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(204) Making it Easier to Play and Build Connection with Our Kids

Playing with our kids has all sorts of mental health benefits for your family — but let's be real, it can be hard to do.
As adults, it can be really hard to access that "inner child" that can relax, get imaginative and silly, and On top of that, playing games with young kids can be frustrating: you're told you're doing it "wrong" so often you don't know how to do it right, or you're just flat-out bored because you cannot make yourself love Floor is Lava, or playing Minecraft makes you nauseous.
Not to mention the fact that whatever you do doesn't feel like enough to them — they always want more time, and the whining and sadness that results sometimes makes it feel like you never want to do it ever again.
It's hard to make yourself do something you don't like to do, especially because we get hardly any time to ourselves. And then, of course, many of us feel guilt for not playing (or not enjoying it).
If you struggle to play with your kids, you're not alone.
The truth is, if playtime were fun, it would be of benefit to both your child and you. But that "if" is a really big IF. Today, Danielle and Sara talk about the mental health benefits of connecting with your kids, and the method they came up with to make it more structured and fun.
Sara Olsher 0:00
Hello friends and welcome back to the raising resilience podcast. I am Sara and I am here with Danielle Bettmann, the parenting support coordinator, for mighty and bright and parenting coach at parent wholeheartedly. And we are talking today about building connection with your kids. And this is one of the months of our raising Resilience Program - it is month four - and it is a favorite of both of ours. And so we're really excited to talk to you about it.

Danielle Bettmann 0:24

Sara Olsher 0:24
So we, we both of us have kind of bonded over some of the research that backs up that quality time is more important than the quantity of time that you spend with your kids. And basically, that we don't as parents need to feel pressured to play Barbies for an hour and a half every day, in order for our kids to have full cups and feel like good about your relationship. It's way easier than that. And there's a concept, or there's something that people talk about called special time, which you may have heard about. And basically, it's the idea that your child gets to choose the activity and then you do it for 15 minutes. And there's like no boundaries on this. So if your kid — I mean safety, obviously, like they want to jump out of an airplane, that's probably not good, special time. But you know, if they wanted to play the floor is lava for 15 minute, you basically just need to suck it up and do it.

And one of the things that Danielle and I both feel really passionate about is parents' mental health, in addition to kids mental health, because if there is something ... we just don't live in a society that makes parenting easy for the vast majority of us, we are overburdened by taking care of ourselves and our families by working sometimes multiple jobs by having multiple kids.

And these types of recommendations that are hard for parents are...they're not good for our mental health. And if they're not good for our mental health, not only should we not be doing it, but it's not realistic, honestly. And so when we started talking about this protective factor of having quality time with a parent, we wanted to come up with a way to do this that was sustainable for both parents and kids. Because I am a single mom, and working full time, I just did not have it in me a lot of the time, especially when my daughter was younger, and I had two hours of commuting on top of everything... to just emotionally engage in what, let's be real, could be a not very pleasant task. Like my daughter when she was like five was extremely opinionated about the right way to play. And it was like 15 minutes of her being like, Oh, you're doing it wrong, you're doing it wrong. And I was like, I'm tired.

Danielle Bettmann 3:27
I know, right?

Sara Olsher 3:29
Let's talk a little bit about our version of special time about what the benefits are of doing this.

Danielle Bettmann 3:37
Yeah, let's do it. Yes, yes. Oh, my gosh, I would talk about this all day. So rein it in. And that was another reason why we had connected was because I had you on my podcast. And then a month later, I was working with a lot of clients that have three kids. And a lot of times when the third sibling enters the picture, then the other two have behaviors that are acting out for attention or control because they are just feeling a little bit unstable in their relationship with their parent, because their parent, understandably, is dealing with a lot of you know, feeding and changing and sleeping and all the things. And so everybody just feels a little bit like the rock has been shifted, or the boats been rocked. I don't my analogies are not on point today. But the main thing that I want to help the parents be able to communicate to their kids is of course, you are still very important in our family. Of course, it is still important to me to be able to have some time with you every day. And you know, I see you for who you are, and I love getting to spend time with you. I just don't have as much and so let's make the most of what we have. And let's maximize those little bursts of time by being able to call it something special, being able to have some strict kind of boundaries around it where I'm not distracted. You know, siblings aren't around and we get to do something that's mutually fun for all have us.

And so I had written up a little book. And I was asking Sara about self publishing. And she was like, How about let's do something even better. And so here we are, like a year and a half later, with this whole subscription. But the special time cards has been something that has been super near and dear to my heart. Because the families I work with feel really guilty. They feel really guilty for the amount of time that they have with their kids and the quality of that time because they're either always on their phone or needing to multitask or just like feeling pulled and torn in a million directions. And they want to be able to sit down and play for three hours and play Barbies, but they they won't admit to anyone - let alone themselves - that they don't like playing, pretend to play or they don't enjoy playing some of the things that their kids enjoy. And that just makes them feel like a bad parent. And then they kind of sit with that. And it propels the cycle, because then when they try, their child can feel that vibe of like their parent doesn't want to be there. And then that ends up with them not feeling satisfied with that amount of time that they got. And so they become more clingy. And then the parent becomes more resentful, and it just creates a really vicious cycle.

