The Consequences of Connection

Dear Hand in Hand Parenting,

This morning there was an incident with my 10-year-old son. He has a list of things that he is supposed to do in the mornings—guitar practice, making bed, square up room, etc. This is nothing new and has been going on for a few years now. However, in spite of reminders from me, he kept reading his book and ignoring me. And then he wanted me to drop him to school early. I said I wouldn’t till he finished what he was supposed to. Of course he got more upset and starting spewing out insults and mocking me. It was a lot of effort to stay calm. We had to leave with his “to do” incomplete as I didn’t want him late to school. I mentioned that there was a consequence for his behavior. He said he didn’t care. 

He is smart enough to know he was at fault for 1) Not finishing his tasks 2) Throwing insults and not managing his anger and frustration, probably with himself.

My question is this: I am angry, mad and hurt. I don’t expect him to apologize, but I do know that he is aware of how hurt I am. But he forgets or chooses to ignore it because his life goes on. There is no serious, terrible consequence as far as he is concerned. How do I help him understand that there is a consequence for bad behavior? As parents, we may tolerate his anger and temper, but the world outside won’t! Do I act like nothing happened other than carrying out the consequence (double guitar practice and no screen time this weekend)? Where or how is there a closure to this incident? 

Please help with this parenting question! 

Dear Parent,
I hear you! And I hear your strong desire to have a happy home where everyone pitches in to make life go well.

I have a 9-year-old son, and there are things that he has to accomplish every day as well. He does a daily developmental movement therapy program, clarinet practice, and then there is the usual stuff of putting away his clothes, taking his dishes to the sink, etc.

When he is resistant or otherwise engaged, I can find myself flipping through this Rolodex in my mind of what I can do to ‘make’ him do what I want.  There must be some punishment or consequence in this Rolodex of mine!  When I get in this place, I know that I am not thinking well and that I need to get some emergency listening time from one of my listening partners or I need to give myself a time-out, go splash water on my face, scream into my Listening Partner’s voice mail, dance around the bathroom, even take a shower.  When I’m having those how-can-I-make-him thoughts, I know that some old hurt of mine is being restimulated—a time when I felt not seen, not heard, and powerless as a child.

Anything I say or do when I’m not thinking well will only serve to disconnect my son from me and escalate our power struggle. I know, because I’ve tried it. We both end up mad, sad, and disconnected. So after I get some listening time or dance or stomp around the bathroom, I come back and look to see how I can connect. ‘Cause what I know is: when we are connected, he is much more willing to cooperate.

The mornings that really go well are the mornings that I’ve been conscious of connecting with him from the minute he wakes up. I go after him in his bed with a Vigorous Snuggle.  Then we’ll play our rough and tumble game of “Don’t Fall Off the Bed”, seeing who can pull the other off the bed onto the mat on the floor. Here are a couple of great articles about The Vigorous Snuggle and Dissolving Power Struggles with play and laughter.

The perspective I take with my son is that, “If he could, he would.”  So, if he’s not doing what we’ve agreed upon, there is a reason. Feelings of disconnection and tension are stopping him. If I move in with a Vigorous Snuggle and behave in a silly, undignified way in order to get him laughing (no tickling), that laughter will help him offload whatever tension is causing his resistance. I find, too, that doing chores alone can feel very isolating. I know that I love to have company when I’m cooking or doing dishes. So, I try to make the time to join him, to help him with clarinet practice, to cheer him on and play games during his movement therapy, and to have races to see who can put the most clothes away. This article on how to take the drudgery out of chores has lots of great ideas.

But I don’t always have to help him or do chores with him.  A while ago, I noticed that our mornings had gotten very disconnected. I was always in a rush and my son was in front of the screen. Getting him to do anything was like pulling teeth. I decided to really focus on deepening our connection in the morning. The next day was a Sunday and after waking to a Vigorous Snuggle and ‘Don’t Fall off the Bed’, we did Special Time. Then we made breakfast together.  I told my son we could go for a bike ride after I did the dishes and he put his clean clothes away. I fully expected we would put the clothes away together. While doing the dishes, I noticed the house had gotten very quiet.  I peeked into my son’s room to find him putting his clothes away without me asking him again, nagging him, or even doing it with him. It wasn’t just because he wanted to go on the bike ride. We’ve had plans before and he’s been resistant to getting his chores done. I believe he was willing that morning because he felt so connected.

