How Listening to My Son Helped his Separation Anxiety

We went away camping with four other families.  Between us, we had eleven kids between the ages of 1 and 7.  The weather was beautiful.  We cooked over a wood fire and the kids hung out playing well and laughing together.  The sea was still warm enough for a swim.  It was a beautiful weekend.

On the last day, my partner and I went to pack up the tent.  I’d told my son earlier that we were soon to pack away.  We’d just taken the fly sheet off when he came rushing over to us. “I need a rest, put the fly sheet back on,” he whined.

I let him know that we weren’t going to put the fly sheet back on, but said he could rest inside the inner tent if he wanted.  He went inside and started leaning against the tent walls.  I got inside and put my arm gently behind him, “No, I’m not going to let you lean against the tent like that. It could rip.”

He stayed put, so I said, “I’m going to move you away now,” and did just that.

He protested loudly, “Get away from me!” he shouted angrily.  I moved back a little.  He was still very angry, but crying now, too.  He kept screaming, “Get away from me!

I wasn’t quite sure how close to be, so I thought I’d experiment with distance.  I moved back further. He was still shouting at me and crying, so I got out of the tent.

Come back,” he shouted!

I had obviously gone too far.  I got back in, and he started crying harder.  The anger subsided and just tears remained.  I moved a little closer.  The sobbing died down and we cuddled.

I got on with the packing and he lay in the tent for a little while longer, then got up and joined the other kids, who were eating sausages.

Amazingly, there was no further issue or upset about leaving.  When it was time to go, he happily went round saying goodbye, and hopped straight in the vehicle.

It seemed like the wonderful weekend had made him feel safe, loved, and good.  And that feeling of goodness allowed some buried sadness to pop up.  Probably because he’s been listened to regularly, he was able to let me know I’d moved too far away from him!  I think by staying close and listening to his anger and tears, I helped him clear away old hurts.  When they were flushed out, he was free to think well and say goodbye with lightness and warmth.

Rachel Schofield, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor (living in Australia)

Rachel SchofieldJoin Rachel in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding online class starting June 1.  Learn more >

Listen to the podcast of her teleseminar How Do I Connect With My Baby?.

You can learn more about Parenting by Connection in the Listening to Children booklet set.

Parenting Help: Burn-out Can Be Lightened by Listening

Yesterday I had a new friend over with her 3 daughters.  My 9-year-old daughter, Maeve, was feeling shy, and we had already had a bumpy weekend, including a cancelled trip that she very much wanted to go on.

After the girls made art for a while, we decided to go to the park and get a muffin on the way.  The cafe was closed for a film shoot, however, and we went straight to the park.  Maeve started asking over and over again whether she could just go ask the cafe owners to see if they could get something to eat anyway.  She said she was hungry, but her tight, insistent tone sounded like it was not really about that.  I told my friend that I had to take my daughter home to get her something to eat.

I was acutely embarrassed, and when we arrived home, I said all the things I know not to say.  I told her she embarrassed me, and I said, “Can’t you just give me a little bit of time to do something I want to do?”  She started crying, and I didn’t care.  I was exhausted, and the last thing I wanted to do was repair anything or try to be close to her.  She went upstairs, and I headed back to the park for a short while.

After my friend left, I emailed one of my listening partners and set up a time almost right away.  I cried hard on the phone with her, which was a great relief.  The thing that brought up the most crying was telling her that I didn’t want to have to fix anything, that I was tired of parenting, and that I wanted to quit.  I told her that I hated that you can never quit it, never leave entirely, and never feel carefree again.  I told her that I hated that I try so hard, and I still mess up so badly.  It felt like too much work.  The responsibility felt like too much.  I told her how I hated being responsible for people’s LIVES!  It was just so good to cry hard right when I needed to.  She simply listened and made sympathetic noises.  She hardly needed to do anything — she just heard me and didn’t judge.  I felt some weight lift and I was more available to my kids for the rest of the day.  I could probably have benefited from having even more time to cry, but I didn’t know how long Maeve would stay upstairs in her room.

When Maeve came down later, I asked her what would make her day better, and we planned sushi at home while watching TV.  It gave us some space to hang out together and be close.  Things were a little better.  Later we did some Special Time, and I rubbed her back while she read.

I particularly noticed the difference the next morning, in a “cleansed” feeling and a renewed energy for parenting and everything else.

Sandra Flear, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor

Keiko Sato-Perry

Join Sandra in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding online class starting April 23.  Register now!

Listen to this 3-minute audio clip, in which Sandra describes how you can help your listening partner release emotions.

You can read more of Sandra’s stories here and learn more about Parenting by Connection in the Listening to Children booklet set.

