We love this article from our Spring 2020 issue, by our resident parenting educator Anna Cole. Here, she discusses why parents may need a ‘parenting re-set’ when they have been rearing their children for a decade or more. Read on for her tips!
Playtime can reset your parenting worries
by Anna Cole, PhD
Sometimes in life, even if you’ve been doing something a good long while, you need to begin again. Most likely, once you’ve been parenting for ten years or more – heading fast towards the pre-teens and teen years – you will feel like you need a parent sabbatical. It’s not likely you will be granted one. So I’m going to share a simple, everyday thing you can try that allows you to unstick old behavioural ruts that may exist between you and your child, so you can both begin again.
Not so long ago I watched a movie called ‘Begin Again’, starring among others the fabulous Mark Ruffalo (or Mark Gruffalo as I like to call him). I won’t give any spoilers for those who haven’t seen it, but the part that stays with me is his connection with his teenage daughter. There are multiple reasons why he won’t make any ‘World’s Best Dad’ shortlists anytime soon, but towards the end of the film, the Gruffalo character creates a space for his teenage daughter to step forward and do what she most loves. It’s a great moment in the film, and a great moment in our day to day lives: when we can get out of our own way and connect with our older children and teens, on their own terms.
Special Time allows you do do that. The key to Special Time is to decide on a particular amount of time. Name it: i.e. ‘l’ve got 15 minutes before bedtime for some Special Time.’ Offer one-on-one attention, delight in your child, and follow their lead – ‘what would you like to play, anything at all’ – and end warmly. With pre-teens and teens, you can try unannounced Special Time and tailor the ‘anything you’d like to play’ to ‘anything you want to do’, if they resist your overtures.
There’s an anecdote I like from Melanie Atkins, a Hand in Hand certification candidate, about a time she was struggling to connect with her teenage son. Here’s how it looked for her:
“Arranging Special Time with my 14-year-old son is always difficult. He never really wants to do it, but I’ve found the best time for us to connect is always in the car. I took the opportunity one evening when I picked him up from tennis lesson. I said, ‘Okay, we have 20 minutes, just you and I. What do you want to do? You decide.’ His response? ‘I just want to go home.’ My response (after I took a deep breath and tried not to react)? ‘Okay, if that is what you want.’
By now, I had started the engine and was pulling out of the car park. ‘What direction are we going? It’s your time, and you are in control.’
‘I want to go home’. Feeling ready for this, I refocused and concentrated on my breathing. ‘Right or left?’ I asked.
’Just go home!’
We’re nearing the next roundabout, so I asked, ‘which exit?’ His response? ‘First.’ My response? ‘Okay, great, your decision.’ Connecting with a teen may take persistence. At the next roundabout, he told me ‘third exit.’ Hmm. I thought we were getting somewhere. The third exit was back the way we just came. I saw he had a slight grin. I matched it. ‘Back the way we came?’ His response? ‘Yeah.’”
“We proceeded to go around in a circle for a few times. It felt like he was testing me and testing my patience, not sure I would continue doing as he asked. But I did (obviously making sure the whole time it was safe – luckily, the roads were very quiet). It ended in laughter and after a few minutes of this, he finally asked to go to the shop before we went home. As we wandered around the shop, I found it hard to let go of my own agenda and focus on him. In my head, I kept thinking about the milk we needed and bread we didn’t have, but I fought back the urge to gather those things and stuck by his side. As we walked back to the car with a drink and a snack in hand, I could see he felt much more relaxed and at ease, compared to when I first picked him up.”
“He was so chatty in the car and couldn’t stop talking on the way home about his tennis lesson and then about his day at school. He normally jumps out the car without a backward glance while I get my stuff together and am left carrying everything. But tonight he was still so busy telling me about his day that we walked right into the house together. This, for me, felt like a real win.”
Special Time allows for more of these small, but immensely meaningful parenting’ wins’. Recently, a slightly tired trip to buy new school trousers became an opportunity for me to find out more about my growing and changing son’s independence and sense of fun, in a gentle, laid-back way, amidst the florescent lights of the department store. Special Time can help in this way too: issues that were concerning me about my son somehow came to the surface, brought there by him, not me, and were given a gentle airing. It felt like one small step towards positive change. One small step for me, one giant leap for parenting-kind.
Download the free Hand in Hand Parenting Special Time Checklist here: handinhandparenting.org/2018/12/thanks-for-requesting-special-time-checklist