The 1 Simple Thing You Can Do Today and Everyday to Improve Your Child's Behavior

Recently, I saw a funny meme about the multiple benefits of coconut oil.

Frizzy hair? Coconut oil. No shaving cream? Coconut oil. Dry skin? Coconut oil. Bad credit? Coconut oil. Boyfriend acting up? Coconut oil.

When it comes to parenting, we have our own magical coconut oil. It’s called: Special Time.

Child having multiple meltdowns a day? Special time. Child whining incessantly? Special time. Child repeatedly antagonizing his sibling? Special time. Jeans too tight? Special time. Don’t know what to make for dinner? Special time.

You get the picture. My personal experience as a mom of two boys and my professional experience as a therapist and parent coach has convinced me that special time is the antidote to most behavioral issues.

So, what exactly is Special Time and why is it a parenting panacea?

Special Time is a daily scheduled and specified amount of uninterrupted one-on-one time with your child.

During Special Time, your child gets your complete, undivided attention for at least 15 minutes. He is in charge- leading and directly the play. You are physically, emotionally and mentally present. No phone, computer, chores, television or daydreaming. Your child chooses the activity and you become immersed in his world.

Sounds straightforward and easy enough, right?

When I was first introduced to the concept of special time, I smugly thought, Of course I do “special time” with my son every day. Heck, I’m literally with him all day long! My smugness didn’t last long. Quickly I realized that even though I was physically with him all day, I wasn’t always emotionally or mentally present.

Our time together was often spent with my multitasking like a crazed octopus. While we were “playing,” I was folding laundry, talking with other moms, getting meals ready, cleaning up or making ten to-do lists in my head. I was shocked to realize that special time was more of a rarity than the norm in our household.

When I became intentional about special time, I realized that it’s a lot more difficult than it sounds. Parents are busy. And we’re stressed. On any given day, we’re juggling caring for our kids, making meals, doing laundry, cleaning up, carpooling, homework, after-school activities, careers, marriage, friendships, family obligations...I’m exhausted just writing about it! It’s no wonder that it can be incredibly difficult to carve out one-on-one time with our kids.

Here’s the deal:

For at least a few minutes each day, our kids need our undivided attention.

In order to feel loved, they need us to feel and express joy when we’re with them. They need to know that we delight in spending time with them. Often when they’re acting out, what they’re really expressing is their need to be seen. Their unwanted behaviors are their way of crying out, Hey! Mom! I need you to take a minute from your busy day and tune into my world!

Psychologist and author Dr. Shefali says that every child wants to know three things:

Am I seen?
Am I worthy?
Do I matter?

Consistent special time answers these questions with a resounding YES!

Here’s how to do it:

  • Plan ahead. Put Special Time in your schedule just like you’d put “dentist appointment” or “soccer practice.” It's just as important.

  • Explain Special Time to your child. When you’re putting your child to bed, tell him that tomorrow the two of you are going to have Special Time! Explain that after he gets home from school/finishes his homework/while younger sibling is napping, the two of you are going to have 15 minutes (or longer, up to you) of Special Time during which you will do whatever he wants to do. Build it up. Tell him how excited you are and prompt him to start thinking about how he wants to spend the time.

  • Set a timer. The most important thing about Special Time is that your child is in charge. By using a timer, you relinquish your control of the time. When Special Time is over, it’s because the timer went off, not because you determined that it was time to stop playing.

  • Let the fun begin! Turn off all electronics, put your to-do lists aside and immerse yourself in your child’s world. He is completely in charge and you’re his partner-in-crime. This is where it can get tricky...

    For many of us, playing monster trucks/dress-up/Paw-Patrol/dump the enormous bin of Legos out so we can “find all the pieces” (Lord help me!) is the last thing in the entire world we feel like doing let alone are able to take “delight in.” Yes. The struggle is real! Very real. But, it’s only 15 minutes. You can do anything for 15 minutes.

  • Follow your child’s lead. Remember, the key to Special Time is that your child is in control.

  • Channel your inner child. Drop your judgments, reframe your negative thoughts and let yourself delight in your child’s interests. Less if I have to pretend I’m Darth Vader for one more second I am seriously going to poke my own eye out, more Oh, you want Darth Vader? It’s on like Donkey Kong! Luke, I am your father.

  • Show genuine interest. Again, this can be challenging and may require a bit of reframing on your part. Adopting a curious mindset can be helpful. Taking the opportunity to tune in to what interests your child and to how she enjoys spending her free-play can be illuminating and will help build a stronger connection. Showing genuine interest while our kids lead the play is one of the most powerful ways to convey our love for them.

If your child’s behavior has been in a downward spiral, try 15 minutes of Special Time a day. I promise you will see a behavioral shift. If you have any thoughts or questions, I’d love to hear them.

I’ll leave you with this inspirational quote…

“A sense of our childrens’ worth flourishes when the way we look at them, the way we listen to them, and the way we speak to them reflect just how lovable they are.”

Dr. Shefali, The Awakened Family

If you're struggling to manage your child's difficult behaviors and need more support, CLICK HERE to schedule a FREE 30-minute parenting strategy session.

For more on navigating difficult behaviors, click here and to download a free Special Time Cheat Sheet, click here.


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Hi! I'm Cameron, mom of two incredible, "differently-wired" boys who have sensory processing challenges, wife of a nerdy surfer, mindfulness practitioner and Parenting Coach with master's degrees in education and psychology.