mom and child playing blocks on the floor (special time)I don’t read parenting articles. It’s not a strict philosophy, really, but more of a general laziness thing. I’d rather pick up sage parenting advice from those who aren’t as lazy. Like my friend who recently told me about “special time” and how just five minutes could make a kid happier and less prone to tantrums. My 3-year-old, normally good-natured, had been a bit of a monster lately. “Tell me more,” I said.

The idea is to give each of your children attention for five minutes a day while following a few golden rules:

1. Your attention must be given proactively. (If your kid is melting down, it’s already too late.)

2) Your attention must be undivided. (No multi-tasking; no checking your phone.)

3) The activity must be child-driven. (They get to choose, and as long as the choice doesn’t involve knife throwing or jumping off the roof, you have to acquiesce. As they say in improv, just say, “Yes.”)

So I thought I’d give it a try, and not just with the moody 3-year-old but also with my 5-year-old and the baby, too. How hard could it be to give each girl just five minutes?

I started with Eve, my 3-year-old who, admittedly, sometimes gets the short straw. A classic middle, she’s often in the shadow of bossy big sister or needy little sister. “Hey Eve, let’s do something fun. Whatever you want.” She looked at me suspiciously, and I knew I’d tried to make helping me fold laundry “fun” one too many times. “Really,” I assured her. “Whatever you want.”

Well, it turns out what Eve wanted more than anything else was to throw all the couch cushions on the living room floor, grab a couple stuffies, and pretend we were all babies riding in the car to Story Land, stopping intermittently to pee and poop along the way. So I checked my pride and crouched like the best of them, much to Eve’s delight.

Of course, three minutes into our journey, big sister Sloane wandered into the room, wondering what all the giggling was about. Eve’s face fell, and I knew she sensed the end of her special time with mama. So I gently shooed Sloane away, trying to explain that I was giving Eve some special attention but it would be her turn soon.

Yeah, that didn’t go over well. Sloane stomped off to her room, yelling something incoherent about “not fair” and leaving me to contemplate how I had preserved one child’s special time at the expense of another. Oh well, no time for such deep ponderings now. Back to crouching.

At the end of five minutes (or maybe it was seven — we lost track in all our laughing), Eve was clearly in a good place, so thrilled to have been holding the reins on our play. Of course she wanted it to continue, but she responded surprisingly well when I suggested she build with Magna-Tiles while I checked on Sloane. Could it be working already?

Time to test it with big sister. I found Sloane pouting in her room, but she was quick to bounce back when I announced it was her turn for special time. “Whatever I want?” she repeated with a gleam in her eye. I nodded nervously, my mind racing with ideas of what she might make me do. Glue. Glitter. Baking something complicated with a million ingredients. My eldest daughter, so smart and thoughtful, knows all my weaknesses.

It turns out Sloane simply wanted an audience. We spent the five minutes in her room, Sloane performing her latest songs from music class, me chiming in when told, dancing when told, applauding when told. It was pretty easy, really. And I didn’t have to coat myself in glitter.

I saved the agreeable baby for last. When Tess woke up from her nap, I scattered pillows around the room, laid down in the middle, and let her take the lead. She started by practicing her new skill of sitting, which, let’s admit it, can be a bit boring for anyone other than the baby.

Two minutes in, I was itching to check email on my phone. Normally, I’d take a quick peek while hanging out with Tess, but I knew that was against the golden rules. So I left the phone holstered in my pocket, focusing instead on Tess’s funny little half-cough, half-laugh as she rocked forward on a pillow.

Making her way to me, she smiled and laid her head on my stomach. It turns out Tess’s choice of activities was to snuggle. Now that I can do.

So what did I learn from this exercise? That when you have more than one child (and a smartphone), giving each kid undivided attention can be challenging — sometimes nearly impossible. But it’s worth it — to really hear their giggles, to watch their faces light up when performing, to fully immerse yourself in a cuddle.

Now for the real challenge? To do it again tomorrow.

Jessie Keppeler
A Maine native, Jessie migrated down the coast to Boston after college, and it’s been home ever since. She has lived in various corners of the city — from Allston and Brighton to Newbury Street and then Jamaica Plain — before settling in Brookline with her husband and three daughters. As much as she loves home now, she also likes to leave occasionally: recent family travels include Italy, Belize, and Washington D.C. Jessie writes with a cat curled up nearby and a dog at her feet. And a cup of coffee. Always.


  1. Jessie!! Thrilled to have found your writing. I really love this idea and have been trying to be much better about putting the phone away. My son is prone to frequent meltdowns so I will give this a try but am a bit nervous about what he may choose!! Do you have a blog where you post regularly?

  2. Hi Kara! Haha, I know what you mean about being nervous about what your son might choose for an activity… my friend’s son demanded that they make a cardboard boat to float in the bathtub (and so it quickly disintegrated, but whatever). I’ve been practicing the “5 minutes” as much as possible, though, and it does seem to work, at least sometimes… Anyway, this is where I post, twice-monthly, so I appreciate you reading along!! And always nice to get the feedback. 🙂

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