Using Playtime to Help My Son’s Speech Impediment

When my son was 4.5 years old, he needed to see a speech pathologist for a significant difficulty he had with his pronunciation.  At the end of the first session I felt light and hopeful that this might really help.  The Speech Pathologist sent us home with some exercises to do. And then came the challenge: getting my son to practise!

Well, I tried everything.  I tried making them fun but he hated it anyway, he just put his fingers in his ears and made silly noises.  I tried some Playlistening – getting his teddies to do it, pretending it was a really stupid idea, and putting them in the bin, etc.   I got a few laughs, but it didn’t help him want to do the exercises.  So I tried setting limits – first playfully “oh, yessy, yes, yes, we’re going to do our sounds practise,” and letting him run away and giggle as he hid from me, but that didn’t work.  Then seriously, “We’re going to do our sounds practise,” but all he would do is say silly words and throw our sheets of paper away.  I was beginning to lose my patience and my ability to think.

Listening Time for me!  I vented to my Listening Partner on my frustration and let my feelings of overwhelm and confusion flow.  How on earth was I going to get him to practise?  This was just too hard…

For the first time in 4 years of using Parenting by Connection ideas, I was thinking I would just have to resort to the rewards approach the speech pathologist had suggested.  I really couldn’t see any other way.  We had to practise or the therapy was a waste of time; maybe just this once I had to let go of my beliefs and do whatever it took to get the practise done.  And just as my mind was starting to think about what kind of rewards system to set up, another idea flashed through my head and I found myself saying to my son, “Okay today we’re going to have a Special Time Sandwich.”  This wasn’t pre-planned, it just popped out my mouth.  “After breakfast, we’ll have 10 minutes of Special Time, then sounds practise, and then 20 minutes of Special Time.”  He looked interested.

Well, much to my amazement, when it got to sounds practise he was fully engaged.  He tried really hard to do the exercises.  I could hardly believe it.  So we tried the Special Time Sandwich the next day and the same thing happened.  He was fully part of it and even had ideas like “can you hide the sound cards around the room and I’ll find them and say the word.”   The next day he brought his teddy and made it do the practise and get everything wrong .  I started to hear him practising the sounds by himself during the day.  He would ask me questions about words like “is it skittle or stittle?”  After about five days of this he came up to me at the end of the day saying, “could we do some more sounds practise today , I really enjoy it.”  He wasn’t asking for special time, just the sounds practice!

And, interestingly, he became increasingly frustrated when he wasn’t understood.  He started to get quite angry and start crying when I couldn’t make out his words.  This was loud anger that I found quite hard to listen to and my heart ached for the frustration he was feeling.  But I did manage to listen and the anger would turn to tears.

He made fantastic progress.  The speech pathologist was impressed – and so was I!  His speech came along in leaps and bounds.

I think what happened was that he could feel all the effort I put into helping him try and practise.  He kept letting me know he couldn’t do it the ways I was suggesting.  I have a hunch that if I’d have dived straight in with the Special Time Sandwich it might not have worked. I think he needed to feel that I was on his side, that I was partnering with him.

—Rachel Schofield, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor (living in Australia)

Keiko Sato-PerryJoin Rachel in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding online class starting June 1.  Learn more >

My Son Finds the Courage to Speak Up

My son and his babysitterOur babysitter came over, and she and my 4-year-old son were having a pillow fight in the other room. My son ran to me and buried his face in my lap. I could sense he was very upset about something that just happened. I put my hand gently on his back and tried to make eye contact with him. I was quiet and listened to him cry. I could tell he wasn’t badly hurt and just needed me to do some Staylistening with him.

After a minute he popped his head up from my lap and said, “Emily was too rough with me.” “Oh, I see,” I said. “I’m wondering if you’re okay?” He pointed to his back. It looked fine.

Emily came in the room and said he hurt his back. My son was still crying and I continued to listen and offer my warmth and attention. After a couple of minutes he got up and went to eat something. About 10 minutes later my son said very clearly, in a big voice, “Emily, you were too rough with me.” She apologized.

-Christine Ashe, Certified Instructor

Helping Boys With Gun Play – The Power of Laughter

I remember my sweet four year old son was so shocked when he first learned about the existence of guns that he spent months exploring why guns existed, wondering why the government didn’t do anything to get rid of guns, and talking about collecting all the guns in the world and melting them down to recycle them. I would listen to his concerns as best I could and reassure him that there were lots of people around the world working peacefully to resolve conflict without guns and many more who were working towards ways to increase stricter controls of guns. However, the shock that we humans have developed these weapons that can harm and kill people so quickly had hit hard upon him. Unfortunately, at that point, I hadn’t developed the art of Playlistening, which could have helped him loosen some of that fear.

