Helping My Child with Keeping Agreements


(C) 2007 Richard Dudley

One morning I told my daughter (7.5) it was time to clean her room before watching TV. “Oh mom,” she said. “You know I need time to wake up and just want to relax and watch a show before doing anything else.”

I kneeled down and said, “Okay, I get that. So do you agree that after your show you will pick up your room?”

“Yes,” she agreed.

Well as life goes she watched her show, got distracted with other things and didn’t want to clean her room anymore.

I reminded her of our agreement. “But I don’t wanna clean my room!” she whined in reply.

I had to bite my tongue from saying, “See?! You just get what you want then don’t follow through! I should have known not to negotiate with you.”

Instead, I reminded myself that she was probably feeling disconnected and struggling with some tension around cleaning her room. What she really needed was some listening and connection from me, anything else would just get us into a power struggle.

I sat next to her on her bed and listened as she complained about cleaning her room. She got up from her bed and stormed around her room telling me all the reasons why she couldn’t do it and didn’t want to do it. As I listened her tone escalated. She told me I couldn’t make her clean her room and that she didn’t have to!

Staying calm, I kept my focus on just listening to her. It can be easy to jump into the lecture, but I reminded myself to focus on really hearing her and allowing her to express all that she needed to say. I knew if I said anything much at this point she wouldn’t really be able to hear me anyway. It was important that I keep my center and not get hooked into her feeling about cleaning her room or worried about how this was all going to work out. Her cleaning her room was going to take a back seat to my really connecting with her right where she was at so I just kept listening taking in everything she had to say.

It didn’t take long before I noticed her tone started to calm and she relaxed next to me. When she seemed finished I told her that she was right, she didn’t “have to” clean her room and I wasn’t going to “make her”. This caught her interest and I had her full attention. Then I told her, since we had made an agreement, I would like her to keep it. I let her know that trusting a person’s word is an important quality to me. If she chooses not to keep it, that is her choice and that choice would influence my making future agreements with her because I’ll know she doesn’t always keep her agreements.

I let her know it really was her choice, gave her a hug and kiss, and then went on with what I needed to do to get ready for the day.

When I walked by her room about 5 minutes later I noticed she was cleaning up her room. And, she seemed quite happy with herself too!

As a parent it’s easy to get caught by worry when our children are not keeping to their word. We want so much for our children to keep their agreements that it’s easy to resort to trying to make them and telling them they have to. When we forget to simply connect with our kids and see what’s making this moment hard for them it’s easy to resort to threats, shame, blame and guilt.

By taking the time to listen however, we form a powerful connection with our children. As we hear them fully, we not only get to know what is in their hearts in that moment, but it also opens them up to hearing us in return. This moment where we hear them and they look to us, ready to listen in return, is where we have the influence we so want with our children. It is the opening where we can share our values with them and know that they are really taking in what we are sharing.

This moment with my daughter has led to more dialogues about trust and keeping our word. We’ve talked about times where we may need to break agreements for different reasons and how we can do that without damaging trust. And, I’ve listened to her tears when, for instance, she wanted to skip a party she had already committed to so she could go to a different party. In these instances I have felt it important to listen, and then hold the limit that she keep her first agreement, and not change because something “better” came along.

I can see my daughter is learning from these moments. Recently, when I was reluctant to negotiate on something with my daughter she looked at me earnestly and said, “Mom, I keep my agreements.” I nodded, smiling, and said, “Yes, you do.” And, together, we found something that worked for both of us.

~ Michelle Pate, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor and Consultant Learn more about the power of listening and connecting with your child by joining Michelle in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding Course.  You can also connect with her on Facebook.

Play Helps Dissolve Frustration

nightgownBefore bed, my daughter and I had a fun Special Time together doing whatever she wanted. When the timer beeped (signaling the end of Special Time) she happily trotted off to her room to change into her new nightgown and get ready for bed. Within a few minutes though, she returned very unhappy.

“This nightgown is too short and I’m cold,” she complained.

“Yeah?” I replied. “Do you want to wear something else?”

“Ugh!” she growled. “I hate it! I don’t want it! You can just donate it!”

Since she was so happy after our time together I wasn’t sure what had shifted. I suspected the nightgown wasn’t really the issue, but sometimes I wonder is it the clothes or is she just needing something to get upset about? Only time would answer that question so I decided to stay close, available and calm to see what she would show me next.

I followed her into her room where she took off the nightgown and threw it into the laundry basket. I opened her drawer and pulled out her favorite jammies. “Do you want these?” I asked.

