Setting Limits Helped My Daughter Cooperate Willingly

My six year old daughter seemed fine when she came home from school.  Her nine year old brother had been sick for three days and I was looking forward to her being with us.  However, it wasn’t long before she started being cutting snowflakesuncooperative, demanding and grumpy.

She said, “No, I’m not putting my backpack away” and then commanded, “Get me some milk.”  This was really a jolt to my system after a quiet day with my son. I didn’t like where this was going so I decided to set a limit and see what would happen.

She was cutting snowflakes at the table and I put my hand over hers saying, “Honey, your backpack needs to be put away, so I cannot let you cut anymore snowflakes until you do that.”  She screamed at me, “Noooooo” and stomped off to the living room.  I followed her, moved in next to her warmly and put my hand on her knee.  Instantly, she put her head on my lap and sobbed for about 30 minutes.

She told me that it wasn’t fair that her brother got to stay home with me and that we all did stuff that he wanted to do.  She was able to offload her feelings of being left out and the unfairness of me doting on her brother.  After about 30 minutes of this, without me saying a word, she got up and put her backpack away.  I got her a glass of milk and we calmly and playfully sat at the table making more snowflakes.  It was amazing to watch the shift in her after she got her big feelings out.

-Certified Instructor, Kristen Volk

Stopping Sibling Rivalry Through Playfulness

As most siblings do, my nine year old son and six year old daughter pester one hearts_wallpaper_stop-in-the-name-of-love_1920x1200another sometimes.  One day they were lying on the living room floor about an arm’s length away from one other.   My son started poking my daughter in the leg and she whined back at him, “Sto-o-o-o … o-o-o-o-p it”.  She refused to move or even deal with it, so she got stuck in her whining.

I thought, “OMG, here we go again.  Not now.”  I could see this was escalating, but I also knew that the sooner I could lay a blanket of connection over everyone, the sooner my children could be in touch with their caring, kind selves.  I recognized that I was in a pretty good place so why not just dive right in?

I decided to lay down in the middle of them to see if this little shift would change their dynamic.  Of course, it didn’t.  My daughter actually moved her leg into a better position for my son to poke her and with this invitation, he jabbed her leg repeatedly.  It seemed my presence made the situation worse and her whining increased.   It was frustrating that I couldn’t just “fix” my kids and set them straight.  So I had to figure out a Plan B rather quickly.  Playlistening made the most sense to me at the moment.

My daughter’s incessant whining of “Stop it” reminded me of the Supremes song “Stop … in the Name of Love.  Before you break my heart.”  So I gave it a try, but with my own words.  I started singing in a relatively soft voice, “Stop … Poke-ing my Leg.  It doesn’t feel so good.”  Both children stopped to listen to me, so I figured I could take it a step further.  I started repeating “Stop … Poke-ing my Leg.  It doesn’t feel so good,” getting louder each time.  My daughter joined in with lots of giggles.  We started adding actions to the song with our hands straight out in a Stop position and adding hip action.  “Stop it Now-ow-ow.  Stop it Now-ow-ow.”

My son couldn’t resist joining in.  He shifted his position around so we were all parallel to one another.  Literally, in about one minute, we were all howling with laughter and felt relaxed and deeply connected.  We all forgot the initial reason we started the song in the first place.

-Certified Instructor, Kristen Volk

Helping My Son Sleep Through The Night

sleeping-boyMy nine year old son usually falls right asleep at night.  This has been such a blessing for me and quite contrary to his younger sister who likes to stay up late. On one particular night he was jumping out of bed, playing with balls and going into his sister’s room to do an art project.  Usually after the kids go to bed, I clean up the kitchen and tidy our home to prepare for the next morning.  I really wanted to get my nighttime chores done and not deal with my overactive son.  But I also knew that if he could release whatever was bothering him, he could probably fall right asleep.

So I went into his sister’s room and gently brought him into his own room.  He said he wanted milk to drink and I said, “No, not before bed.”  This made him really angry.  “I never get what I want.”  “You have stupid rules.”  “The rules about no hitting, kicking, punching, pinching are good, but I don’t like your other rules.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“Like no milk before bed.” He replied.

