This simple practice can transform your relationship with your child

August 2, 2023

This simple practice can transform your relationship with your child

By Lindsey Flannery

If your toddler is in a pattern of hitting or biting, or your school-aged child is defiant and won’t listen, you might be at a loss for what to do. Luckily, there is a research-backed practice that can significantly improve your child’s behavior, and strengthen your relationship with them. It’s called “Special Time.” 

What is Special Time?

Simply put, Special Time is spending 5-10 minutes each day with your attention completely focused on your child. According to Dr. Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting,1 Special Time:

  • Reconnects us with our child after the separations and struggles of the day, so she's happier and more cooperative.
  • Gives the child the essential—but unfortunately so often elusive—experience of the parent's full, attentive, loving presence.
  • Deepens our empathy for our child so that we can stay more compassionate and see things from their point of view, which strengthens the connection and our parenting.
  • Builds a foundation of trust and partnership between parent and child which is a precondition for them to trust us with their big feelings when they're upset (as opposed to lashing out), so it improves the child's behavior.

Additionally, we often don’t realize how much of a child’s day is spent following directives from us or other caregivers. Requests like “brush your teeth,” “get your shoes on,” “eat your dinner,” and “pick up your toys” fill much of a child’s day. 

“Special time becomes a tool that disrupts that cycle and increases the positive interactions, increases opportunities for play, and increases opportunities for closeness between a parent and a child,” says Roger R. Harrison, PhD, a child psychologist with Nemours Children’s Health in Wilmington, Delaware. “And as that closeness, that attachment, that bond is building, it actually increases the likelihood that a child is going to listen or value what a parent has to say.”2

So, how do you do Special Time?

First, set aside 5-15 minutes a day with your kid. Try to do it every day, but at least four times a week. Then, tell your child “Okay, we’re going to do Special Time now.” Parents can make things feel special for kids just by saying that they’re special.

According to NPR’s LifeKit: Parenting podcast, there are guidelines that contribute to the positivity and effectiveness of the experience, including:

  • Do not give kids directions, commands, or ask questions. Instead, describe your observations. “Wow, you’re running really fast!”
  • Ignore behaviors you don’t like unless they’re legitimately dangerous. We want to observe and connect, not teach and correct.
  • Do not be on your phone. Give your child your full attention.
  • Do not withhold special time for bad behavior or use it as a reward. It just is.

You can use the PRIDE acronym to inform your behavior during Special time: Praise, Reflect, Imitate, Describe, and be Enthusiastic.

  • Praise: Be specific! “I love the way you stack those blocks that high.
  • Reflect: Repeat what your child says, and reflect their emotion as they’re engaging their imagination and creativity. Do your best to connect with what you imagine is happening.
  • Imitate: Join their play in a parallel manner. This means the world to a child.
  • Describe: Describe what you see, like a sportscaster.
  • Be enthusiastic: Authentically communicate verbally and nonverbally that you’re interested and excited to be with them.

This may sound simple, but it’s not as intuitive as it seems. For one, as parents, our instinct is to teach our kids. We may ask, “ooh, what color is this block? Which one is bigger? What shape is this?” but during Special Time, we want to let the kid take the lead. It may take some time to master it, but you’ll get better at it the more you practice.

Who is Special Time good for?

Any toddler or school-aged child, and any family who wants to strengthen their connection with their child. In other words, Special Time is great for all families with young children! Make sure to do Special Time individually with each child so they have your undivided attention.

And, Special Time doesn’t always have to take place at home. Going to the playground, on a walk around the neighborhood, or to a special destination like Kidzeum are all great opportunities to spend one-on-one time with a child and let them take the lead. You likely will see those unwanted behaviors improve. And, your connection with your child will only grow.


  1. Markham, Laura. “What’s So Special About Special Time?”
  2. Harrison, Roger R., guest. “The 5-minute daily playtime ritual that can get your kids to listen better.” Life Kit: Parenting, NPR, October 2022.

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