“Ugh!!” she growled again as she grabbed them from me and put them on.

I wanted to offer her my warmth and support for whatever was coming up for her, but wasn’t sure what direction to go. Did she need more connection through play or just my quiet presence and listening?  So, I said, “I noticed you were pretty happy a few minutes ago. And now, it’s like PHEW! all this stuff’s gotta come out.” I waited for her response to clue me in to what she needed.

She made some more ‘growly” noises, but then looked at me playfully and said, “Yeah! I just need to wrestle you!”

“Alright!” I said enthusiastically. Play was the way to go!

We wrestled for a little while. She laughed hard and came up with some new wrestling moves. We had a lot of good, non-stop giggles. When I was ready to stop I gave her a big hug and said it was time to brush teeth. She transitioned easily.

While we were in the bathroom she said, “I’m really hot, maybe that nightgown is a good idea.” She went back to her room and changed into her nightgown.

Just as I suspected, the nightgown wasn’t the issue. Just a little tension that needed to be released through a fun time wrestling and laughing with mom. Connection and play saves the evening again!

– Michelle Pate, Parenting by Connection Instructor and Consultant
Join one of her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding classes starting May 22nd @ 6pm Pacific Time OR May 23rd @ 10:30 am Pacific Time —– You can also connect with her on Facebook.

A Playful Response to Sharing

I want it!!!

I want it! Give it to me!

How long can we simply BE with our children, lighting the way to reconnection, without rushing to solve “the problem”?

My daughter and her friend were playing well one day until they both wanted the same blue scarf. They came to me for help, their voices raised, as they both desired to be heard. I crouched down and said, “Ok, one at a time.” I asked my daughter to wait while we heard what her friend had to say and assured her I would listen to her next.

“She ALWAYS wants the blue scarf!” her friend said. “I want it this time!”

When her friend was finished, I turned to my daughter. “What do you have to say?”

“No I don’t! I used to use the pink one. I tried to be fair and let her pick one from behind my back, but SHE kept peeking!”

“Oh,” I say. “It sounds like fairness is important to both of you.” The girls nod in agreement as they each tighten their grip on their end of the scarf.

My mind is blank, so I am (thankfully) forced to just stay present and supportive to both of them. The three of us look at each other and I wonder how this scarf issue will shift.

Then my daughter’s friend starts pulling on the blue scarf and my daughter starts tugging back. I smile and say, “Wonderful, you’ve figured it out, Tug-o-war! Now you BOTH have the blue scarf.”

They look at me with a look I would describe as “playful mischievousness”. The girls tug back and forth. There’s no meanness to it, but I stay close and engaged with them by putting my hand in the middle of the scarf and gently tugging along with them. “Yeah!” I say. “Now we can ALL have the blue scarf!”

The tug-o-war with the scarf continues around the living room until I playfully say I should tie them together with it. They love this idea. I tie them together around the waist. They work to move around and end up falling a bit. They get back up, trying to figure out how to move while tied together. Once they get the hang of it they decide to be a 2-headed, 4-legged dragon and go off to find treasure together.

And I think to myself, in working through this conflict they already found the real treasure of connection and friendship.

~ Michelle Pate, Parenting by Connection Instructor and Consultant. Join her Building Emotional Understanding course, beginning March 14th. You can also connect with her on Facebook.

PS On a recent playdate, with the same friend, my daughter came to me with the scarf and said, “Mom! We are NOT getting along. You need to tie us together!”
I did, and the mood immediately shifted from disagreement to cooperation. 🙂

Intense Emotions and Solid Engagement – With the Magic Number Fifteen

Fifteen minutes of staylistening followed by fifteen minutes of hanging out (aka Special Time) turned out to be the magic formula for my then fifteen-year old daughter on this particular Sunday evening.

My daughter was in a crabby mood. She had just started a class in political science at the local community college, having signed up for it because she cares deeply about social and environmental justice. But the thought of having to do homework must have been nagging her and weighing her down. In the afternoon she had sung with her choir group in a wonderful performance and the music was still reverberating in her mind (and mine). There was no space in her mind to focus on homework. Yet, it had to be done. She had to read her textbook and then do an online quiz.

Finally, she started reading the required material. And then it happened. The tears started pouring down. The material in the textbook had moved her and allowed her to release her pent-up emotions. All of the crabbiness was a layer that eventually gave way to real feelings that had been waiting to come out. She was convinced that nothing anyone could do on this planet could ever set right all the wrongs done by humanity, both to humanity in general and to the planet at large. “Human beings have destroyed this planet. The rich get richer. How can they be so greedy? How can they do this knowing that so many people are suffering? Why are they destroying everything around them and the human race itself?”

