When my son turned three, I became pregnant with our second child, my husband began working a crazy shift schedule, and survival mode became our new norm. I poured my energy and time into creating systems for making everything more efficient.
I mastered tricks for getting my toddler to listen so that I could dress him and drop him off at daycare before starting work, I delegated all of my grocery shopping to Instacart, and even started using a robotic vacuum and mop to help me manage the daily mess, but I hadn't figured out a way to prioritise something else that really mattered: spending quality time with my little boy.
As his tantrums became more frequent and intense, my husband and I realised we needed help. Instead of punishing the "bad" behaviour, we wanted to get at the root of what was causing him to act out.
We took an online Positive Parenting Solutions course led by parenting expert, Amy McCready, and walked away with a simple but powerful piece of advice in just the first session.
Every day, devote 10-15 minutes to having uninterrupted parent/child time and let your child choose what you do together, within reason, of course. Amy refers to this tool as "mind, body and soul time" but encourages parents to name it whatever feels natural for them, even something as straightforward as "Mummy and (child's name)'s special time".
It sounds laughably simple at first, but it's a daily practice that actually requires some discipline. My husband and I decided on a time of day that made the most sense for us to take turns: one before dinner (to occupy our son while one of us cooks) and the other after my son showers and gets in his pyjamas (this is when our six-month-old usually wakes from his nap and wants to eat).
The biggest difference between this special time and general family time is that my son gets to be the star of the show. My husband and I don't have the temptation to engage each other in conversation, which usually differs to us hashing out our laundry list of responsibilities — the very opposite mental state you want to be in during this special time.
We set a visual timer for 10 or 15 minutes so that our son can see how much time we have together, and we make it clear when our time is beginning and ending. Clarifying all of this helps him distinguish our special time from any other time we're interacting. He knows that mum and dad are setting aside time for just him.
Amy also taught us that having our son choose the activity fulfils his need for power — something all kids crave in addition to attention. It's when kids aren't getting power or attention in positive ways that they tend to act out the most.
And did I mention that it's fun? Being in a creative state where imaginative and sensory play is the only thing on the agenda feels good! You also learn a lot about your kid's interests.
Since we've put this into practice, it's helped dramatically scale back his insistent requests for screen time, and consequently, the battles to end screen time. It's easier to get him to sit down for dinner and hustle to take a shower when he has something to look forward to.
In her online course, Amy goes into a lot more detail and troubleshoots obstacles like what to do on those days when you don't have 10 minutes, how to do this if you have multiple children, how to react when one child interrupts and more.
While we've only just started our special time practice, having it become a daily ritual that we prioritise is my biggest parenting goal for 2020.