So being able to give parents the permission to kind of pre qualify what they are in the mood to be up for, as they spend that time with their child really empowers them to not only be able to advocate for their own needs, but create really successful opportunities for play with their kids where they do get to laugh and connect and know that whatever they're doing is for 15 minutes, and then they'll be able to get up and start dinner or whatever they need to do unapologetically. And that's really important for again, that parents mental health to be able to overflow to their child's mental health, because they're both getting their needs met.

Sara Olsher 6:52
I love that. It's interesting, because I think as parents, it's kind of hard for us to access that part of ourselves. It's like carefree. And like enjoys play, it kind of takes, it takes a bit. And one of the things that we developed basically, if you don't know about the special time cards, they are color coded activities that you can do with your kids. And they are themed based on what your energy level is. So if you have just worked a ton and you're exhausted, you should offer them a few blue cards, which are chill, you know, if you're feeling creative, you can offer them the art cards, if you're feeling more active, you can offer them, you know, different cards. And basically it allows you to it allows you to get them to feel powerful in that they are getting to choose the activity, but you are like being able to prequalify it basically by saying I'm willing to do this for the next 15 minutes. And I can see myself getting on board with doing this for 15 minutes. And that way you are it's something that you're both consenting to and and it can actually make you enjoy playing with your kids more.

Danielle and I are now friends with a Instagram, Aurora, Instagram and Tiktok influencer, KC Davis, who... her whole thing is all about, you know, helping people deal with like the day to day care tasks when they're feeling like really... if they have ADHD, they're neurodivergent in some way or they're dealing with mental health issues. And there are so many of us parents that are dealing with our own mental health issues.

Her hack for using the special time cards was so illuminating for me and it made me wish even more that I had had these when my daughter was younger and still interested in playtime. Basically when she feels under stimulated by an activity, ie she got sick of doing it, she she then says in a very excited voice, like let's pick another card. And then our kid is like oh yay. And then she's like, I went for like an hour and a half playing with my kid and had like a genuinely fun time. Because I was able to stop the activity when I was finding myself just done. And then to be able to have that 15 minutes of qu ality time or longer if you do what KC did is so impactful for your kid to know that you have fun playing with them, but also to have these boundaries on let's talk a little bit about like the boundaries around special time and what makes it so powerful and different than like okay, We're gonna go out for a treat, or we're gonna just like randomly play stuffed animals before bedtime.

Danielle Bettmann 10:05
Yes, yes. So I love to explain those differences to my clients as well, because you can be in the same room as your kids all day. And you can be in the same room like working from home alongside your partner all day. But that does not necessarily translate to the feeling of being connected in that relationship, or the needs of that relationship being met and nourished. Those are two different things. So proximity and closeness are do not always translate because you want to be able to connect and truly, you know, talk and have fun together. And so we need structure to set that up. And, you know, we feel like that should be natural, or that should be just something that falls into our routine. Or looks like, you know, ice cream and ice cream dates are great.

But the difference maker is when our kids really do understand the expectations around that time, and that we are prioritizing them. And we are protecting that time. So that it is something that not only is on our calendar alongside all the other urgent things, you know, like work and home tasks, and that they're up there with, you know, the big leagues, but also, it's something that they can look forward to and anticipate, and that they can count on it. And know when the next time is, they always want to know when is the next time you know, we get to do this together. And when it's very unpredictable or sporadic. You don't know the answer to that. And so then that's, that is kind of feel feeling like when you have date setup where you have a babysitter coming every single Thursday, you feel a lot more safe in your relationship, knowing that you're going to have the time to have these important conversations as opposed to, you know, we had a babysitter once and we may not again for months. So that makes me feel like I need to I have something important to say I need to say it now. Or I'm gonna forget or I'm never going to have the opportunity.

And so for your kids to always know that they have the opportunity to be able to connect with you on an almost daily basis is really powerful just for the message that it sends them, but also the factor of kind of the unconditional love that you have for them. It shows up when it is a non negotiable, it is not something that you that they have to earn. And it's not something that you can take away based on their behavior for the day. Because let's be honest, if they had a hard day, that's probably the day that they needed the most.

Sara Olsher 12:30
Whoo, yes, that reminds me of that quote that says "kids are not giving you a hard time, they are having a hard time." And it's hard. I think, especially on those days where your child is having a hard time and you are kind of at the end of your rope. Like you probably don't really want to spend like that 15 minutes with your kid because they're annoying you and that's okay. Can we normalize that?!

