Special Time (Part 3 of 3)

In the last of our series, we look at creating safety and setting limits.

Creating Safety
Although Special Time is about giving your child a chance for self expression and self control, this kind of freedom is only beneficial if it also feels safely contained.

We create safety by:· Sharing our own sense of safety (eg feeling calm ourselves)· Setting healthy limits and boundaries which are consistent and create a predictable environment.
Limits should be set to:1. Protect the child and others from harm2. To prevent damage to items of value3. To maintain comfort for both child and parent4. To create consistency

Process for limit setting
1. On first occasion:· Acknowledge what is happening for the child, do this with a voice that conveys understanding and calm. Eg. “You think it would be funny to rub the playdough into the carpet”· Communicate what the limit is in a non-judgement and clear way “playdough isn’t allowed on the carpet· Target acceptable alternatives “you can rub the playdough into this cardboard instead”.This process allows the child to understand their own motivations and feelings, and lets them know that this is accepted and understood by the parent. By giving the child an alternative, they are able to express that desire in a way which is acceptable.
2. If the rule is broken a second time give a warning : “remember the playdough isn’t allowed on the carpet. If you use the playdough on the carpet again, we will stop playdough playing for today” OR “don’t kick me, if you do it again I will need to end our play time”.
3. Follow through on the consequence, do this in a calm and non-judgemental way. “Remember I asked you not to kick me, we’re ending play time today. You can try again tomorrow”.

Ending play time
Ending playtime is another opportunity to create a sense of predictability and routine. · Do provide plenty of warning, provide a 5 minute warning and then a 1 minute warning.· After play time let the child know play time is over and stand up.· If the child refuses to leave, acknowledge how they are feeling and provide something positive to shift toward (eg time to choose a snack)· Special time is special, sometimes it is better for the parent to clean up after special time rather than the child. Imaging you had just created a great artwork, it would be hard to break it up after! The child can choose to pack up if they like, you could say: “After special time you can choose to pack up, or we can do it together. There is no right or wrong answer, what would you like to do today”. (Note: This doesn’t apply to the rest of the day though!)

Want an example?
There are some great examples of using different forms of special time on the internet. Here are a couple of video examples:··· can also ask your therapist for advice if you would like general guidance and advice. If you want further information about child directed play therapy, please refer to for a referral to a registered play therapist.

Eugster, K. (2007). Special play time – an important way for parents to spent time with their children. Retrieved from, S., Landreth, G., Kellam, T., & Blackard, S.R. (2006). “Special play time” what is it and how can it help?. In Child Parent Relationship Therapy (CPRT) Treatment Manual: A 10-Session Filial Therapy Model for Training Parents. New York: Routledge. Retrieved from

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