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  • Dr. Amber Ufford

What to do when 5 minutes of Special Play Time just isn’t “enough”?

Updated: Feb 27

So often, I hear families (especially those in PCIT) say that the 5 minutes of playing just isn’t “enough” for their child. What is supposed to be a fun, special activity between parent and child can sometimes end in a tantrum or tears.

Child crying in front of dinosaur toys.

What to do depends on the “why” of the situation. There might be several reasons why ending special time is challenging for your child:

  • Your child may be avoiding or postponing the next task. (This is especially common for some kids when bedtime occurs immediately after special time)

  • There may be a case of sibling jealousy occurring.

  • The activity is taking too long to set up and play within the 5-minute time frame.

  • There has been a lot of traveling or bouts of illness getting in the way of consistent special time practice. This may cause children to feel uncertain about when they can expect it again.

  • They really just find the special play time with you to be, well, special and not want it to end!

While that last point is really sweet (and just a testament to how powerful your parent attention and attachment can be!), the resulting meltdown is pretty sour.

Here are some expert tips to make ending special time easier:

  • Make special time as consistent and predictable as possible. Commit to trying to practice special time daily so that your child knows they will always get it.

  • Ensure that your focus during special play time is entirely on your child. Put your phone away, turn off the TV, and if possible have another caretaker spend the next 5 minutes with your other child (or pet).

  • Make special time part of the routine by doing it around the same time of day. This is especially helpful for children with ADHD, since routines and predictability can help regulate behavior.

  • Make sure to set up the play area with CDI-approved toys before inviting your child to play, so that the entire 5 minutes can be focused on just play.

  • Try keeping “special time” toys and activities separate from regular toys and storing them in special bins, so they are easy to bring out and put away.

  • Try having special time in a different room than their bedroom or playroom to minimize distractions offered by other toys or activities.

  • Use a visual time (I love the Time Timer and the timer from the Lovevery Investigator Kit) so your child can track just how much is left, which can help with the transition.

  • Provide a transition warning and let them know what to expect: “I have loved building with the Legos with you! We have one more minute of special time left, but you can keep playing by yourself if you want once special time is over.”

  • Have a planned activity scheduled for after special time (use in combination with transition warning): “I have loved building with the Legos with you! We have one more minute of special time left. After special time is over, you can keep playing by yourself if you want, or you can clean up. I’m going to get started on dinner.”

  • If your child is a bit older or prefers more advanced special time activities, adjust the time to 10 minutes a day to allow for deeper and more complex play.

  • Use co-regulation skills to soothe your child and help ease the transition to ending special time. This might mean rubbing their back and giving a hug, validating their feelings, and modeling taking deep breaths.

  • Praise your child for playing independently whenever you notice it happening, which should make the transition out of Special Time with you a bit easier.

Mother and daughter hugging in front of artwork.

I hope these tips are helpful in troubleshooting your Special Play Time with your child!

(Note: I am a Lovevery Ambassador. If these kits interest you, you can use my code LOVEAMBER40 to get $40 off a new play kit subscription.)

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