When Sydney was a two-year-old, I went to a talk at her preschool with Suzanne Duncan Ph.D., a local Austin parent consultant. She had many wonderful suggestions for parenting, but one tip turned out to be a critical addition to our repertoire.
Special time is the first thing Suzanne suggests to parents to help curb the typical toddler issues, like temper tantrums and general misbehavior. Harvey Karp also talks about special time in his book, The Happiest Toddler on the Block: How to Eliminate Tantrums and Raise a Patient, Respectful, and Cooperative One-to Four-Year-Old.
What defines special time? It’s 15 minutes that you’ve initiated and named – “Sydney, do you want our 15 minutes of special time now?” – that is uninterrupted and where the child gets to direct the play. And it’s ideally as interactive as possible, like a tea party versus reading books. You are not teaching or molding or directing. They get to pick what they want to do and you are their sous chef - the assistant who does what they're told.
Sydney and I played all the time, so I was skeptical how this approach could change anything. But one of my New Year’s Resolutions that year was to carve out 15 minutes every day for special time with her (I found that initiating it or labeling it was the hardest part to remember). After a month, I noticed some big differences, the most important one to me being less meltdowns. She also seemed generally happier. It definitely brought us closer together. Sometimes she asks for more special time, which according to the expert, means she needs it.
It got much harder to do consistently once Sabrina was old enough for special time, and even harder still when Luke got old enough. It wasn't necessarily because of time, although that was a factor some days. It was more the competition for Mommy's attention - nobody wanted to be left out while someone else was getting their special time. We finally figured out a good schedule - Sabrina gets her special time in the morning after I drop Sydney off at school, Luke has special time after Sabrina gets dropped off and Sydney has special time when she gets home from Kindergarten (and usually lets Sabrina sit in to watch). Another option that works great is to have Daddy do special time with one while you're doing special time with the other.
Give it a try and let us know if special time has an impact on your kids!