What to do when “special time” is hard!

We all know that spending even 5-10 minutes of dedicated one-on-one time with our kids, letting them lead the play (sometimes called “special time”), can be so cup-filling for them, helping them to feel seen, heard, valued, and loved.

Then why is it sometimes so difficult for us to achieve?

Perhaps you tend to keep very busy, “doing” a lot of the time, moving from one task to the next (a sympathetic “fight-flight” state). And it feels hard to stop, put everything aside, and connect with your child?

Or perhaps you feel distant, lethargic or numb (a more dorsal vagal “freeze” state). And it feels overwhelming to think of reaching out through your comfortable protective bubble to connect with your child?

I have found myself in both of these autonomic states at different times.

And I know from experience that it doesn’t usually end well if I try to push myself to connect with my child when I’m in one of these states. I’ll usually end up feeling irritated, annoyed, resentful, or just not being very good company!

The play won’t be enjoyable for me. It will feel like a chore. I won’t be able to put my heart and soul into it. I’ll be counting down the minutes. And my child will sense all of that.

So what is the solution?

Well, what I’ve found really helpful is to take a good step towards shifting myself into a calm and connected “ventral vagal” state, before I offer my attention to my son.

There are lots of ways of doing this, and different things will suit different people, also depending on what state we’re in. Tuning into our bodies and reaching towards experiences that feel good to us is one way that can be really effective.

It doesn’t need to be a big thing, or to take long. Just stepping out the front door, enjoying a few minutes of fresh air, the sun on our skin, taking in the world around us (especially the natural environment), can be settling for our system.

Putting on some music we really enjoy, and singing along, or moving in a way that feels safe and comfortable for us can be wonderful to help us to feel relaxed and energised.

Or perhaps it’s just taking a few mindful breaths in and out through the nose, and sensing the support of the floor or chair beneath us, to really ground ourselves.

When we are feeling more “safe” and centred in our own nervous system, it is usually much easier to connect with our kids. Things flow much more naturally because our social engagement system is online.

We’re much more likely to have patience for games that might not be our first preference, and be able to access the creative part of our brain that is sometimes required to find a way to make the play truly enjoyable for ourselves, as well as our child.

And as we initiate the connection, it can help to really tune in to our child, to the details of their sweet face, and to connect with our inner sense of love for them.

Once we’re feeling more relaxed and loving, we’ll be transmitting much more of the juicy goodness of connection and “safety” to our child’s nervous system, through our warm and friendly voice, facial expression, and eye contact.

And our child will feel the difference!

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