He talked about how unfair it was and how he didn’t like my rules.  He tried to kick me a couple of times but I was anticipating some physical movement so I was able to keep myself unharmed.  I knew enough about what was going on with his limbic brain, that it didn’t make sense to try to reason with him because he wasn’t able to think well at that moment.

I kept working on staying close and making eye contact.  I said again, “No milk before bed.”  I encouraged him to take a shower because I knew it would help calm him down.  We were doing lots of vigorous snuggling in bed and I kept my warmth turned up.  He said “No way” to a shower and “I’m not going to sleep tonight.”  Then he added, “I want a pair of scissors and (my sister) has two pair.”

I asked him, “What other rules don’t you like?”

He couldn’t think of any others so just focused on “No milk before bed.”

Suddenly, he started crying a heavier cry.  He talked about his best friend who was going to be moving out of the country next week.  He didn’t want his friend to be alone.  He wanted their teacher who had been ill to be at school tomorrow so his teacher could say good-bye to his friend.  He also wanted the teacher to come to the going away party.

My son had all this worry about his friend and about his teacher.  I could really see this beautiful heart of my son.  I was so thankful that I didn’t focus on his whining and all the rules he appeared to be angry about.  These were clearly a pretext.  His real hurt was his grief around his friend leaving.  After eight minutes of crying to release his sadness and his worries, he said, “I want to take a shower.”  When he was done, I tucked him into bed ever so snug and warm.  He fell asleep immediately.

To get help with your child’s sleep struggles, learn more about our online course, Helping Your Child Sleep.

-Certified Instructor, Kristen Volk

How a Single Hour Can Solve Parenting Problems

“Although the Hand in Hand resources (booklets, podcasts, and videos) that I had already used had been so helpful to me and my husband, we still had so many questions. Having contact with a real human who similarly valued establishing connections with her children and could answer questions related to Hand-in-Hand was remarkably uplifting. It’s not just our kids who crave connection! And, this may sound strange, but simply making the commitment to do the consultation helped me feel even more committed to following through on the many wonderful things I have learned from Hand in Hand.” ~ a mom in Alaska

“I chose to try a Hand in Hand consultation because my son was waking up many times in the night. The longest stretch was 4 hours and then he would wake every hour to two hours. It could take over an hour to get him to sleep even if I nursed or bounced him. Naps were also suffering. During the consultation, I learned that crying is necessary. It doesn’t mean that you’re not doing a great job or that there’s something wrong with your child. I felt stronger as a parent listening and holding my son as he cried. While the consultation wasn’t an instant fix, it was extremely helpful and we continue to use the techniques that we learned. My son is now sleeping 8-9 hours a night, so we are inching in the right direction and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.” ~ a mom in California


When you schedule an hour with a Parenting by Connection consultant, you are matched with a parent consultant who has real experience and is trained in the Parenting by Connection listening tools. They know how hard you are trying and how deeply you care for your children. They listen with respect and warmth for you and your job as parent, which will give you time to think about your family and notice things you haven’t thought of before. This unique style of listening will allow you to find clarity in your situation.Our parent consultants will give you the support you need to move forward with patience and love. They will be ready to answer questions you have about the listening tools and offer new ways of connecting with your child.If you are ready to get the one-on-one support you need please visit our consulting page for more info >
Hand in Hand is a non-profit organization. We’re here to make a real difference for you and your family. So we offer a simple guarantee: If you aren’t completely satisfied with your consulting session,  we’ll either schedule you with a different consultant, or refund your fee.
With deep appreciation for the work you do as a parent,

The Hand in Hand Team

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.

Solutions for My Son’s Homework Tantrums

After the start of the second grade, I very quickly noticed some heavy struggles around homework come up. At the start of the year, my son’s second grade teacher gave all the parents special instructions for doing homework this year: set a timer for 30 minutes for homework time, and when that timer goes off, put the pencil down and walk away. If any tears or yelling happens before the timer goes off, put the pencil down and walk away. It was as though he was perfectly foreshadowing what we were about to see.

