Okay, by now you have the message: Connection is key. But how do you get there?
I have a parenting technique from Hand in Hand Parenting in Palo Alto, Ca that goes a long way to helping our kids keep their equilibrium (truly, the silver bullet!): Special Time!
Special Time formalizes an opportunity to connect to your kids. Of course, we all look for chances to have special, warm times with our kids—snuggling at bedtime or a Saturday morning walk to pick up bagels—but YOU probably decide when, if and how those events are going to happen. What Special Time (capitals intended) provides is a period of time where the child is completely in control of the play or activity.
The trick with Special Time is that in order to keep it special, the time is limited. This helps both the parent and the child. It helps the parent because it is really hard to step into the world of the child 100% where it is his rules that matter, not yours. [Just to be clear, before special time starts, you can say which--if any--of the house rules can be waived. For example, you might decide that just for special time you are going to permit jumping on the bed.] However, we can do almost anything for 15 minutes at a stretch. The child needs the limit because whereas it feels good to have complete power as a treat, when kids have the power all the time, it actually makes them feel very insecure.
One of my clients, Maggie, found herself rolling around on the floor the victim of attack by pirates and then moments later she was cast as the bad guy forced to succumb to her son Matty’s heroic subjugations. Another day she had to be the poor helpless, frightened victim her four year old bravely protected. With more and more special time, Matty has grown in stature. Getting to be powerful (whether good or evil), he works out the petty hurts and confusions of his day.
With her two year old, Maggie has to build impossibly high towers only to find out that no tower she builds is good enough (though her daughter Katy is happy to show her how it is REALLY done). At first it was hard for Maggie to over and over let her children dictate the script and the activity, but she has found that by going along with it (and biting her your tongue when she has the need to control things), her children are more grounded and ready to go with the flow.
Some parents fear that if you give over control for Special Time, you will lose all your control with your kids. I like to think of it as the equivalent of Mother’s Day. Do you think that because you spend a day catering to your wife’s every need and desire that she will expect that every day? No, right? In fact, I bet you have experienced that after her emotional cup has been filled up with love and attention and spoiling, your wife is more willing than ever to jump back into the swing of family life. The same is true for your child. By having fifteen or thirty minutes when he gets his every need met, your child is more willing to wait his turn, to fall into line, to do what is needed to be done. It might not feel logical, but Special Time is a tremendous tool for helping a child to process some of the big, heavy emotions of childhood in a light and playful way.
Here’s the bottom line: The more unloving your child is behaving, the more she needs Special Time. I realize that it may feel counter intuitive: Why would you want to give a whiny, recalcitrant child more attention? But what I can tell you is that it works.You may think you don't have time for Special Time, but I promise you, when you use it regularly, you will find that the cooperation levels in your house will go up so much that you will have more time than you had before.