There were intense emotions. It all came pouring out. It was now late in the night and I was tired. She needed to wake up very early the next day for another class. I was feeling the pressure of her needing to get some sleep. But I knew from past experience that if I focused on her sleep rather than on her feelings, then neither would get addressed! So, despite my own tiredness, I fortunately managed to listen to her feelings. I didn’t tell her that things would get better, which I sometimes do. Instead of reassuring her, I simply gave her my full attention with love, just listened to her, and shared the sorrow about the amount of injustice in the world. I found myself crying too, though I didn’t want her to be distracted by my tears. Thank goodness my tears didn’t seem to interfere with her emotional process. Perhaps she even found it supportive to know that I felt the injustice too.

After about fifteen minutes of this, when I asked if she wanted to go out and get some fresh air, she came out willingly. Although I had suggested the idea, the rest of the time definitely felt like Special Time, because I let her direct the walk around the neighborhood. The air was cool and invigorating. She noticed a tree that neither of us had noticed before that had fruit that neither of us recognized. She skipped with a lighthearted gait. I just enjoyed watching her and being with her. She noticed a little toddler going for a walk with her mother. We were both captivated by the daughter’s cute and determined footsteps, so we crossed the street to say Hi. And I delighted in how my daughter interacted with the toddler. Apparently the mother had tried all sorts of ways to get her daughter to eat her dinner, but had finally resorted to taking her for a walk while trying to feed her at the same time! We soon continued on our walk. There was more light-hearted skipping and talking. For a short while, my daughter’s mood shifted again and became a bit heavy, but she shook it off. The outside air sure did help with that. And after fifteen minutes of walking, we were back home again.

Shortly after that she took a quick shower and came back down to finish reading the assigned chapters in the book. She asked me about Ponzi schemes, hedge funds, and other economic and financial matters mentioned in her textbook. I was pleased that her mind was re-engaging in the material and gladly discussed it all with her. Now that she had managed to release those yucky feelings, she was finally able to think straight! Soon she disappeared into her room again to finish reading the text. She came down shortly after that again and told me confidently that she was ready to take the assigned online quiz. It took her fifteen minutes to do the quiz and she aced it!  She felt so pleased with herself and I was so glad for that.

Fifteen minutes of staylistening followed by fifteen minutes of Special Time. That was the magic formula for that day!

Of course, she still needed to wake up very early the next morning and I worried that she was not getting enough sleep. But she went to bed with a clear mind and a light heart. And I couldn’t have been more pleased about that!

—Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor  Usha Sangam

Usha Sangam

Listen to a free podcast of Parenting: Going Deeper in which Usha presented. Sign-up here.

Read other stories from Usha on this blog.

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

Helping My Daughter Move to Her Own Bed

(C) 2007 Carla Peroni

(C) 2007 Carla Peroni

When my daughter was around two, I was ready for her to move to her own bed. I wanted the transition to be as easy as possible for her, so I thought naptime, instead of bedtime, would be the best way to slowly introduce this idea.

However, when I told her she would be napping in her bed, instead of in mommy and daddy’s bed, she began crying, yelling and fighting the idea. Not what I was expecting! I gently told her that I would stay and nap with her. This didn’t ease her fears and her crying intensified.

I was still pretty new to Staylistening at this time and began to have doubts about transitioning her to her own bed because her reaction was so intense. I had to remind myself it was a safe situation, we were only napping in a different bed.

I also reminded myself that she never had a problem sleeping in other beds, like at a relative’s house or in a hotel while traveling. So, whatever her feeling was, it wasn’t about the current situation. It seemed the feeling was some deeper fear that needed to come out before she would feel okay in her own bed whether it was day or night.

I listened as she cried and fought saying she could not, and would not, sleep in her own bed. I offered gentle reassurance that I really thought it was okay to nap in her bed and reminded her that I would stay with her. We stayed on the bed together while she showed me how hard it was to even think about this change. Then, when she tired of crying she fell asleep in her bed.

This repeated the next two days. I’d tell her we were going to nap in her bed and then she’d scream and cry that she couldn’t do it. I kept holding out the idea that it was a good place to sleep. On the fourth day, success, she easily napped in her own bed like it had never been a problem.

