My Children’s Limbic Radar Picking Up My Extra Attention

I recently attended the Hand in Hand Weekend Retreat and wanted to report on what happened upon my return home. 
The retreat was wonderful. I was surrounded by beautiful redwoods, had fabulous meals prepared for me, and got a much needed break from full time mommyhood.

I got to spend time with other parents who are using the Parenting by Connection approach, got lots of listening time, unloaded a lot of built up tension, and spent a lot of time focusing on the goals I have for myself and my family. In short, my emotional bank account got filled up and I came home in great shape.

And my kids could tell.

I came home after bedtime on Sunday night. In my mind I planned to spend a good part of Monday hanging out and playing with my two children.

I had checked in with my husband the night before and knew that they had had a good weekend. I have found that when I have abundant extra attention my kids know it. And their emotional systems know how to make good use of it. It’s like all these little nagging hurts that are lodged in there get a chance to bubble to the surface saying, ‘Hey, over here! Look at me! I need some help over here. I’ve been waiting for someone to show up.’ So first thing in the morning… here comes ‘their stuff’ but only more amped up because I have all this good extra attention floating around. They could probably smell it the minute they woke up.

The younger one woke up, snuggled me for a few minutes, then immediately started whining about being awake. The older one came in and after just about 10 minutes of chatting started finding reasons to hit his brother. The younger one didn’t want to eat, etc. Your garden variety of ‘nothing is quite right’. And the older one continued to find ways to initiate conflict with his brother.
The great thing was that I was completely prepared and able to welcome this with an open heart and clear mind, because I had been listened to so well in partnerships over the weekend.

I started with some playlistening, climbing back in bed and pulling the blanket over our heads, begging not to have to get up. Then I begged them not to get up as they laughed and tried to squirm away from me. After 20 minutes or so of that game and lots of laughing, the older one started back on hitting and teasing of his brother and I was able to set some firm, yet playful, and connected limits. This led to some staylistening, as he cried and sweated and told me what a rotten brother he had. Just as he was beginning to wind down, the younger one started to do some of his own “Notice me! Notice me!” behavior, very disconnected, wild in nature, and I was able to playfully get him to reconnect.

After that they seemed like they were in pretty good shape, so I left the room to get breakfast started. They began to wrestle, which quickly became too rough from the sound of things, so I headed back in. I grabbed some pillows and began to get in on the ‘fight’. They both said, “No mom, you’re not rough enough!” I could see that they really wanted to exert themselves, but were still not connected enough to know the limit, so that the younger one wouldn’t get hurt.

So I said, “Oh you think I’m not rough enough, huh? How ‘bout this!” And made a HUGE swing at the older one with a pillow and completely missed, falling flat on my face on the bed. They then pounced on me and we had a great vigorous pillow fight with them ganging up on me and me being the buffoon. I was able to let them go at me really hard without getting upset. They were able to get lots of energy out, and lots of laughter and connection. And lots of brotherly teamwork.

We laughed and laughed for over an hour. And they played really well together for the rest of the day and several days afterwards.
Because my bucket was so full, I was able to be really present and relaxed with them. What a difference it makes! I could come up with fresh ideas, I had patience, I had play stamina. We all benefited, not just them. It really is true; the oxygen mask works best when applied to the caregiver first.

Kirsten Nottleson-Join Certified Instructor Kirsten Nottleson in her Building Emotional Understanding course. Starts March 27. Register now.

Nighttime Farting Dissolves Tension

After a weekend together, my husband and I were putting our kids to bed.  The lights were out, but my 5-year-old was not settled; he was making a raspberry noise.  This annoyed his brother, my 9-year-old, who shouted, “Be quiet! Stop that noise!”

We tried, “your brother is asking you, please stop.”  But nothing seemed to stop our younger son’s noise making or our older son’s annoyed shouting.

The little brother’s noise sounded like passing gas.

I wasn’t sure what to do.  I wondered if it was time to turn on the light and set a limit, but I decided to take a playful approach instead, hoping to bring laughter, bring our sons together, and make them more relaxed.

I said slowly, “That noise… makes me imagine… a sea lion… passing gas!”  All of a sudden, the annoyed big brother stopped bickering and laughed.  The younger brother also stopped making noise and laughed.  They thought this was hilarious.

So I continued, “I am imagining…. a humming bird…. toot!”  There was more laughter.  And we laughed about different animals’ flatulence for a few minutes.  The mood quickly changed from heavy to light and the brothers were laughing together.

Soon, after about seven or eight animals, I stopped as it was getting late.  I said, “It’s time to sleep, let’s be quiet and sleep.”

The 5-year-old made raspberry sounds a couple of more times, but the big brother didn’t get annoyed this time.  Gradually they both became quiet, and within a couple of minutes, they were fast asleep.

—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.

