Carving Out “Special Time” Is Especially Beneficial


Isn’t Every Day Naturally Full of “Special Time” for Kids?

Playing together every day offers tons of “Special Time” for children naturally, doesn’t it? We purposefully under-schedule our days to allow for large chunks of long, uninterrupted free play where imaginations take the center role and, even so, our days fly by and we often get lost in the mundane routines that feel endless just keeping our three littles alive. It feels like all our kids do is play – and isn’t that all the “Special Time” they need? The short answer is NO. It’s not. Incorporating Dr. Laura Markham’s “Special Time” into our family’s daily routine has made a huge difference and impact in our level of connection with each of our three children.

What is “Special Time”?

“Special Time” is a very specific, intentional way to spend time with an individual child. The child dictates the activities and tells the parent exactly how/what/where to play. The child is in the driver’s seat and has all the control and parents are just along for the ride. If our son wants to crawl around on all fours and bark like dogs during his “Special Time”, that’s what we do without hesitation or attempts to manipulate the play into something different. It is mind-blowing what a deep level of connection those ten minutes per day provide. Dr. Laura Markham describes “Special Time” in depth in her post “What’s so Special About Special Time” and it’s a fantastic resource. I highly recommend you check it out!

What Makes “Special Time” Especially Beneficial?

Every child benefits from “Special Time” as a way to build trust, empathy, and understanding with a parent. Especially in today’s extra stressful world, finding time to disconnect from the rest of the world and focus solely on our child is a precious gift for both of you. Playing with your child offers a window into their thoughts and beliefs about who they are and how they view their world. It’s incredible how much we can learn by just carving out time to play any way our child asks us to. And if you’re experiencing challenging behaviors with your child, these ten minutes a day can make a HUGE impact. Often, it’s the only thing you need to change to see improvements in children’s behaviors.

So How Do We Make “Special Time” Happen?

1. Ask your child. Invite your child to have “Special Time” and name it after your child (i.e. Mama-Damon time) and find a time when your other children are busy and out of earshot. I often put on a Story Pirates podcast (our fave!) and bring out a basket of handwork activities for my other boys when one child is having “Special Time” so it’s exciting for everyone. 

2. Set a timer for ten minutes. Put away your phone and set a timer – visual ones like these sand timers are helpful for littles. Expect your child to be upset when “Special Time” ends the first few times. Your child will be having so much fun and loving the feeling of your undivided attention that s/he will want it to keep going. That’s okay – just empathize with your child by hugging and saying you’re sad it’s over too but you can do it again tomorrow. 

3. Set a few ground rules. Let your child know you will give him 100% of your attention with no agenda and no distractions and that that you want to play anything your child wants to play. Say YES! to anything your child suggests, even if it feels silly, goofy, or repetitive to you. The only activities that are off limits are screens, books, and parent-led structured activities. If your child is hesitant to choose an activity, offer two suggestions and see if that sparks any ideas (pillow fights, hide-and-seek, building and crashing block structures, and fort-building are faves in our home). 

4. Be aware that “Special Time” may bring your child’s BIG FEELINGS to the surface, especially when it ends. Your child will feel safer and more in-tune with you after these ten minutes and emotions that have been pushed down often bubble to the surface. We try to build in some extra time at the end in case our sons have a meltdown so that we can empathize and offer the safe space needed to express those big feelings. Once those feelings are out, everyone feels so much better. 

Carving out “Special Time” for each child has truly transformed our relationships with our sons. We know the time, effort and energy we put into making sure our sons have these uninterrupted moments of connection with us strengthen and bolster our relationships and, to us, that’s the primary goal of parenting: to create deep and meaningful relationships with our children so they come to us with anything life throws at them. 


  1. Thanks so much for this wonderful guidance! I loved your description of how to let the child take charge. Thank you for the reminder of how important Special Time is!

  2. Great read! I’m so excited to start this with my kids! I already carve out time, but I have never let my daughter dictate the activity. I am excited to see how this changes the dynamic!

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