How I Started Having Weekly Special Time With My Kids

Oct 26, 2018

I've written before about the lightning bolt of habit change. It's where a new idea sparks an instantaneous habit without any real effort. You just think it, do it once, and the habit is there, "without preparation, without small steps, without wavering," as Gretchen Rubin puts it.

Lightning bolts are rare, but one of them happened to me last December. 

I was gearing up for the start of 2018 and trying to decide what my focus should be. I hadn't yet stumbled upon the quote that would be my guiding light for the year, but I knew one thing: I wanted to make sure I was putting my time and energy into the Most Important Things, and my kids were sitting right at the top of the list.

A couple of weeks before that, Ralphie of Simply on Purpose had talked about doing special time with her daughters--essentially, fifteen minutes of one-on-one time every day. 

I was intrigued. Of course, the idea of spending individual time with my kids wasn't new, but somehow this sounded more doable. It wouldn't require going out for ice cream or spending a couple of hours at the zoo on an official Mommy-Son date. Ralphie talked about setting a timer for fifteen minutes and then fully engaging with that one child in whatever activity he wanted to do. 

That same December, our family was participating in the Light the World campaign, which consisted of 25 service-oriented activities over 25 days that helped (in small ways) increase the light and hope and goodness in the world. One of the daily scripture prompts was "suffer the little children to come unto me," and I knew that this was my chance to try out special time.

And so that morning, I told the boys, "Today I'm going to have special time with each of you. For fifteen minutes, I am yours. You choose the activity, and I'll do it with you."

And just like that, the Lightning Bolt struck. 

Thereafter, special time became a regular part of our weekly schedule. 

I think it stuck so easily for two reasons. First, my kids fell in love with it immediately. They understood what it was, how it worked, and thought it was so fun (except Maxwell, who, as usual, took a little more convincing). They propelled it forward because they were quick to ask me, "When are we going to do special time again?" It was obvious that we craved and needed that one-on-one time together. 

And second, it was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be. It doesn't require any preparation, or even any thought, from me. My kids are the ones who decide what to do, and, for the most part, I always agree to it. That's part of what has made special time such a success: they know that this is their chance to get me to jump on the trampoline or play chess or do any number of activities I would normally avoid. (There have been some really bizarre ones, too, like the time Maxwell had me watch him slide down the stairs on his knees, and every time he came back up to the top, I had to read him a Shel Silverstein poem. What??????)

Ralphie advocates doing special time every day, but I knew if I did that, it would become a burden rather than a joy. I would constantly feel like I was falling short because, let's be honest, even fifteen minutes can be difficult to find on some days, and when you multiply that by several times, it becomes close to impossible. And I don't think it would just feel that way for me. I think my kids would get burned out if we attempted to squeeze it into every day. It also would lose some of its intrigue and specialness if it was happening so often.

The other thing is, even though we're only having that dedicated one-on-one time once a week, we spend time together in many other ways: reading aloud at night, working on piano pieces, having conversations in the car, working on homework, running, watching a movie, or going on adventures as a family. We might only do special time once during the week, but that doesn't mean we aren't spending other quality time together.

So this is how it works for us: Sometime during the week, when I have an open chunk of time, I ask one of my kids if he wants to do special time. Nine times out of ten, we seem to do it on Sunday because we're just less scheduled and busy on that day. I ask him what he wants to do and almost always agree to his request. There really are only two rules when it comes to the chosen activities: it can't involve any kind of screen, and it has to fit into the fifteen-minute time frame (so, no climbing Mt. Olympus). I then set a timer for fifteen minutes, and we begin. (The timer, I discovered, is a very important component of special time. One time I didn't set it with Clark because I had a lot of free time and didn't think there was any reason to cut us off at fifteen minutes. He got very upset and said it couldn't be special time if I didn't set the timer. I guess having it timed actually makes it feel more special, not less. It's one more way I'm showing them that this is their time. I'm carving it out just for them and setting a timer so the whole world (or at least the whole family) will know that this time is off limits for anyone else.)

The two most popular choices for special time are playing a game or reading a book, but we have done all of the following:

1. Go on a walk
2. Jump on the trampoline
3. Color a picture
4. Cut out snowflakes
5. Fold origami
6. Get a back rub
7. Play duets on the piano
8. Have a dance party
9. Play a game (Yahtzee, Labyrinth, Tenzies, Skip Bo, and Hoot Owl Hoot are favorites)
10. Put together a puzzle
11. Read: a picture book, poetry, one chapter, or a magazine
12. Make slime
13. Sculpt play dough or silly putty
14. Bake a treat
15. Make a free-form craft (see photo below)
16. Pretend play with playmobil or other little figures
17. Relax in the hammock
18. Build Legos
19. Play laser tag
20. Go on a bike ride
21. Play basketball
22. Listen to music
23. Draw a picture
24. Swing
25. Do perler beads

Special time has produced moments I never would have had with my kids otherwise. One time, Maxwell got out a stack of paper and explained that we would give each other drawing prompts, and then we would both have to draw it. I can't even draw a decent stick figure, so I was immediately out of my comfort zone, but I did it. I think Max might have come up with it specifically to test me: was I willing to do something I didn't like to do? For him?

Another time, special time came a day after a big argument with Aaron. He requested a back rub, and that provided a quiet moment where I could apologize and we could discuss the situation that had initiated the argument, but this time in a calm and safe way. We ended our fifteen minutes with good feelings restored and better communication in place.

One afternoon, Clark asked to jump on the trampoline. This is not my favorite activity (read: I've had five babies). But as we jumped around, I saw his little creative spirit in full light and I just basked in it. He is so fun-loving, and we laughed and laughed while showing off our cool moves. It was one time where I distinctly remember thinking, I would have missed this if not for special time.

The quote that has most impacted my 2018 and been a guiding force in all of my decisions has been this one by Elder Richard G. Scott: "In quiet moments when you think about it, you recognize what is critically important and what isn't. Be wise and don't let good things crowd out those that are essential." I have had many inward conflicts about how to best use my time and how to know which things are the most essential, but my dedication to special time has been a clear choice: those fifteen minutes are precious, even sacred, to me, and I won't let anything else take their place. 


  1. I like this a lot, Amy. I had seen giving kids daily "me time" as advice in a book that I read (I think it was The Me, Me, Me Epidemic" and we tried, but doing it daily was just too hard (and felt like a burden, as you noted above). But weekly... that's a good idea. Thanks!

  2. I love the once a week idea! I read in a book once about doing it daily too and I tried that for a bit and was overwhelmed so I'll have to try once a week.

  3. I love this idea - the one day a week makes it feel do-able to me. I've read and heard that 15 minutes a day per kid is really important but when I've tried it doesn't work and is very challenging. I could do this though! And plan to start this weekend.

  4. I love everything about this! Thank you so much for sharing :)

  5. I'm with Clark. The timer makes it special! (Great pictures, as usual.)

  6. I was literally crying by the last paragraph. So touching... and maybe I'm a bit tired from cleaning up vomit since 2 AM so my emotions are a little close to the surface. I loved it because I am pretty consistent with my boys at doing this but my girls get home so late and the rest of our time is so rushed. But they need it the most since they see me the least! Loved it. I've been struck by a lightening bolt!


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