Kids love attention. And they love parents’ attention better than most. That’s probably because giving them regular undivided attention can be really beneficial for them.

When a parent pours on their attention, a child feels really seen. Even if they haven’t been openly signalling, through whining, tantrums or other common “attention-getting” behaviors that they need your time and adoration, a regular dose of special time keeps children feeling more content. It’s a great way to “fill their cup.”

This kind of undisrupted one-on-one time builds in regular close contact between a parent and child. When special time is established, there is space and time for intimacy. Over time, their trust and communication grows. If there is something troubling a child, they may show it through what they say or choose to play.

“You might see a bit more affection, a bit more laughter, or you might hear about issues or experiences she hadn’t talked about before,” says Patty Wipfler in How Special Time Makes Children Content.

And if they can rely on this regular dose of closeness and communication, they are less likely to act out in other ways. They become more willing to cooperate, more ready to connect.

“Every parent I know who has started doing special time with his or her child has told me that they see significant changes in their child’s behavior, ” says Dr. Laura Markham, in What’s So Special About Special Time?

How to make time for special time

When children have siblings, their fight for validation and attention is real, making one-on-one time even more essential. If special time is a way to build tight bonds between parents, it is also a way to say “you’re seen,” “I have your back,” “I care.” You might find special time works better for different children at different times. Try picking up on trouble spots in the day, and see if you can factor in a few minutes before it.

If your child has particular issues getting up and to school, five minutes of special time will benefit when you first wake up. If another is wound up after pre-school, you might decide on 20 minutes when they come home.

Still, scheduling special time when you have more than one child can seem challenging. Don’t stress if you can’t make it every day, but do try and notice when it is definitely needed and have a plan to include it on a regular, on-going basis.

Tell them that you plan on spending one-on-one time with each of them in addition to the time you spend together as a family. This will help to lesson rivalry and bids for your attention.

Here are six other ways to consider when you want to do special time and brothers and sisters are around:

1. Invite one friend who plays well with both over to play

Have that friend play with one while you do special time with the other, then switch. By then your children may be able to play well with one another so that you can give special time to the friend!

2. Do very, very short special time.

Spend two minutes each with each child, and have a little cozy place to sit for the one not having special time. Go back and forth enthusiastically, scooping up the “waiting child” each time.

3. Do short special times that involve the sibling

In this twist, the sibling does what the special time sibling wants, and then they trade. It’s not classic, full-on special time, but can work.

4.Get one or two other parents together for a special time round-robin

Two parents hang out with all the children except the one getting special time. Then swap roles so that every parent gets to do special time with each of his/her children. After that works a few times, you can try taking a longer time, where each parent gets to give a different child special time too. This is great for building friendships!

5. Wake up early with one child each morning

Spend five minutes chatting, snuggling or playing what they want before everyone else wakes up. Working special time in this way helps everyone get regular time.

6. Get online

This depends on your screen-time values, but try having a loving grandparent or aunt or uncle (or even a working parent who has flexibility at work) hang out on video chat with one child or more while you do special time in another room with your other child.

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