Over time and exposure to more social interactions with other children, this play changed, and by the age of seven he had a keen interest in gun play. I found this really distressing at first, and as this play started coming up more, I noticed my reaction, which was “what has happened to my sweet innocent boy.” My thinking was that there was no way I wanted my son playing with guns. However, I also realized that he was playing this out for a reason, and that totally banning it wasn’t going to be the best way to help him with it. How was I going to figure this out?

Thankfully, by this stage I had become more versed in the Parenting by Connection approach and I realized, that if I was going to help him with the hurt and isolation that was sitting under this play, I was going to need to do some emotional work on my end. So I spent some good chunks of time in my Listening Partnership working on how much I disliked guns, how much I hated the idea of playing with guns, and my disappointment that my innocent little boy had now become interested in gun play. Once I had released some of those feelings, I began to become much less reactive and much more flexible in my thinking, so that I could spontaneously join him in this play when it arose.

Around this time, he went through a period of making guns out of connecting coloured textas (that’s what we call markers in Australia). He would take the lids off some of the textas and connect them all together so they were long and had triggers (they were truly beautiful creations). One particular day, when we were doing some Special Time, he decided to use his creations in our play, and for the first time, he wanted me to shoot him. Before the emotional work I’d done for myself, there was no way I would have even considered the idea, let alone thought creatively about how I could shoot him playfully. However, my mind was working well this day. As I started moving towards him, I realised the gun was very wobbly, so I started wobbling my gun towards him and he starting laughing a little. That little bit of laughter was an opportunity for me to bring some Playlistening into Special Time. So I took the opportunity to follow his lead and do it some more.

I had the wobbliest gun in the world, a very silly and bumbling weapon, with just the right ingredients that he needed to get to some deep laughter, which helped him release some fear around this issue. I’d start heading towards him, quite slowly and intentionally, but with a very playful seriousness about it, but then, after a couple of seconds, my gun would get all wobbly and it would either fall right off, or droop down from the end. Sometimes it would even flick off near him because it was wobbling so much.  He was laughing so hard and he had so much fun with it that he kept initiating the game over the next few weeks.

After playing, we were in such a warmly connected place that the rest of the day flowed like a dream. We had a strong sense of being felt by each other and an easy willingness to cooperate and work together towards what worked best for everyone. It really reminded me about the power of laughter to deeply connect us.

Megan Edwards is an Australian Hand in Hand Instructor. You can join her in her upcoming online Building Emotional class beginning April 25th.
Megan says, “The class provides parents with the opportunity to get the level of support required for the emotional work of parenting which all parents deserve. The Hand in Hand approach of Parenting by Connection really changes lives in the most wonderful and deeply rewarding ways.”

Unstoppable Learners

At the end of the last school year, our sons’ report cards surprised me and my husband. My older son, ending third grade, scored in the 99th percentile nationally in reading, having scored in average range the previous year. Our Kindergartener leapt from knowing almost no Kindergarten facts to showing advanced skills.

The report cards were surprising considering that my focus was almost the opposite of pushing my sons to excel in school. During his third-grade year, I had nearly pulled my older son out of school because he had been overwhelmed by the homework and was struggling to keep up. Instead, I had worked hard—and succeeded—at making the case to the school to reduce the homework load. This meant that I could spend more time playing with my sons and connecting with them. I also focused on listening to my sons when they were having upsets. I believe that along with efforts by the teachers and my partner to foster the boys’ academic skills, my listening to my kids has had a lot to do with their learning achievements.

When my younger son didn’t want to go to Kindergarten the first two weeks, I Staylistened. He cried for hours, while I held his socks in front of him saying, “It’s time to change,” or cradled him on my lap saying, “I am sure you can have fun at school.” Because I took time for his feelings, he was late a few mornings. That was a worthwhile time investment, as he started going to school with joy and confidence after he was done offloading his feelings. Once he finished working on our separation and his transition to a new environment, he was an unstoppable learner, reciting and writing the alphabet and practicing his numbers at home.

When my older son came home from a day of school in a nasty mood, making harsh remarks and unwilling to do his homework, I moved in close and listened to him cry and rage. When he let go of his tensions through showing them to me, he gradually came back to his sweet, sparkly, easy-to-laugh self again. Sometimes, my son really needed a good cry before he could do any homework. Also, a long Special Time with him over the weekend would help him feel safe to show me his negative feelings, offload them through crying and upset, and regain some of his enthusiasm and delight in learning and school.

Sometimes, my children could not get down to doing their homework because they fought with each other. I listened to both my children when that happened. They fought not because they didn’t like each other, or because that is what siblings would do, but because things were hard in their lives. When there was tension between them, I would say, “Let’s wrestle!” and we’d go to the bedroom. Sometimes, we’d throw pillows. Other times, we would chase each other around or they would climb on me while I tried to shake them off. They are in their element when they play like this, laughing a lot. Sometimes they cry as they get too rough or they get hurt. Laughter and tears seem to melt the dividing wall between them, and then they are good with each other again.

