Special Time (Part 2 of 3)

Our last Post took you through what Special Time was and the benefits, now we look at the important thing, how to make it happen!

How to do it:

In special time, it is our child’s chance to take the lead and be in control of the play (safely). Special time has multiple variations, but the description here is based on concepts from Child Directed Play Therapy.


Start by setting aside a specific time of day to do special time, this should happen at least once a week for 30 minutes, but more frequently is better. Let your child know what to expect, and set some basic ground rules:

“We’re going to play however you like for the next 30 minutes, I will give you a 5 minute warning towards the end to let you know we’re nearly finished playing. Whilst we’re playing you have to stay on the mat and you can’t hurt me or break your toys”

Provide only the limits required to support your child (eg if your child typically does not break toys, there is no need to introduce this here).

Set up the environment so that there is a small selection of toys for the child to play with, sometimes less toys is easier for children than having too many options available.
Put away distractions, eg put your phone on silent in another room, ask others in the house to stay away.

During play time:

During special play time it is our child’s chance to be the leader. This can be tough, especially if we are used to providing lots of direction and support. How do we let the child become the leader:

· Become a describer not a director – rather than giving suggestion, asking questions or giving advice, simply reflect back what your child is doing “your pushing the car”. You can also describe emotions to help your child make sense of how they are feeling, and to acknowledge their play “you laughed when the toy fell over” or “the doll is angry that she can’t find her bag”.

· Support self-direction – rather than automatically joining in your child’s play, sit back and just describe what they are doing. If they ask you to join in by acknowledging it and checking in with them that you are following their play before acting “you would like me to cut the paper here?”. Sometimes your child will ask you for advice, for example they might ask you what to play with first. Respond by saying “you can choose what you would like to start with” or “you’re not sure where to start”. If your child is stuck or pushes for a response you can give a simple answer “you could start with the blocks or cars”

· Encourage, don’t praise – Praise is a form of evaluation letting our children we know we approve of what they are doing. Special time is an opportunity for children to be truly-self directed, so avoid praise. Instead objectively describe what’s happening “you made those things balance” or “you’ve nearly finished putting the paint on” “I can see you’re trying hard to make those stick together.” Some variations of special play time from other forms of therapy will include praise, so do what feels right for your family and your goals.

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