Facing Water Fears Through Play

My son had been going to swimming lessons for a few months.  His first 2 months he improved markedly each week, trying new things and being comfortable in the water.  He would allow his teachers to guide his head under the water when swimming from one are to another, but would never do it voluntarily or with me while we were swimming together for fun.

We were at the pool on the weekend, getting cool and playing together, and I thought I’d play with him around the head-under-water issue.

It started off when I got into the water and I pretended to fall over and my head went under the water.  I blew out lots of bubbles and came up pretending to cough and splutter.  Then he got into the water and he pushed me over so that I went under the water again.  I coughed and spluttered again much to his delight.  We did this a few times and then moved on to playing other things.

Then I practiced blowing bubbles and then said, “Your turn!”  He put his mouth in and blew some bubbles.  Then I put my whole face in the water and blew bubbles and said, “Your turn.” For the first time ever, he did it.  By himself.  He came up smiling.

A short time later, our friends had arrived and they joined in our game.  The next thing I knew, my son put his whole face in the water and started to swim towards me.  His feet were touching the ground and his arms were paddling along.

He got to me and looked at me in amazement and achievement.  I showed my thrill at his swimming and told him what I saw him do.  Then he was off again.  Swimming over to our friend with his face in the water.  He was so pleased with himself and enjoying the experience.  He kept doing it over and over and over and over again.   Back and forth, back and forth for at least 30 minutes.  His swimming technique improved, and he would go longer distances between us.

I can’t explain the joy, excitement and amazement we all felt at his achievement.  It was bursting out of me and out of him.  And it all started from the spark of Playlistening.

-Join Certified Instructor Meagan Probert in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding course, beginning March 7. Register now.

No More Struggles In Getting Ready For School

I had been having trouble getting my 7-year-old to get ready for school in the morning. It often ended with yelling or rushing chaotically out the door. It seemed like no matter how early we woke up he still dragged through the morning and we would still be late to school. We ended up mad at each other and he ended up with a rotten start to a day that he wasn’t much looking forward to in the first place.

I started hearing “I hate school,” and “I’m not going!” more frequently. I knew I had to do something differently. I read in the Parenting by Connection Newsletter about having 5 minutes of Special Time with a child when he first wakes up to help him reconnect.

I was really bent on him getting dressed, fed, teeth brushed, shoes on, etc. before we played. But since it wasn’t working anyway I thought I may as well try it. I let him know right before bed each night that we would do five minutes as soon as he woke up. He was so excited. He started hopping out of bed and it made a huge difference in how much happier we both were before school. Much of the time we were still late but at least we weren’t fighting. What an improvement that was!

We did that for a few weeks and he was really wanting to play longer. I told him that he could play as much as he wanted as long as he was ready for school first. So we decided to switch back to getting everything done first. Now we snuggle in bed for a few minutes then he hops up and gets ready and we often have 10 to 25 minutes to run around outside and get some good exercise.

I think the 5-minute Special Time helped him to make the transition. We usually play jump rope, and sometimes his neighbor friend even comes over to play tag with us for a few minutes. He is more energized when he goes off to school. He is complaining less about school. Morning time is pleasant now. I think we both actually look forward to it. He talks about school stuff while he’s jumping rope that he wouldn’t usually tell me.

I think it’s really true that for boys, physical engagement helps them open up. I also feel better that, as he goes off to school to sit for 7 hours with only ½ hour recess time, he at least got that little stretch of time getting his body moving first thing in the morning. And when mama’s less worried, everyone’s life is better around here!

Kirsten Nottleson-Join Certified Instructor Kirsten Nottleson in her Building Emotional Understanding course. Starts March 27. Register now.

Giddy’up to Connection

One day I gave my 3 year old daughter a “horsey-ride” on my back. I’d done it many times before and she always enjoyed the closeness and bouncy thrill of the ride. However this day when I took her into the bathroom I was lowering her down and she slipped out of my hands and fell onto her bottom. She was shocked and i was devastated. She cried and I Staylistened with her. I told her how sorry I was that I’d dropped her, how scary that must have been for her and how it must have hurt. I held her and allowed her to cry and heal.

After this incident she was very wary of me carrying her anywhere.  I wanted her to feel safe with me again so I took the opportunity to use Playlistening to help her release some tension around it. So when she needed the toilet I would offer to give her a horsey-ride. She’d refuse. I’d say,“This horsey is a bit wobbly on his feet, do you want to come for a ride?” I picked up her teddy and wobbled and staggered as I carried him on my back and dropped him down carelessly. She laughed.

Then I became the extra safe horse and with a big smile and lots of warmth I said, “This is a new horse that carries you on the front. See how safe this one is!  It never drops you.” I gave her a big cuddle that was firm and secure and I bounced into the living room. Why, she giggled! I then said, “OK, it’s time to put you down now,” and I lowered her onto the sofa which was a safe and easy place for me and reassuring for her. She was still hesitant as I lowered her and so I stopped half way and held her close again. Again she giggled, so I lifted her up again holding her securely.