Once their emotions are listened to and released, my sons are able to engage with their school projects. This year, in the first and fourth grades, they love learning and learn because they want to, rather than because it’s required of them. What a shift!

It was often hard to listen to my sons when they were mad at me. Seven years ago when I first came to Hand in Hand for help with all sorts of parenting issues, I soon realized that I first needed to help myself, by working on my own feelings. That often felt like a detour, but as it turned out, it was probably a shortcut to help my kids. I experienced how releasing my emotional heat through a Listening Partnership enables me to think well again, and that showed me how things work with my kids: They bring their hard feelings to me, I offer support, they shed their feelings, and then they recover. Listening Partnerships were a big part of how I helped my children with their challenges in school.

The result: Unstoppable learners.

—Keiko Sato-Perry, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor

Keiko Sato-Perry

Join Keiko in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding online class starting April 22.  Register now!

Listen to a podcast of a recent teleseminar “Parenting: Going Deeper”, in which Keiko presented.

You can read more of Keiko’s stories here and learn more about Parenting by Connection in the Listening to Children booklet set.

Getting the Support You Need to Resolve Sleep Issues

One of the mothers in my ongoing support group has a 2-year-old daughter who had a really hard time falling asleep. This is her story:

Ever since our sweet little daughter was an infant we had to help her fall asleep, which meant sitting by her bedside for two hours (every night!), patting her head and back, giving her water, and feeling like we were there against our will. And in spite of this bedtime routine, she usually woke frequently and demanded our presence during the night as well.

Ever since she was a baby our daughter has been going through many different medical procedures that have made her life and ours pretty challenging. And I kept feeling that, as her mother, I could not cause her additional pain and frustration. Watching her cry for a long time in bed was hard for me to handle, and this was keeping me from doing what I needed to do, and knew I should do. 

For a few months I worked on my own feelings about this issue in my listening time in our support group. And then I felt like we were ready to move forward and bring some change. It took both my husband and me to be there with our daughter and our older son. We started by telling them over dinner: “Tonight, we are going to try something different at bedtime, something that will help you sleep better in your bed without mommy and daddy staying in the room the whole time.” Then, after taking a shower, both kids got to do some Special Time (5 minutes for each child with each parent). Then there were some more stories and a few songs, followed by a hug and a kiss. And then we suggested that we were going to go to the other room and fold the laundry.

The first few nights this suggestion was not really accepted (as can be expected…) and there was a lot of moving around and going in and out of the room. Some nights there was crying and resistance to our leaving the room. At that stage, I generally tried to stay as close as possible to allow the crying to flow and to reassure my daughter, saying, “Mommy loves you,” and “Mommy will always keep you safe, even when she’s in the other room.” Bit by bit, over many nights, I moved farther away from her as I listened to her feelings pour out until the crying subsided and I could leave the room. I always had to keep the “right distance” for the feelings to come out, because if I came too close then the crying would stop but she still couldn’t fall asleep without me.

During this process I had a lot of feelings of my own, including uneasiness and fear about what this process was going to look like and for how long it would last. How much more crying would we have to face? I was getting a lot of help and support from my husband as well as my Listening Partners.

After a week or so there was no crying (!) at bedtime, but there were still some difficulties in falling asleep. What I tried to do then was to stand at the doorway and tell her some reassuring words and leave again. After a few days you could tell by the look in her eyes that her bed felt like a safe place to her, and she wouldn’t want to get out of it.

Today, a month after we started this process, my daughter falls asleep quietly and happily, and the quality of her sleep has improved significantly. She wakes up very relaxed and does not cry as she used to before.

This whole process helped me, and my partner, enjoy our evening once again. On top of that, we feel empowered in our ability to make changes in our family and move things forward. It reminded us that our role as parents is to lead our family and not get “trapped” by our kids’ behavior.

As for me, I feel that helping my daughter through this hurdle has allowed me to finally see her clearly with joy and vitality, without any filter of anger, guilt, or the need to go easy on her to compensate for the medical procedures she has had to go through. All I can see now is how proud I am of her and how much I love and admire her.

I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart (as well as the three other hearts in my family) for this precious support that we are getting from you and from the support group you’re leading. This has made this whole process so doable, sensitive, and real. And thank you to all the moms in the group who are also a big part of this great gift!

Yes! I would like more free resources on helping my children sleep. Click here.

Ravid Aisenman AbramsohnRavid Aisenman Abramsohn, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor in Israel