After working so hard on both our parts, her showing me how hard it was to make the change and me listening and creating a safe space for her to be able to release her fears, I decided to hold off on the nighttime transition for awhile.

But my daughter had other plans, exactly a week later, at bedtime, she said she wanted to start sleeping in her own bed at night too. And she did! It was tough listening those three days, but so worth it for both of us. And I’m so glad she was able to initiate the nighttime transition when she was ready.

~ Michelle Pate, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor and Consultant. Join her in her upcoming BEU class starting March 14th  where you will learn the listening skills, and get the support you need, to help your family through any transition. You can also connect with Michelle on Facebook.

Setting Limits after Dinner

(C) RayaGr 2012

(C) RayaGr 2012

My daughter came home from a play date happy and easy to be with, but around dinnertime her tone changed. She began to fuss about random things and used a sharp tone of voice. I figured she needed some more reconnection time after being away.

Her dad and I stayed warm and loving toward her, trying to reconnect and trying to diffuse the tension with laughter. But still, she kept returning to that sharp tone and finding fault with one thing after another. Our attempts to reconnect with her just weren’t getting through.

She didn’t eat much at dinner, but immediately asked for a snack as we cleared the table. Now she knows the rule in our house: if you’re hungry right after dinner, you can eat more of your dinner or pick a fruit or veggie.

When I reminded her of this she immediately began crying, “I’m not going to eat dinner. I’ll dump it out if you give me dinner!”

I crouched down to her level and said gently, “You don’t have to eat dinner. You can choose a fruit or veggie snack.”

She cried more and still talked about dinner. “I’m not going to eat dinner,” she repeated. “Even if it’s yummy, I’ll dump it out.” I stayed close to her and reminded her she didn’t have to eat dinner. She could choose a fruit or veggie.

This brought out more frustration and she tried to hit me so I gently held her hands and told her I was going to hold them while they wanted to hit. She squirmed and cried with her eyes shut tight.

When she calmed, I told her I loved her very much and reminded her she could have any fruit or veggie she wanted.

This just brought on more tears. She fought and cried saying, “I’ll never eat a fruit or veggie until I’m ready!”

I told her that was ok, I would wait for her to be ready. Occasionally, I listed a few fruits and veggies we had in the house, but mostly I stayed quiet and present to her. She alternated between quiet snuggling in my lap and then back to crying while trying to kick and hit.

Whatever upset she was carrying, she was working hard to let it go.

After about 10 minutes she said, “I want raspberries.” I said ok, but then waited to see if she was really done crying and fighting. I nuzzled her playfully and asked her if she could look at me. She smiled and made eye contact.

With the tension gone (and who knows what caused it!) she ate all the raspberries and then asked for celery and almond butter which she also ate happily while we played a card game. We had a really enjoyable evening together and I was reminded of what a gift a limit can be when it is set with lots of warmth and patience for our child to go through the process of releasing their upsets.

– Michelle Pate, Parenting by Connection Instructor and Consultant, join her upcoming BEU class starting March 14th. You can also connect with her on Facebook.

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

Listening to Tears Before School

One morning while clipping my daughter’s nails I made the comment, “Oh, I think I clipped that one too short.” It wasn’t a big deal at first since it didn’t hurt. (If I hadn’t of said anything my daughter wouldn’t have noticed.) But after a minute or two it became the perfect pretext for her tears before school.

She began crying and insisting she couldn’t go to school. I gently told her I was sorry I cut it too short and that I thought it would grow back quickly. She cried more saying she wouldn’t be able to hold anything and therefore couldn’t have any fun at school.

At one point as I listened I felt myself tighten. I could hear an internal dialogue start that I shouldn’t be giving her attention over this. In that moment I wanted to say, “Get over it. You’re crying over nothing.”

Luckily I didn’t. I took a deep breath and realized at her age I didn’t usually get loving-attention when I was upset over little things. I was told to stop crying over spilled milk. I refocused on the present moment and my obviously upset child. I reassured myself that it didn’t matter if the tears were about the nail or not. What mattered was supporting her through this release of upset feelings.

I told her I really believed her finger would be okay and she could go to school, and then I simply held her as she cried more.

As her tears came to a natural end, she easily brushed her teeth, put on her socks (our usual morning issue!) and as she got in the car she happily told me her finger was feeling fine. A little listening was all she needed to get on with her day.

~ Michelle Pate, Parenting by Connection Instructor and Consultant. Join her Building Emotional Understanding course, beginning March 14th  and connect with her on Facebook!