One-on-One Time


Kelly Bartlett and her children

By Kelly Bartlett, certified positive discipline educator and leader for East Portland API, Oregon USA

This weekend, my husband and daughter went camping, and I was able to spend 2 whole days with just my son. It surprised me how I was able to connect with him in a way that is not usually possible when we are together as a family.

I was able to see what he really wanted to do when the choice was all his. I came to understand his love of guns, swords, and robots, of which I had previously been somewhat unappreciative. I was also able to focus on his quirks and characteristics — to fully realize those unique traits that exhibit themselves every day but often get glossed over with the business of the day.

Our weekend was great, but normally our one-on-one time together is not that intense. With both my son and daughter, we do set aside time every day as “special” time. One-on-one time is one of the best tools in the positive discipline toolbox because it is proactive; it allows us the opportunity to be fully present with our children and to experience who they truly are. Though it may not be immediately obvious, this actually goes a long way toward working together and solving problems during moments of discipline.

To strengthen relationships, parents and children should habitually find time to be alone and connect. Here are some suggestions for creating special one-on-one time with your kids:

  • Make it regular — Find time, at the same time (every day for toddlers and preschoolers, once a week for older children and teenagers), and stick to it. Make it a regular part of your routine.
  • Follow the child’s lead — Let them decide the use of the time. This is a great opportunity for them to be the boss; they direct you and tell you what to do!
  • Keep it short — 15-20 uninterrupted minutes a day is all you need for toddlers and preschoolers. One hour, once a week, is suitable for older children and teenagers. For very young children, setting a timer for special time can help everyone stick to a schedule, and make the routine feasible.
  • Include time for both parents — Each parent should have regular special time with every child in the family.
  • Listen — Try to limit your talking to simply asking questions and using reflective listening statements. Let your child lead the conversations. Sometimes, there may not be much talking, and that’s OK; just being together is enough. When they get older, kids will know that special time is a safe time to talk without being judged; they can bring up any topic and know that they will be heard and supported.

In the presence of a trusted adult, kids feel free to be themselves. They feel comfortable and confident in expressing who they are when they know they will not be criticized. It is important that we give kids as much opportunity to express themselves through both language and behavior, and for us to appreciate their interests. In short, having regular one-on-one time with our children allows us to get to know them. Difficult behaviors start to make more sense, and our approach to discipline becomes more proactive with a shift from changing the behavior to acceptance and connection.

4 thoughts on “One-on-One Time”

  1. I haven’t even thought about it until now, but you are so right. I have one-on-one time with my son in the mornings, because he gets up before my daughter, and it is so special. We roll the ball, cuddle, read his favorite books, and play cars. When his sister wakes up, she wants to choose everything from books to tv shows to games and toys, and my son goes along with whatever she chooses because by nature he is just so agreeable. So that time in the morning is his time to choose what we do together. I have one on one time with my daughter at night, because she stays up a bit later than my son. We read, color, write, draw, do crafts, & talk. These moments are what make us as close as we are. I will have to remember to not take them for granted and not let them be interrupted by unimportant phone calls or other distractions. Thanks for the reminder that knowing our children as individuals is so important.

  2. One on one time, in my opinion is CRITICAL. Kids spell love T-I-M-E and when they have ALL of your time, it totally fills them up and makes them feel so special.
    Great article – thank you

  3. Awesome insight. I have always intuitively known I should try to have special time with my 7 year old, but my 10 month old always gets more attention. I am riddled with guilt! This article makes it abundantly clear that he needs my special time too!

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