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!”

Crawling-from-KateAlmost 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.

– Kate Orson in an Instructor-in-training in our Certification Program. She lives in Switzerland. You can connect with Kate on Facebook at Parenting by Connection with Kate Orson.

17 thoughts on “A Little Special Time in the Morning

  1. This was a really insightful post. The idea of Special Time is brilliant. It makes sense that children have a need for connection. By giving your child that special attention it will prevent them from crying out (asking for it) or otherwise making their wants known. I’d never thought of it in that way before.

  2. Parenting Tip: Paying It Forward with Your Toddler

  3. Special time not only makes a huge difference to my child by filling her love cup up but it also takes away my guilt when I then get on with other chores knowing that I’ve given her some undivided attention. Beautiful article Kate, thank you.

  4. Hi Steph, thanks for your comments, I also feel much less guilt, when I know I’ve given my daughter some special time. It’s a really useful tool.

    Hi Janet, I’m glad you found the post useful. The Parenting by Connection tools have really helped me connect well with my daughter, and this has also enabled her to enjoy being more independent. She does still ask for attention plenty of times, but I no longer feel like I’m in a constant battle between giving her attention and trying to get on with things. We are much more in harmony now, at least most of the time!

    Let me know, what happens when you try out special time, I’d love to hear how it goes!

  5. Really great article, Kate. I just recently tried out, for the first time, special time first thing in the morning, and I’ve also found it to work wonders. Three mornings a week, I’m out the door for work by 7am, so, if my daughter is awake, five minutes of special time is all I can manage for those mornings. But even that seems to help in making her — and me! — feel more connected.

  6. I love special time! In fact my husband now does it also almost every day with our son. Ocean is soaking up this extra undivided attention from his dad also and they are both really loving it. I am always amazed at how long he will continue to play by himself once we are done. He is 2.5 and its often over an hour in his room! He comes and checks in now and then, but his sense of safety and connection with me is amazing to watch and life just gets easier. Our days are ALWAYS easier when we do it consistently, even if it is only 5-10 minutes.

  7. wow Brooke, that’s amazing that your son can spend an hour in his room! I look forward to a day when that is possible 🙂
    I really think that special time must help to build a child’s intelligence, because if they then feel safe enough to explore independently, then they can learn so much by self-directing the play, rather than being worried and needing to stay close to us all the time,
    My daughter is still quite young and still wants to be picked up much of the time!
    i think I’ll try doing a few more short bursts of special time, throughout the day when she’s feeling needy, to see if that helps her strengthen her sense of connection.

  8. That’s a great idea Kate. I bet it will help alot. Those needy times, when they happen I do one of 2 things now. Drop everything and give him 5 minutes even when I’m in the middle of dinner for example- if I can swing it or I have a funny dance I do with a song “mommy pick me up hey! Mommy pick me up hey!” this HEY is loud and accompanied by a funny pose I strike for a second. He almost always laughs and starts singing it too and runs off back to his play spot. Or lastly I scoop him up and do a bouncy dance for a minute or two around the kitchen which also get s us both laughing. Special time or giggles for us, makes it a whole lot more fun at the end of the day especially, which is when it gets hardest! I’m so grateful for learning these tools!

  9. Kate, What a great article! I love how you started from that cranky place where you were both struggling and took us through your journey to your wonderful practice of daily connection – and let us know the difference the practice of daily Special Time has made in your home. I also really appreciated your inclusion of the brain science which supports this practice. It’s nice to know that we are fostering brain development as well as deepening our relationship with our little special ones. I, too, find that 5 minutes of ‘snuggling’ in the morning makes such a huge difference in our day.

  10. I agree Brooke the end of the day is hard! It’s a great idea to do a bit of playlistening as well as special time in between cooking. You’ve inspired me to fight against my usual fatigue and try to think up some games. Actually I just tried special time, and then gave my daughter an early dinner. As she was eating I sensed how well connected we felt, and how much more adventurous she was in eating, (she is normally so fussy!) she even at some cauliflower! Now I’ve realised that if she’s feeling well connected, she will be happier to try new foods, I guess it’s obvious, but I had just been despairing lately. So thanks for making me focus on special time at the end of the day as well, brilliant!

  11. Wow, great job mama! If cauliflower doesn’t tell us you are on the right path I don’t know what would!! Hah! That’s wonderful.
    We learned of stay listening when our son was 1 and going through such a hard time around the dinner table, we would stop it all and sit on the couch with him and listen and every time he would go back to the table and gobble it up straight away. Its incredible! And changed everything for us! You just reminded me of those memories soooooo long ago it feels like, but it was only a year and a half ago! To see where we are now with using these tools it’s profound!

  12. Lovely article. Any thoughts about how to do this with twins? Especially as a working mom? I come home from work and both are desperate for special alone time. I simply cannot make myself turn away from one of them in order to focus on the other as soon as I’ve come home (the one whose turn it isn’t is just heartbroken). Instead, I get on the floor and sit with them or have some roughhousing, which we all enjoy. But I sense that what each really needs is alone time. Any ideas? It’s the hardest part about having twins!

  13. We have two sons, a year and a half apart. When alone with them, I always made a point of filling their need for connection with some “Love games” before giving them Special time. A family favorite was “Egg Babies”, where we all got into our big bed and the boys hid under a blanket each pretending they were in eggs while I complained loudly about what a lonely Egg Mommy I was and how much I longed for my babies. When they wiggled or stuck out a foot or hand I was overjoyed and showered them with my joy and appreciation. They loved playing this game! We could do this for fifteen minutes or more, until they got bored with it. This seemed to be enough to fill them up so that they could peacefully “let” the brother have some special time and occupy themselves meanwhile. I would not stretch my luck by doing long Special Time sessions, maybe five minutes each, and then I would save the longer Special time sessions for when their dad was home and could give the other brother Special time too.

  14. I have 3 kids, just under 1, just under 4 and just turned 6, and I really struggle with how to give them all special time too! I have come to realize that it just isn’t possible when I am the only adult around, not while they are young. I have come up with a game that my two oldest’s love, though, to try and give each of them a little extra dose of attention.

    We call it “follow the leader”, and it’s almost like a mini, group special time. We set a timer and each of us gets a turn being the “leader”, and absolutely being in charge of what everyone does. I have to keep it short, about 5 minute turns, or the novelty of it wears off for the “follower”, but it has served us really well at times. I can give (almost) all of my attention to the one in charge without the others feeling abandoned, and I like to think that they are learning that it can feel good to give each other turns getting what they really want.

    Hope that helps!

  15. My children are long grown but the memories are as fresh as a rain shower. Special time is an excellent way to connect with little ones. But as a seasoned mom and now grandmother I want to give you all the heads up that it is a must when they move into the teen years. Just because they look and act all independent does not mean that they have a diminished need for parental connection. Sensing this I resigned my job and started my own business so I could be more available to my children in the teens years. Everyday when they got home from school we would reconnect…you know, have special time. We would sit around the kitchen table, have a snack, and catch up on the day. No blaming, no shaming, no complaining. Just sharing and listening. Can’t tell you how enjoyable the teen years were. And they passed by so quickly. By the way – I named my training and consulting business in parenting education Nurturing Connections. Why? Because I believe in it and I know it works.

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