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.