Danielle Bettmann 12:59
That's totally normal.

Sara Olsher 13:01
It is okay to not want to spend time with your kids because they have been really irritating that day.

Danielle Bettmann 13:06
Yeah, you're a human.

Sara Olsher 13:06
However also recognizing that, that's when you putting that 15 minutes of time in is going to have a really big payoff.

Danielle Bettmann 13:19
And it doesn't have to look the way that feels most miserable to you. Like can can look like you know, playing with Snapchat filters or laying on the couch, you know, like flipping through old photos or it can be something that's way more chill, because you don't have the energy today. And you get to dictate that because it's going to make it 10 times more successful than them dragging you to play hide and seek when there's nothing you'd rather do less.

Sara Olsher 13:47
Yeah, I think that's a really good point. And that's actually the reason why we created some blank cards for each category because every family is different. And you know, for some families like playing catch is the thing that they do all the time. And maybe we don't have a card for playing catch. And so you can put it in there. Or maybe your family is way more of like a chill family and you know, you're much more likely to want to do something with your kids if it is playing with Snapchat filters or whatever.

And honestly, like no judgement about playing with Snapchat filters or whatever. Like whatever is fun if playing Minecraft with your kid is all they want to do. You know add that as an option sometimes but also don't feel pressure to be like to do it and we're gonna do it every single time because you can just say to them, You know what, we've played Minecraft the last three special times and let's do something different and and we can play Minecraft again, you know, into times or next time or whatever. You don't yet like putting up boundaries like that is beneficial for both you and your kid because they need to learn that they don't get to walk all over everybody and choose everything all the time. Yes, you need and that you have needs to, and you're sharing them with your kids builds their empathy. So that's good.

Yeah, I was my mind was blown when I learned the definition of entitlement is believing that your needs trump everyone else's. And how we tend to perpetuate that sense of entitlement inadvertently in our kids, when we do let their needs trump ours for years, when that's it may be legit enough to kind of make that concession. But then we never stop when there are capabilities to be able to kind of rebalance that dynamic out. And you know, it's not like they ever give us like the green light, like, Okay, I'm at a self sufficient place now that I can wait for you to take care of yourself, or, you know, like, go ahead and do that. Now. We have to kind of assert ourselves, which is uncomfortable, or we haven't had the permission or the modeling to know what that looks like. But when you are just able to know that that's important, not only for yourself, but truly in the example for your kids to have just helping them see you for being a person that does have a separate life experience and does have their own needs. It helps create a more well rounded human being that's going to recognize that and others as well. So it's important to remind yourself of and give you a little pep talk, but it's okay.

Yeah, it is a totally good thing to do. I think it's funny, because I think as when your kids are little, like really little, it's hard to recognize when they are actually capable of doing things themselves, because we're so used to doing everything for them. And, you know, my mind was totally blown when I realized that my daughter was old enough to shower herself when she was five. I was like, Why didn't I think of this? And I told my girlfriend, she was like, what? And now her kids are showering themselves. And we're both like, oh, this time?

Danielle Bettmann 17:06
No, yeah, like, we wish that there was just a little like notification that went off, like they are now ready.

Sara Olsher 17:16
And you can now get their own cereal in the morning. But I think I think kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for in so many different ways. And in the more power that you can give them to do things and to make mistakes. Doing those things, you may end up with milk all over the floor once or twice, but they feel capable to be able to do things for themselves make their own sandwich, you know, whatever it is, as long as it's healthy. I mean, not dangerous. Like, why wouldn't you want to give them that power? It gives you some some time for yourself. And, you know, it empowers them. So super positive things.

Danielle Bettmann 17:59
Yes, yes, special time is a win. Win Win Win

Sara Olsher 18:02
Absolutely. I think the reason why, you know, in, in this month on building connection, we include this one tool, the special time cards, because we know that getting into the habit of something new can be kind of difficult. But the thing that happens once you get that into your routine, and if you have the routine chart to like literally add it into your child's routine is that you both start to realize the benefit of doing it and then it's a want to instead of a need to.

Danielle Bettmann 18:38
Yes, yep. Yep, sometimes you have to like fake it until you make it a little bit, you know, to like do the practice, but then it becomes much more of like the family that you are, rather than the family you wish to be.

Sara Olsher 18:54
Ooh love that. Love that. And again, this is you get to choose what it is that you are doing. This is not like working out where you're like, I don't like to run, and I don't ever want to do it. I don't have to write myself every time. This is like, let's make this enjoyable for everybody. Right?

Danielle Bettmann 19:15
Yes, totally doable.

Sara Olsher 19:17
Thank you so much for joining us today. If you have any questions about building connection with your kids or about special time, feel free to ask us we've made it so that you can ask questions on the podcast. If you go to You can click on the button that says ask a question and we will answer it for you. Thank you so much for being here with us tonight and we will talk to you next time.