Hand in hand

How do you ensure your children know they are loved and cared for? Give them 10 precious minutes of your time.

“Children grow well in the soil of our attention,” psychotherapist Timothy Dukes writes in his gentle parenting guide The Present Parent Handbook. It is a wise truth that we should carve onto our walls; with this year’s tumultuous twists and turns, our attention seems the least available currency.

I noticed this at the peak of COVID-19’s strict restriction period. Our local walking paths grew tedious, the choice for indoor play was limited if at all available, and the shortage of supplies from retail outlets meant I was to make my own clay and Play-Doh, and a lot of mess, too. Cheerfully coloured, perhaps, but teetering on the brink of exhaustion.

“I discovered a 10-minute fix that makes our kids happy and helps us to stay sane. It’s called Special Time, and it works,” offered one local mum-friend. “But be prepared to cry.”

What is Special Time? According to Kate Orson, a UK-born, Switzerland-based author and an instructor of the Hand in Hand parenting style, it combines warmth and connection hand in hand. How do you ensure your children know they are loved and cared for? Give them 10 precious minutes of your time, with reasonable expectations. In her beautiful book Tears Heal: How to listen to our children, Orson shares: “When I became a mum, I realised that listening is the most important tool I can use to raise a content, resilient child. So why was it also the most difficult to start?”

Equipped with her words, my friend’s encouragement, and a workbook from the Hand in Hand Parenting website, I decided to try. I set up a timer on my phone for 10 minutes. As the workbook explained, Special Time should be a ‘one-on-one’ moment, so I set my daughter up with her dad in another room. I explained to my son that he was the boss and we would be doing anything he wants, that I could play with him, or watch him play, that all of this was his choice. What seemed like a simplistic concept, completely blew my mind. My usually extremely energetic to the point of chaotic kid was concentrated, still, considered. He timidly picked LEGO as his choice of play and began telling me some long and layered story. So there we were, simply sitting on the floor with his blocks and figurines scattered around us, bonding as we bathed in the specialness of this time together.

I can’t describe why it was so powerful, but when the timer finally started sounding, we hugged and cried. The next day, he was eagerly planning another session of Special Time, and when my daughter got her turn, she looked like the proudest little girl that walked the Earth.

So why is this ‘special’ time so special to our kids? Patty Wipfler, the founder of Hand in Hand Parenting and author of Listen: Five Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges explains: “Remember that during your special time together, you’re going to do whatever they want. So much of their day is spent doing what other people want them to do. Reversing the roles brings relief to a child and opens up possibilities for them to show you things they don’t normally have space to reveal.”

You see, Special Time is like planting the seeds of love, support and respect that help our little ones blossom into the happy and capable flowers they are destined to be.

Special Time parenting workbook: how to play?

According to Hand in Hand Parenting instructors, there’s no right or wrong way to run Special Time. Consistency rules over frequency, although it’s beneficial to turn it into a family routine. There are also a few guidelines that make this time more fulfilling and comfortable for everyone.

* Let your child know ahead of time when you’re going to have Special Time, for example, ‘after lunch’, or ‘on Saturday’. It gives them a chance to figure out how to use your attention.

* You decide when and where you’ll have time to connect. It can be five or 10 minutes or even an hour. Your child decides how.

* Make sure there are no interruptions in this time and space. Phones are on mute, cleaning has to wait, and a second child should be taken care of by another adult.

* Set a timer. For most kids, timers indicate something out of the ordinary. What’s more, rather than you signalling that Special Time is over, things feel less personal and more objective when a timer pings.

* Do whatever your child wants to do. The only moment when you should gently set limits is if something is dangerous or risky.

* BE PRESENT. Whether your child chooses the most mundane activity or takes forever to set up his game plan, follow his lead. Just be.

* Don’t have a preconceived idea that it is going to be dreamy. Some kids need time to understand the concept. Others will get a little overworked or emotional. It is all normal and, with consistency, a rhythm will form.


* The Present Parent Handbook: 26 Simple Tools to Discover that This Moment, This Action, This Thought, This Feeling Is Exactly Why I Am Here by Timothy Dukes

* Positive Discipline by Dr Jane Nelsen

* The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

* Listen: Five Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges by Patty Wipfler and Tosha Schore

For more information, visit @hand_in_hand_parenting on Instagram

Alex Reszelska

Alex Reszelska is a Sydney-based, Polish-born writer, journalist and Japanologist.

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