For kids, summertime can be a respite from the pressures of school, a chance to meet new people, and explore new places.

For parents, summer can mean juggling care and work, listening to complaints of boredom or arguing about screen time. Sometimes it’s about managing meltdowns or mediating tension with relatives while on vacation.

As summer heats up, special time – one of my favorite ways for kids and adults to connect – can reduce conflicts and increase cooperation within the family.

With young kids, all you need is 10-15 minutes, or 20-30 minutes if you have more time available. Set a timer, let them know it’s special time, and assure them that you will do or play whatever they want.

Naming the time together is important. Call it whatever you want, but give it a name. Doing so increases the likelihood that one day your child will come home from school and, instead of throwing their backpack on the floor and refusing to wash their hands, they’ll ask for special time.

During special time, put away your phone, pour in love and attention, and avoid controlling the play. Let your child take the lead.

Here are some ways to reduce conflict and make this summer more special:

  • When visiting friends or family, engage in special time to help prevent embarrassing meltdowns. Before reaching the breakfast table, where cousins might argue over the same bowl, spend a few minutes of special time with your little one. This will help them feel more relaxed and willing to share.


  • If you have a long hike planned, incorporate special time along the way. I know a mom who was hiking with her 6-year-old, and after about 30 minutes, her daughter refused to continue. So, the mom decided to have ten minutes of special time right there in the woods. They stopped to investigate beetles and laughed as they jumped from rock to rock. Taking the time to pay attention to the wonders of nature through her daughter’s eyes made her daughter feel seen and appreciated, and soon enough, they were back on their way through the woods.


  • Try giving your child an extended “yes” day or a few hours of special time. Plan an overnight trip or a day-trip with one child and let them design the day. Remember, special time doesn’t have to be restricted to just ten or fifteen minutes.


  • If you’re on vacation and things start to take a turn for the worse, instead of joining the rest of the group for an afternoon of sightseeing, dedicate the afternoon to special time with the child who needs extra attention.

When special time becomes a part of your summer routine, it not only acts as a shield against vacation meltdowns, it helps you find the joy in parenting again.