For a number of days in a row, when homework time approached in the evening, my son met it with resistance and frustration. I would see a range of reactions, from announcing that it was boring and he wasn’t going to do it, to kicking and yelling and crying over his homework. I noticed in myself how inflexible I was around homework time – I was frustrated that he wouldn’t just sit down and do the assignments that looked to me like they were easy enough to do with his eyes closed! It got to the point where I could not touch homework time – we just had to wait until my husband got home to do it with him, as he was somehow able to put more play and lightness to it and succeeded in helping our son get it completed. I could see that this was going to be an emotional project for the whole family and needed a new strategy fast.

I started on this issue in my own listening partnerships. I got listening about how frustrating homework was, how intolerable my sons behavior was, especially when it was always topics I know he is good at and have seen him complete with ease! I got listening around how when I was his age homework was easy for me, so why did it have to be such a struggle for him? And finally, how I don’t like that homework even exists! It cuts into our family time in the evenings, and more often than not is IS as boring as my son says it is.

Next, I made a point to do Special Time with my son before my husband got home to do homework with him. Honestly I was happy to do Special Time in place of homework with my son, it was much more enjoyable. We would wrestle, or pillow fight, or play his favorite video game depending on what he would choose. I started to notice that homework time seemed to go much easier when he would get this extra connection. I saw these as little victories along the way, but still I found that writing homework of any kind continued to be a frustrating struggle.

One evening my son pulled out his spelling and writing assignments and asked for my help. He was already upset about the subject of the homework before he even pulled it out of his backpack. I asked him to read me the instructions while I was cooking something in the kitchen. He became more and more distracted and agitated. I told him it was time to stop playing with what he was playing with and sit down to focus on homework. “Then come help me!!” He screamed. He screamed this again, and I put down what I was doing to come in closer to him. He kept yelling “Help me! Help me!” over and over again, and the closer I got to him while offering my help with my words, the louder he yelled it. He was kicking and screaming on the floor and I just continued to say “I am here to help you,” while he continued to scream for help.

This went on for some time and I continued to stay close, holding a gentle arm around his baby brother to make sure he did not accidentally get kicked. I acknowledged that homework was frustrating, that he works really hard all day at school. He screamed and kicked, and cried a small amount. After a while his system began to settle down and relax. He turned to a toy to play with and I let him take his time to play and relax while I went back to the kitchen to cook dinner.

By the time dinner was done, he had returned to the table and quietly completed his homework on his own. He was very proud of his work, and showed me each part.  In these last few weeks, I have continued my connection tools all in combination, and it has meant that I have been able to help him with his homework. He now will often complete it before my husband gets home and we get extra time to play and connect as a whole family.


Natalie Thiel, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor

If you have challenges around homework or setting limits, Natalie can help.  Join Natalie in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding online class starting April 30.  Register now!

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

Helping My Teenage Son Work Through Stifled Feelings with Listening

My 13-year-old son was off track in a way that doesn’t happen often. I asked him to turn off the TV in order to shift to bedtime mode at 9pm on a Sunday, and he resisted. It led us to a talk about screen time and balance. This weekend had been both very busy for me, and full of screen time for the boys, my older son especially. I was occupied with pulling together the last details on our beehive in preparation for picking up our first package of bees the next day. I actually was quite preoccupied and even overwhelmed by what needed to get done for that project before Monday. Understandably, we were not connected by the end of the day.

My son and I had a good dialogue about the screen time, but something must have struck a nerve because soon afterward, emotion came up for him. I realized he was in the bathroom, crying. I tried to go in to be with him but he held the door shut. I told him I’d be close outside ready to listen. He eventually came out and lay down on the couch with a blanket over his head. I sat on the edge and put my hand on his back, but he shrugged it off and pushed me away with his body.

