Present Time

On the Parenting with Presence yahoo group, we have recently been talking about Present Time.

In both Aware Parenting ( and Hand in Hand Parenting (Parenting by Connection) (,  Aletha Solter and Patty Wipfler talk about the importance of giving children regular time that they call “Special Time”.

Aletha says in her book, Tears and Tantrums on p.116, as part of the guidelines for creating emotional safety:

“Creating Emotional Safety

When children display behaviours that show a need to release painful feelings, parents and caretakers may wonder how to help them feel safe enough to let the feelings out.  The following is a list of guidelines that can help children open up emotionally and cry and rage as needed.  …

* Give children plenty of physical closeness
* Give children plenty of aware attention
* Listen respectfully to children when they talk
* Stay close and pay attention when they are crying or raging
* Use a non-authoritarian approach to discipline
* Give children correct information about crying
* Communicate your own feelings and needs honestly
* Deal responsibly with your own strong emotions

Give Children Plenty of Aware Attention

There is a special kind of undivided attention that is useful in creating emotional safety.  With children under the age of two years, it is best to be available with this special attention whenever the child requests it. After a child reaches two years of age, the adult can set aside a certain time period when it is convenient.  An example might be every day after the evening meal for 30 to 60 minutes.  The guidelines for these "special times" are the following:

a) Pay attention to only one child at a time.  Be totally available, at the child's leve, with your full attention on the child.
b) Let the child initiate all the activities and decide how to spend the time with you.  Do whatever the child wants you to do (within reasonable safety limits). Even infants will initiate activities if allowed to do so.
c) Avoid directing the play with your own iddeas, or turning it into a teaching situation.

This kind of special, non-directive attention gives children a sense of security, which allows them to bring up painful feelings in a play context and work through them.  One child may initiate a game of hide-and-go-seek to work on separation anxiety.  Another may want to play doctor in order to overcome fears of injury, illness or death.  

Children know what they need in order to heal, and they will do so spontaneously, with the help of an adult's aware attention.  These non-directive, special times with children help to create the emotional safety needed for deeper feelings to come to the surface."

Patty Wipfler talks about Special Time in this way: (in the booklet “Special Time”, available from the Hand in Hand website):

“It is a simple yet powerful way of building and strengthening close relationships with our children.  When we make the time to fully concentrate on our relationships with our children, we satisfy some of the deep needs for loving and being close that are natural to people of every age.  We begin to take fuller pride in our parenting.”

I have recently re-started what I call Present Time again with my children (aged 5 and 10).  I call it Present Time rather than Special Time because I have had unenjoyable connotations with the word “special”, and also because I love keeping my focus on being present with my child during that time.  However, when I look up the definition of “special” I see how apt it is.....

1 better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual
exceptionally good or pleasant
(of a subject) studied in particular depth

2 belonging specifically to a particular person or place
designed or organized for a particular person, purpose, or occasion
a thing, such as a product or broadcast, that is designed or organized for a particular occasion or purpose

Present or Special Time is different from usual, in that the child gets to choose exactly what is going on and the adult gives their full presence.  Even as the most present parent, that does not happen 24 hours a day!

It is generally very pleasant to be completely present with one’s child - it fosters connection and intimacy.

It is like studying something in particular depth, because there is time and focus dedicated to the child’s choices.

It is also organised for the particular child and adult, for the purpose of connection, emotional safety, intimacy, and setting up the conditions for the child to freely express their feelings at this time as well as others, and also for therapeutic play.

How can Present or Special Time be practiced?

I love setting the timer on my iPhone... at the moment I am setting it for half an hour every day with my son and for an hour every alternate day with my daughter (by her request).  Short bursts of Present/Special Time - of even 5 or 10 minutes, interspersed through the day, are also very helpful.

What I love to focus on, is the details and intricacies of my child - the way their skink looks, the tone of their voice, the feel of their skin.  I had forgotten that Patty Wipfler talks about this:

“To begin, you focus your entire attention on your child.  This is not casual play or indirect contact!  Decide to notice everything about your child’s words, expression, tone of voice, posture and movement.  Absorb information through your every pore, as if your child were entirely new to you!” (Listening to Children; Special Time; p.2)

Patty talks about making sure that we are relaxed and have energy, that we “put the child in charge of her relationship with you”, that we let her know through touch and affection how very much we are enjoying her, and that we expect new things to happen.

The practice of Special Time in both Aware Parenting and Hand in Hand parenting are part of wider parenting models.  In both paradigms, Special Time is one of the important ingredients in supporting attachment and bonding, closeness and intimacy, emotional safety, and healing through supported laughter, crying and play.  The models do have differences in tone and practice, yet the Special Time aspects of them are similar.  Special Time helps create the conditions for emotional release in the form of tears, tantrums, laughter and therapeutic play.  For more information about tears, tantrums, laughter and play, see for articles and Aletha Solter’s books, and for articles and Patty Wipfler’s booklets.  Forums help with support and inspiration for these kinds of parenting.

In other words, once practising Special Time, you may notice that as well as being more connected, your child might also start crying and raging more, and finding pretexts which require loving limits for the underlying and healing tears to flow.  

Since I have started Present Time again with my children, I have noticed quite a difference.  My son (5) has started crying more freely again with me.  He is also calmer and less agitated.  My daughter (10) has gone back to sharing more with me about what is going on for her, and is being more physically affectionate again.  I am feeling happier since my need for connection is being met more too!

One of the mothers on the group, who is doing the Hand in Hand training, talked about learning to enjoy playing in the rain as part of Special Time.  I wrote back:

“Katinka, when I watched Sunny and his friend play in a puddle in the rain for about an hour the other day, and the absolute joy they had, and then I think of you learning to enjoy playing in the rain, I think about how healing Present Time is for us as parents….. it helps us let go of our even subtle retractions from presence and joy and full connection with life.”

That’s what I love about so many aspects of being a parent.  Often we think about what we are doing to contribute to our child/ren, and yet in many cases these things also help us grow and develop as people.  

Another mum, who inspired me to re-start Present Time again, told me that she had started to do it thinking it was about contributing to her daughter.  She soon discovered that it was a great gift to her, to encourage her to be even more present.  Sarah says; “Initially I thought Special Time was all for her - and all about her receiving my undivided attention. I felt a little virtuous doing this wonderful thing for her. And then I realised that it's for me as much as her. When we carve out that time from our day, and I keep bringing myself back to being really present with her in the moment, I feel so much calmer and more relaxed. There is nothing else to think about. So it's a kind of marker for me of how I feel most at ease in the world. A kind of baseline I can bring myself back to as often as possible. Likewise, it's a baseline for the quality of connection between Amelia and I. When I experience that quality of connection with her on a daily basis, it's easier to touch that quality of presence more often at other times of the day. ”

Our children to inspire us to be more; to be more present, more compassionate, more loving, more connected to ourselves and our feelings and beliefs, and more true to ourselves.  They often inspire us to become a part of a group or community that supports us as parents.  Giving them Present Time means we are also willing to receive Present Time from them.  From there, spreads more joy, love, and connection.

 Edited March 2012