So, I encourage you to focus on connection – especially through play and laughter.  It’s so much more fun than going through that Rolodex.  As for any hurt feelings I might experience…I know my son doesn’t want to hurt me. I think he already feels awful, so any punishment or consequences at that point are just adding to his hurt and driving a wedge between us. When he’s thinking well, he is naturally kind and cooperative. So I take my hurt feelings to my Listening Partner. There I can rant and rave about how hurt I am, how dare he, how ungrateful he is, etc. When I rant and rave, often the real hurt from childhood comes up, and I get to offload and heal that. I can actually look at our struggles as a gift.  When we struggle and I take it to my Listening Partnership, I get to heal old hurts. Then I have even more capacity to stay out of the Rolodex and stay playful and connected.

I hope some of that helps.  Try some playful snuggles and then, please let us know how it goes.

Peace & Smiles,


Kathy Gordon is a member of our current Instructor Certification class.

11 thoughts on “The Consequences of Connection

  1. I love the phrase, “If he could, he would.” It applies to all of us, and it’s a great mantra. Thank you for the inspiring article!

  2. This was the perfect article to read just now, (glad I clicked on my email). My son today mentioned a remark that quite striked a nerve and hit me like a cold pail of water…good thing I was in a rush to return to work because I wanted to “make him” understand how hurtful, rude, and unappreciative that was…I took it very personal. After analyzing this trigger I realized this is a past hurt that I need to deal with because the truth is I know my son would never want to cause any hurt especially since his comment had no malicious intent, he is just being an 8 year old.
    Mother’s day is approaching and he has been saving up money for a video game. So he made me a wonderful and beautiful mother’s day card, (lol) but as he gave it to me he said, “Look mom I made you a very special mother’s day card now I don’t have to spend my $20.” -Uh, MY ego lost it- Because afterall I do for him, and everything I get him, and OMG after trying to implement these new tools so we can connect and have a better relationship he won’t even buy me a gift. How dare he not buy my love with a gift and use up all his (hard earned) money?! …That is exactly how I grew up, having to prove my love to my mother by giving her a purchased gift, never a homemade one (because she did not accept those) and competing with my siblings because the best gift got attention and made her smile and you know that means she loves you…
    So, my comment may or may not be relevant to this article but thank you Kathy I needed to read it. My son loves me and his card is better than any hallmark card he could have bought.

  3. Kathy,
    What a great response! I too love the phrase you used: “if he could, he would”. I try to remember that my kids off track behavior is a signal of their need for connection and not an indicator of their character.

  4. Thank you- so needed to read this today- something to print out and stick on the wall for a little while to remind me.

  5. Yes.. Thanks for the article. Its really good. I also like the phrase ” if he could, he would”. Useful for so many situations with children and adults, and so different of what we usually listen. It is good to read this kind of article to remember it!

  6. So much of what is suggested on this site is about “play”, using it to diffuse resistance, getting kids involved, etc…but what if I’m not a playful person? My kids know this about me. It takes a great deal of effort for me to play with my kids. I spend time with them, I’m involved with their activities, I just don’t enjoy playing with kids. I think my kids would know I wasn’t being authentic. Please don’t judge me. Any suggestions?

  7. Valerie, I understand completely. I used to consider myself not a playful parent at all. My parents weren’t playful with me, and so it really didn’t feel natural to me to be playful with my daughter. But when I made an effort to be playful (even if I felt awkward at first), I would so clearly see benefits — play strengthened our connection, and we both came away from play happier. Now that I’ve practiced the Parenting by Connection tools for some time, including Playlistening, being playful with my daughter comes a lot more naturally to me. To start, I would suggest trying out some of the examples (or variations of them) that you can read in Hand in Hand’s Playlistening booklet. Other great resources are the books Playful Parenting and the Art of Roughhousing by Larry Cohen. Go ahead and try out the examples and anecdotes, as appropriate, to start stretching those play muscles, so to speak. As you continue to practice these ways of being with your kids, you’ll find that it gets easier and easier, and as you to start to come up with your own ways to engage through play, you’ll feel more authentic as you work with your kids and notice what pushes their laughter buttons…and one day, you may even look in the mirror and see a playful person looking back at you. 🙂 Best wishes!

