Magical thinking: While they are between three and five years old, children often confuse what’s real and what’s make-believe. They interact with their world as if they are characters in a story book where magical things happen all the time, animals are their friends, and stuffed toys have thoughts and feelings.
Cause and effect: Their limited frame of reference causes them to explain things in ways that seem illogical to adults. They may believe, for instance, that plants grow because they want to be tall, leaves fall from trees because they like flying and people grow older because they have birthdays.
Play: Children now prefer to play with people, they are creative in make-believe play and they play cooperatively with other children. They are also mentally and emotionally ready to practice negotiating solutions to conflicts.
How special time can lift your child’s spirit
Oprah Winfrey once said that the greatest gift you can give your child every day is to let your face light up when he or she walks into the room. We nod when we hear this, because we know from personal experience that children get their security and sense of self-worth from the way their parents react to them.
With this in mind, you will enjoy learning about a successful parenting technique, called special time, that was made popular by a non-profit organisation named Hand-in-Hand-Parenting.
Twenty minutes of your time
Set aside 20 minutes to focus your complete attention on one child. Do this every day at a specific time. Name this block of time “our time” or “Johnny time” for example. Naming this special time gives you and your children a way to refer to this occasion.
Plan an activity
It is important that your child chooses what the two of you will do during this time. You can initially make a list of possible activities to get the creative juices flowing. Plan an activity that allows you to have a conversation with your child. An activity such as watching television will not allow this.
Simply play along
This is always difficult when a parent is used to setting the pace, but the whole idea behind special time is to create a time of simply enjoying entering your child’s world.
This is not the time to have a pot on the stove or to take your washing out of the dryer. You will not even be checking your phone or answering it.
Arrange with Dad to take care of siblings, or do this at a time when they are sleeping or away from home. You need to be present with this one child and 100 % focused.
Don’t teach, probe, or give directions
Your comments can easily distract your child from the play experience. Don’t ask, “What is that supposed to be?” or “Why don’t you build a house?” Rather comment on what your child is doing, for example, “I’m wondering what you are going to do next.”
When the time is up, special time is over
Put stickers on a clock to indicate where the long arm should be for special time to start, and where it is going to end. Explain when special time starts and ends and be very consistent to end it on time. Should you continue beyond this point once, your child may be disappointed whenever you don’t continue in future.
To help end the fun, create a routine where special time is always followed by doing a chore together, like preparing supper or watering pot plants.
Don’t worry that you may be doing this wrong
If your child feels loved, seen and listened to, then you’ve achieved the most important aim of special time.
Tip: Let your child lead free play
When you join your child in free play, let them lead. Allow them to say what should happen next. When you want to contribute to the game, introduce your idea by example, instead of using words. This way, your child can be more imaginative and the flow of the game will naturally align better with their needs.
When you, the parent, should lead
Playing educational games puts you in the role of your child’s teacher. This is where you take the lead, explain the steps and support your child step by step. The biggest benefit here is that your child will develop many school readiness skills that they would not otherwise develop during free play alone.