A Powerful Parenting Tool to Enhance Parent-Child Relationships
August 1, 2019
By Catherine Vāse - Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist
When children come to see me for one-to-one psychotherapeutic work, they have often been referred by their parents or carers. Family-life has reached crisis point and sometimes the parents are extremely worried, and are struggling to cope or manage their child’s behaviour or mood.
Despondent, having tried different ways to change the situation, parents come to me hoping that I will be able to change their child’s behaviour or mood. As the work unfolds, I help them understand that, what the child needs is for us, that’s me and the parents, is to understand that the child’s difficult, worrying or upsetting behaviour can be a signal that something within the family dynamic may need to shift. Or it is the child’s only way of communicating something they have no words for yet.
A big part of my role, as a child psychotherapist, is to help the child find the words to communicate their feelings, experiences and needs instead of acting out in negative ways. But also an important part of the work is to support parents to make the shifts necessary to heal or re-build a healthy happy child-parent relationship; empowering parents to make a positive difference to their child’s life.
Child psychotherapy works best when the adults around the child work as a team.
What I so often see is that a child’s behaviour or mood changes for the better when their self- esteem grows. A child’s self-esteem can grow through reaching mile-stones, having healthy friendships and also success at school. However, the most important source of growth comes directly from their parents and families. An integral part of enabling this to happen is Special Time.
What is Special Time?
Special Time is dedicated one-one-time a parent spends with each child individually. Special Time is a powerful tool to nurture and enhance parent-child relationships. It strengthens a child’s emotional well-being, self-esteem, coping skills and also prepares them for future relationships.
Special Time can also happen between children and other adult members of their family like grandparents, aunties and uncles.
How to do Special Time
But I spend ‘quality time’ with my kids, isn’t that the same as Special Time?
Special Time is different to ‘quality time’. Quality time is informal time spent enjoying activities with your child. Special Time is something more marked, organised and planned.
Why Special Time makes a difference?
Although children are central to their parent’s life, they’re very often not convinced of this and may harbour a belief that they’re not important. Special Time sends a message to children that they are important, likeable and loved. It makes a child feel good, and therefore builds self-esteem (Steele, & Marigna 2018)
Due to circumstances or busy lives, something so important as having their parent’s full loving attention, doesn’t always happen naturally. Special Time can create opportunities for this to take place. This is particularly important for older siblings when a new baby arrives and care of the baby takes precedent. Children are particularly vulnerable to feeling left out and will need reassurance that they are as important and central to their parents’ lives as always.
It enhances the parent-child relationship, reconnecting with each other through difficult and challenging times. This often results in happier and more cooperative children.
Children’s lives are mostly governed by adults and, therefore, they will often feel powerless. Special Time can provide a safe place for children to process the difficulties they have encountered throughout the day, giving them the chance to make decisions and experience autonomy. This is often done through a child’s natural language of play and metaphor.
Most parents wish for a happy partnership with their child where their child will come to them in times of trouble. Special Time can build a solid foundation of trust, making it easier for the child to come to their parents when they have difficult feelings, rather than acting out in ways that can be hard to tolerate.
Sometimes it’s difficult for a parent to understand their child’s experience or point of view. Special Time can enhance compassion, empathy and help parents see life through their child’s eyes.
If put in place and implemented regularly it can also increase ‘parental presence’ (Shapiro, 2019) in the child’s life. Parental presence works both ways. It supports parents to feel more empowered as parents, enabling them to guide their child through life or metaphorically put, an anchor that stabilises the little boat in choppy waters. For the child, parental presence is experienced not only as a physical presence but also a ‘felt’ presence. Felt through words, facial expressions, eye contact, tone of voice, bodily movements and well timed responses (Siegal, 1999). Parental presence can also be understood, in attachment terms, as a ‘secure base’ (Bowlby). A secure base is a term ‘to describe the feeling of safety provided by an attachment figure’ (Holmes, 1993:223).
Special Time is a corner stone of healthy relationships and it is one of the building blocks to enhancing parent-child relationships. Positive shifts in a relationship between parent and the child will inevitably bring about change in their interactions, but also in the child’s behaviour. Emotional well-being for all involved is improved and an upwards spiral of improvement is possible.
Holmes, J. (1993) 'John Bowlby & Attachment Theory.’ London: Routledge.
Shapiro, M (2019) ‘Non-violent-resistance (NVR) parenting approach.: Professional
Siegel, D. J. (1999) 'The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape
Who We Are'. New York: The Guilford Press.
Steele, M. & Marigna, M. (2018) ‘Strengthening families, Strengthening communities (SFSC) -
an inclusive parent programme’
Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist
UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
Member of The Institute for Arts in Therapy and Education (IATE) NVR informed practitioner
SFSC informed practitioner
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