoughtful plan to maximize the benefit of their time and set him up for success when it was over.
3 steps to have a fun special time with your child that ends well
1. Make a plan for an activity and an end transition
- Decide on an activity you’ll both enjoy. Ideally, choose an activity your child leads, and you watch and admire/narrate what they are doing. This builds independent play skills because your child provides the creativity. (See more on how to set up this child-directed playtime.)
- Plan an ending transition activity that will be physically near you. That way, it’s not such an abrupt transition from fantastic connective fun to “all done, bye-bye.” You might say something like, “Sometimes it’s hard when we have to be done with our fun time together. When our special playtime is over, would you rather get the Play-doh or the Legos out while I fix dinner?”
2. Milk the time
- Maximize the connection value of your time together. Tune into God’s presence and His delight in you. Psalm 147:11 says, “the Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.” Then, with delighted eye contact, communicate clearly how much you are enjoying the time with your child.
- Take pictures or little videos together. Then maintain a little connection in the transition activity. You might suggest, “While I cook dinner, you can make something out of Play-doh that shows what we did together and see if Daddy or Annie can guess what it was. Then while I cook, I can check in on what you’re making.”
3. Milk the memories
- Afterward, you can share the pictures or videos with others and set your child up to tell someone else about your time together.
- Reflect on your fun time at bedtime, and thank God for it! Maybe even write it in a journal or draw a simple picture of what you did. Ask, “What did you enjoy the most?” When you refer back to it later, this communicates, “I enjoyed our special time together so much I keep thinking about it!”
How Dorine’s plan for special time with her son played out
Dorine shared her story with me:
Make a plan
Carson and I made a plan to go bike riding, just the two of us, while Dad and his little sister Annie rode a different route. We planned to meet them so that the ending transition wouldn’t be so difficult.
Milk the time
We had a wonderful time connecting, and he was downright giddy, showing me the bike route he and Daddy sometimes take, pointing out areas of interest and houses of people they have met, cool vehicles they have seen… I expressed my delight, and we had a wonderful time at the skatepark while he and his friend showed me their tricks.
Eventually, he was ready to move on and decided it was time to meet Daddy and Annie on their bikes. We biked as a family to the store of his choosing to have a snack. When it was time to bike home as a family, it was a little rough because we went a new route, but by the time we made it home, we were chatting about things we’d seen.
Milk the memories
Since the trip, I’ve brought it up several times in conversation in different ways. He wants to do it again, but ‘milking the memories’ is going really well. We’ve snuck in shorter bonding times here and there, which seem more powerful because of the longer time we spent.
Plan your own special time with your child
Special time doesn’t always have to be a long bike ride or a visit to the skate park. Those super-special dates are the exception. Sometimes special time is five minutes on your living room floor, being with your child as they do what they love. That’s wonderful, too!
With just a little planning and intentionality, you can enjoy that healing and special connective time with your child with an ending that’s as sweet as the beginning. It’s a powerful way to build a God-given identity for your child: I am loved and enjoyed by the most important people in my life!
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