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Getting the Most Out of the Time You Have

September 2016

Balancing work and family demands can be very challenging, and where does that leave time for you? It is important to remember that although your children need your time, your attention, and your energy, you get to choose how you want to give these things to your child. Here are some things to consider.

Attention to your child’s negative behaviors takes a great deal of energy, and the toll on your emotional well-being (yours and your child’s) can be very high. Take some time to proactively decide on your standard rules and expectations, and your consequences for negative behaviors. This will help you save time and energy in the moment, because you won’t need to agonize about what the consequences should be if you’ve decided ahead of time. It will also help prevent making rash statements about consequences that you really can’t or don’t want to enforce. If you have a parenting partner, work together to get on the same page with respect to your parenting practices. Put the emphasis on what you will do in response to the behavior instead of relying on talking with your child about her behavior. Verbal lectures generally do not work, and they take a lot of time and energy (not in a fun way). This reduces the amount of time and energy you have left to devote to positive interactions with your child. The worst part of it is if you are stuck in a negative cycle of spending far more attention and energy on negative behaviors that your child exhibits, you may actually be reinforcing this behavior by all the attention you are giving it. A good rule of thumb in response to negative behaviors is to talk less and do more.

Put the majority of the time and energy you have available for family time into positive interactions with your child. This may take some concerted effort at first, if you are like many parents. Most of us tend to slip into a reactive style of parenting where we interact with our children primarily to give them directions or correct their behavior. Nobody likes being given directions and corrections all the time! While it is important to have expectations and follow through to ensure our children meet those expectations, more of our emotional energy should be invested in having fun, recognizing the positive, and appreciating our children for what they do that is right and good and worthy. A good rule of thumb here is to try for four positive interactions or responses to positive behavior in relation to every one reminder, direction, or correction.

It’s all about being pro-active, and in that vein, I would suggest that many busy families could benefit from some “Special Time”. This is a concept that was formally introduced by Russell Barkley in his parenting program called, “Your Defiant Child”. The basic idea here is that every day or every other day, you spend 15-20 minutes of scheduled 1:1 time with your child, doing whatever your child wants to do except screen time and spending money.

  • Note that I said, “scheduled”. When I start talking to parents about setting up Special Time, they often inform me that they already do this because they take their child to the grocery store or on a spontaneous walk around the block. These things are not Special Time. The value of Special Time is that you have written it into your calendar. Your child knows that they are as important to you as any of the other very important appointments that are in your calendar.
  • I also said that Special Time is “1:1”. This time should be spent individually with your child, not with all of your children together and/or with your co-parent. Group family time is important too, but each child needs to know that they are important enough to you to warrant time set aside just for them.
  • What do you do during Special Time? To be most effective in communicating to your child how important he is to you, let him choose the activity. It should be something that is interactive in some way, which usually does not include video games or other screen time activities. You may also want to make a rule that it can’t be something that entails leaving the house for more than the allotted time, and that it can’t involve spending money. Beyond that, your prime directive is to have fun! Try to avoid criticisms and corrections and simply follow your child’s lead. Because the purpose of Special Time is to create the conditions for a very rich positive interaction with your child, discipline or “teaching” should really be avoided. If your child does something so awful that you must respond in a disciplinary fashion, Special Time should be officially terminated and the discipline attended to. You can try again with Special Time at a later point, after you’ve done some problem-solving about whatever went wrong so that you can prevent the problem from re-occurring.

Unless we are intentional about how we spend our time and energy with our beloved children, most of us are at risk of falling into reactive parenting patterns where the majority of the interactions we have with our kids involve telling them what to do or to correct something that they did wrong. I would suggest that you can be proactive in getting the most out of your family time by taking steps to ensure that the time you have together is positive and enriching for everyone. Then, don’t forget to carve out some time for yourself.

Dr. Teri Bullis, Ph.D., BCBAI believe that every parent I’ve ever worked with loves their child and is doing the very best that they can. But while parenting is the toughest job anyone will ever have, children don’t come with a “how to” manual. I can provide those “how to” directions, tailored for your unique child and family situation.

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