The Power of “Special Time” With Your Kids

My kids and I are in Virginia with my parents right now. 

Every summer, we come for out about four weeks. It started a few summers ago, when my husband was doing some major renovations on our house. We needed to be out of the house for many weeks, so we came to Virginia. My husband joined us for part of the time, but mostly the kids and I enjoyed summer at my parents’ house and came home to a beautifully renovated home!

One of the best things about spending this chunk of time with my parents is that, with their help, I am able to devote more one-on-one time with each of my kids. Whereas back in Seattle, I have to arrange for short shots of attention for each of my kids, here I can take them one at a time for longer stretches.

Today, I took my four-year-old out for lunch. We parked at a shopping center and I let him pick the place. We got our food and I let him pick our seats. He chose to sit outside at a little cafe table.

After only a few minutes of sitting there with our food, my son noticed a stink bug on the ground under our table. I would have totally missed it, but he spotted it and pointed it out. For the next forty-five minutes or so, we followed that stink bug as it crawled around on the ground and then, eventually, up the window of the restaurant. He and I would return to the table to take a bite of food and then head right back to “his” stink bug. We studied it up close, talking about it’s amazing little legs, and how fast it was moving and how cool it was that it could walk right up a glass window. We also talked about how cool it would be if we could climb up walls like a stink bug, or like Gecko (from PJ Masks). We laughed together and allowed our imaginations to go wild together. 

It was so much fun.

My four-year-old is the youngest of our four children. He has watched many children come and go from our home, and he has handled it incredibly well. But he has to share my divided attention most of the time, so these one-on-one times, which we call “Special Time,” are precious to us both.

I wanted to share this today to encourage you to do what you can to give your children small chunks (15 minutes or so) of your undivided attention every day, and to make arrangements for longer chunks (going out for lunch, to a movie, out for ice cream, or—one of our favorites—to a thrift store’s toy section) on weekly or bi-weekly basis.

When you do, keep these things in mind to make the most of your Special Time:

  • Look for ways to empower them (they get to choose the game, restaurant, seats, movie, etc.) 
  • Put your phone away and out of sight so you can practice “fully present parenting” (except maybe to take a photo of “his” stink bug!) 
  • Engage them in conversation at their level. Click here for some Preschooler Conversation Starters. Click here for some older child conversation starters.
  • Treat them to a small gift. Perhaps a toy from the thrift store or a coin for a candy machine. I routinely say “no” to those coin-operated M&M machines, so when I hand him a quarter and point to the M&M machine, you’d think he just won the lottery!

All children need attention, opportunities to be empowered and deep connections with their caregivers. But children in foster care need this even more. I cannot emphasize strongly enough how far this practice goes with kids who have experienced trauma and neglect! If you practice “Special Time” with your kids, I’d love to know what that looks like for you! Please share below!

Tips for Traveling With Kids, Part 4: Entertainment and Plenty of Extra Time

This is Part Four of a series on traveling with children. Click here for Part One, here for Part Two, and here for Part Three.

Photo by Alphacolor on Unsplash

When we first started traveling, I packed so much stuff for the kids to do en route. Coloring books and crayons, story books, tactile toys, cars, and more filled my “activities bag.” I would get to the end of our journey with sore shoulders from the extra weight and sweat on my brow from feverishly trying to collect toys and crayons that had rolled around the floor of the airplane before deplaning.

Eventually, I wised up and recognized that for everything there is a season, including a season for unlimited screen time!

Tablets and headphones. Our kids do not get a lot of screen time at home. So when we travel, I let them gorge themselves on movies.

During a great sale a few years ago, my husband bought two Amazon Fire tablets* for around $35 a piece (they are currently regularly priced at $49.99). We also have an old iPhone, and I bought extra storage on SD cards (again, on sale). Since we are already Amazon Prime members, I can download movies and TV shows to each tablet. The kids can swap tablets for more variety if we are on a long trip.

I have also loaded a few games and a reading app, which the kids love exploring (since they rarely have unfettered access to tablets!) These tablets are not connected to the internet when the kids are using them—everything they have access to is curated by me and downloaded for use offline.