I was encouraging her to laugh about something that was a serious break of trust for her. By taking her to that place where she was faced with the imminent possibility of being dropped brought the painful feelings close to the surface where they could be felt again, but this time she felt safe and she could laugh and regain a feeling of trust in me again. I did several more games like this over the next few weeks. The more she laughed and the more times that a horsey-ride with me was a positive experience for her, the more her confidence grew.

Veronica L, Certified Hand in Hand Instructor

Strengthening Your Play Muscles

My most recent fun idea for disolving sibling struggles between my 6 and 12 year old is (drumroll):  Sumo wrestling shirts! We get two of dad’s big tee shirts, stuff the front and back with bed pillows (2 in front, 1 in back seems to work well) and then, let the wrestling begin!

I sewed a seam along the bottom edge and tied a drawstring so the pillows don’t come out so easily. They can bounce into each other and no one gets hurt. They fall over and laugh and laugh as they try to get back up. The other one will try to help and then they fall down, too.

This has been a great solution when they are slightly off track and want to be physical but because they are somewhat disconnected the play has a hurtful edge to it. This game allows then to be close and physical with each other and  get in lots and lots of laughter, with me as the playful referee. The tension comes melting out in waves of giggles. They always end up in better shape and much more connected.


Removing a Splinter and an Old Hurt

My seven-year-old had a splinter in his hand that needed to be removed. I told him we’d have to take it out and that we’d probably have to use a needle.

(C) Julia Freeman-Woolpert 2007

Throughout the day he kept asking questions about the ‘procedure’. What kind of needle would we use? Would it hurt? How much? Would it bleed? How long would it hurt? Why did we need to use a needle? What does infected mean? Why did it get infected? Etc.

I tried to answer all his questions clearly, honestly and thoroughly. I told him it might hurt some, but not as much as it would hurt if it continued to get infected and that taking it out would make it get better quicker. I reassured him that it was the best thing to do for his body and that he could cry as much as he needed to.

He’d ask these questions over and over throughout the day and seemed particularly concerned about if it would hurt and would there be blood. He seemed unsatisfied with my answers and I could tell by his ‘tightness’ about it that he was worried, but wasn’t outwardly expressing any emotions.

That evening I told my husband that we were going to be taking a splinter out of our son’s hand and asked if he could hang close with us. We all sat down on the couch. I was ready for big feelings. I held his hand and first tried with tweezers, but couldn’t get at the splinter. So I got the needle ready and told him I’d make small hole so the splinter could come out. This time he cried and said, “No, don’t do it!”

Both his dad and I listened warmly to him as he cried, letting him know we were sorry he was scared, but didn’t tell him it wouldn’t hurt. After a while the crying subsided and I told him again I’d make a small hole with the needle for the splinter to come out and touched the needle to his skin. Again he cried and said, “Don’t! It’s gonna hurt.” We listened some more until the tears subsided and then reminded him again, of what we were doing, He cried some more.

We had several rounds of this and then I remembered that he had been bitten by a cat in that exact spot when he was ten months old. Despite a trip to the ER and a shot of antibiotics while being confined in a ‘papoose’ to keep him from squirming, it had gotten infected. They had to consciously sedate him and do an incision to drain the infection. They told me he wouldn’t feel any pain and because he was sedated, he didn’t cry. I remember thinking at the time, ‘What is his body and brain doing with that pain?’ At the time I didn’t have the listening tools that I do today and didn’t know how to help him process the experience other than to comfort him.

I knew now that I should take the splinter thing slowly and let him get as many feelings out as he needed to. I would let him know I was going to get the splinter out, he’d cry for a while, then it would subside and I’d say it again. At one point I said, “I remember when you were in the hospital after the cat bit you and they had to make a cut on your hand to get rid of an infection?”

He stopped crying and looked right at me as if remembering, and then went on crying even harder. A couple of times I mentioned parts of the hospital experience. He’d look at me and listen real intently, then cry hard again. He asked his Dad to stay close (unusual for him and shows me he’s figuring out how to use this process.) I kept remembering that the crying isn’t the hurt; it’s the healing of the hurt.

With each cry his body seemed to relax just a bit more and he protested less. After about 45 minutes of this he said, “Okay, I’m ready. You can take it out now.” He held out his hand completely and was able to watch as I poked and pulled the splinter out. It was actually pretty tough but he was okay with it.

After we got it out and put ointment and a Band-Aid on he bounded off the couch and had a great evening playing with all of us. It seemed to me that by listening to him he got to be in charge of his body during the splinter removal and got to heal some of the old hurt of the cat bite and hospital experience while he was at it.

Kirsten Nottleson-Join Certified Instructor Kirsten Nottleson in her Building Emotional Understanding course. Starts March 27. Register now.