    Kathy, thank you for the great article!

  8. Valerie, You’ll get no judgement from me! I have really struggled with the whole playing thing myself. What helped me the most was finding someone who would listen to me (without interruption, judgement, analysis, or turning the attention onto themselves) about how I felt about playing, how much I hated it and didn’t want to do it, and how much I would rather do pretty much anything else. When I could slow down enough with them to allow the emotions around all this to bubble up, and when they could be warm and relaxedly supportive and stay with me but not get in my way, I could start to unravel my personal history around being playful and genuinely light-hearted (or not!), and see what in my growing up had interrupted my natural inclination to play. I cried many tears along the way, and started releasing a knot of pain that had my playful side all tied up. When I am unhappy, especially with old feelings echoing from my childhood, playing feels like trying to pull a massive anchor through thick deep mud. It also helped me to use the same kind of listening support to sort out what things in my present life needed to change so that I could more easily feel happy and lighthearted, and to figure out how to make those changes. But that wouldn’t have made too much of a difference without the emotional work on my young life. So, perhaps you could spend some time (hopefully with a warm, supportive listener who is reasonably comfortable with tears) reflecting on what play was like for you as a young person. Do you have any memories of being playful? Do you have any sense of how far back your sense of play was interrupted, and what might have happened there? Was anyone in your family playful? Were your parents/caregivers playful? Serious? Overworked? Unhappy? It can take some time and commitment and patience to unpack all this, and to release the emotions that surface, but it is so worth it, both in terms of what you are able to do with your children, and the lift your own heart will enjoy. If you aren’t familiar with the kind of listening I’ve described, you can learn about it from the booklet “Listening Partnerships for Parents” from the Hand in Hand Parenting website. Best wishes to you in your journey towards genuinely joyful play! Be patient and compassionate with yourself every step of the way!

  9. Dakiyono, thank you for your extraordinarily thoughtful and candid response. I’ve been wading through a lot of exactly what your talking about with my therapist and its reassuring to hear that I’m not the only one out there that struggles in this way. I battle with depression also and some days it’s hard enough to just be patient, much less playful. I will continue to work on it though…thank you.

  10. Any ideas on how to do this with four kids, I have a very mature 8 year old who is homeschooled and can supervise any of the children for 15-20 mins at a time, I have very sensitive twin girls who just turned 4and a happy go lucky 20 month old. I have tried group time but they all seem to fight and if I plan special time with one it seems the others melt down? We don’t have TV/ screens other than some prechosen videos on the computer. I find myself getting very mad irritated and yelling at them when they keep being so unhappy about special time or group activities or the time I spend with another sibling (i.e. I go to another room and the other 3 start fighting, whining etc). The baby naps 2 hours a day. The twins have 1 hr of quiet time right after he goes for nap or they nap too. Oldest has some quiet time for reading etc while I am putting the other 3 down.

  11. Fleace, With such young children it can be a steep challenge to give them special time when you are alone with them. Young children need to feel the connection to their primary caregiver in the moment and when you are the single adult and you direct your full focus to one child the others’ may lose their sense of connection and start clamoring for your attention.The simplest solution is to give them special time when another adult can tend to the other three. As they get older and more experienced with special time they may be able to handle the “mom-sharing” better, but your children are still so young. If it is not possible to have another adult present I would work special time around the naptimes and “screentime” keeping the sessions short with each child when the others are occupied or sleeping. The most important thing is to not set your expectations for what one adult can do alone with four children too high so that you lose your patience with the children if it doesn’t work. Something beneficial you can do with all four awake is playlistening for connection where you are the kissing monster chasing the gang around the house trying to plant kisses on them (and only succeeding occasionally). This builds a lot of connection, laughter and good times as well. I also play the “blind” mother, asking out loud where my children are, stating how much I long for them (they are right in front of me) as I look for them and “cannot see” them. When they clamor loudly enough that I “finally” see them I am overjoyed, kiss and hug them… I also used to play “egg babies” with my kids in our bed under blankets, pretending they were eggs. I was the lonely mommy longing for my babies, overjoyed whenever an “egg” moved or hatched. When a limb protruded I would shower it with appreciation and joy. And when they finally hatched I would always wonder how I could be so lucky to get the most beautiful egg babies in the world. You get the idea! All that play will work wonders and keep the stress off you. Good luck!

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