Give yourself plenty of time and leave room for stops. If we are driving, and the GPS says it should take us four hours, I allow six. If we do a potty stop and ten minutes later someone needs to stop again, no problem! We’ve got all the time in the world! When it’s time for lunch, we use Yelp to try to find a fast food place that has a play area. Does it make lunch take longer? You betcha. But the kids play and are often ready for a car nap when we hit the road again.

If we are flying, I try to get to the airport more than two hours early so we do not have to feel rushed through security and so that the children can meander through the airport. Nothing kills the fun like screaming at a little child to “run!” because you’re afraid you’re going to miss your flight! Some airports, like SEA-TAC, have play areas in side, which our kids love. It’s a great chance for kids to blow off some steam before boarding a plane. But you need a solid margin of time to do it.

Easy Does It. We have to remember that, as stressful as traveling can be for parents, it can be even more stressful for children. So it’s up to us to make it fun and stress-free as much as possible. Practice some mindfulness ahead of time to help you be prepared to go easy on the kids if they’re not moving as quickly as you’d like. There is so much to see in an airport! Riding in a car can be so boring for a child! We need to practice giving our kids extra grace when we’re traveling and build in as much opportunity for us all to rest and refresh as possible.

My daughter took her first solo steps at ORD. Before she turned three, she insisted on managing her own rolling suitcase and backpack.

In these four posts, I’ve shared some of the things that have helped us make traveling fun for our kids. What would you add? Please share your feedback below!

*Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” [Disclaimer Credit: Michael Hyatt]

Tips for Traveling With Kids, Part 3: Snacks! Snacks! Snacks!

This is Part Three of a series on traveling with children. Click here for Part One and here for Part Two.

One of my kids’ favorite things about traveling is that each child gets her or his own “snack box” to enjoy during the trip. Whether we are flying or driving, at the start of our journey I hand out the snacks.

The snacks are generally well-balanced and high in protein. In many of the workshops I’ve taken over the years on parenting non-neurotypical children or children who are easily dysregulated have emphasized that our kids need plenty of protein and hydration. And this makes perfect sense, if you consider the research on which foods promote brain health.

For example, a recent flight snack box I packed had hard boiled eggs, cheese sticks, apple slices, blueberries, orange slices, and almonds. (Someone commented on my Instagram post of that snack box that eggs are stinky on planes. That has not been my experience, but use your best judgement on that 🙂 If you are flying, it’s important to remember the TSA rules about liquids in your carry-on. Avoid applesauce, for example, and go for apple slices (which are healthier anyway!) If you are driving, you can get away with fruit pouches. Other great snack box items include pepperoni, grapes, granola bars, and pretzels.

Each child also has her or his own water bottle. (When we are flying, we all carry empty water bottles through the TSA security check point, and once we’re through security, our next stop is the bathroom and drinking fountains.) Tip: rather than using nice, store-bought water bottles, reuse plastic drink containers you will not miss if they get left on the plane! I saved a bunch of Gatorade bottles after a recent school event and washed them out to use as water bottles. If one gets left behind, no biggie! (We have left water bottles on a plane once or twice!)

Healthy snacks are important, but the real treat for the kids is the other part of their snacks: candy bags! If you’re sensing a theme here, you’re right! Food is a big part of making traveling fun! Because we don’t give the kids much candy on a regular basis, I pull out all the stops when we travel. Does this mean my kids are all jacked up on sugar when we’re up in the air? In theory, yes, but in my experience, it has never been a problem. Their candy bags include things like M&Ms, fruit snacks, jelly beans, lollipops, and sugar free gum. They love getting their candy bags! (Of course!)

Giving each child their own snacks at the start of the trip is a great way to empower them. They get to be in charge of their own food, and they get to decide when and how they will eat their snacks. For example, one of my kids starts eating as soon as we buckle our seatbelts, and he keeps going until all of the food is gone. Another child can go the entire trip and only consume a lollipop. That’s OK! They’re in charge of their snacks, and they love the autonomy and independence they enjoy.

In my next post, I’ll share more on traveling with kids. Meanwhile, what are some of your favorite travel snacks?