I let him be for a time to give some bedtime attention to my younger son. Just as things were quieting down and I thought he was falling asleep he got up and came to me saying, “Mom, I want to rearrange the room.” He let me hug him a moment and then veered off to push furniture around. I watched him for a bit and helped move things out of his way. Then I started to feel exhausted by the amount of disorder that was being created. I noticed that feelings were being stirred up for me, and retreated to my bed.

When he started moving things in front of my bedroom door, I understood that the moving of furniture was another sign of disconnect. I went in the bathroom and saw how he had moved things from the counter into the sink and squeezed out toothpaste. He was off track again. I went to him and put my arms around him to pause his moving of things. He immediately pushed back. I stood strong and held the force of his pushing body with mine, meeting his push. We did this back and forth for a while. He went to my bed and we wrestled there. He went to the couch and we wrestled there. He tried to go into the bathroom and shut the door but I followed close behind and kept the door open. My goal was to be close to him and limit his ability to channel his emotion into off-track behavior. I could see clearly that the disorder he was creating by moving furniture was an attempt to move the internal chaos he was feeling up and out of his body, and I wanted to offer a more constructive way out. I wanted to give him a safe container to feel it fully and release.

For a long time we went back and forth, wrestling, or me being close by while he lay on the bed or couch. Each time he was alone on the couch or bed he reached out with a leg or an arm to swipe at me or throw blankets and pillows at me, sure signs of disconnect. I was tired and not sure about this territory. My
13-year-old has rarely released feelings in this very physical way.

As we wrestled, I sometimes got my arms around him from behind and was able to hold him in a way that kept us both safe from his hitting and kicking. He tried to bite and scratch me. A couple of times he pulled my hair. If I felt hurt or that I was vulnerable to getting hurt, I pulled back and got out of his way. I knew it was my job to keep myself safe; that he was not functioning from a clear thinking place in his brain; that he was working on releasing something deep.

I tried to keep my own thinking to a minimum. I focused on my breathing, and being fully present, I imagined waves of calm flowing from me to him. My younger son was up and about playing with the kittens and a bouncy ball the whole time. After about an hour of this back and forth, holding and letting go and holding again he broke into tears and sobs and cried in my arms. It was after midnight. When he was finished crying, he crawled to his bed and lay down. I wasn’t sure he was completely done, so I stayed close to him, sitting in the chair by the bed until both boys fell asleep.

The next morning older son came to me first thing and gave me a big hug. I felt relief that he had obviously released enough the night before to be back to himself. However not only was he back to himself, he was back, bigger and brighter than ever. He launched into a story about a game and interactions with friends from the day before. He was reflective, expressing curiosity, amusement, cleverness. The rest of the day was fabulous. He was so connected to himself, to me, and to his brother. He was playful, helpful, engaged the entire day. We had a great time in the city picking up our bees. Getting the bees in the hive was an adventure both boys helped out with. He played computer games with his friends for a couple hours and then he came back home and engaged in Star Wars origami and “Jedi training” with his younger brother for the rest of the night. At one point, he made reference to our conversation about balance the day before and he said, “Hey, Mom, this is something I can do to be balanced–origami! It’s hard and frustrating, but I like it and want to do it.”

I’m grateful I was able to offer listening power for as long as it took. Seeing the good results of my son’s clearing work made the lack of sleep and energetic mustering so incredibly worth it. I’m also grateful that I had had listening partnership time that morning over the phone. I’m sure that helped me listen
from a place of emotional stability.

Karen Murphy, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor

Join Karen in her Building Emotional Understanding course on Monday afternoons, starting May 13.

Karen Murphy is the mother of two sons, ages 13 and 8. Karen started using Hand in Hand listening tools with her children 8 years ago and it literally changed her world. Using the tools revolutionized Karen’s parenting in such inspiring ways that she studied to became a Hand in Hand Instructor in 2010. She is excited to share knowledge, tools, experience and support to anyone seeking to increase connection with children. Karen offers classes, listening partnerships and consultations in the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon & Washington. Connect with Karen via her website at