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.

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.

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.

Playlistening on Thanksgiving

My husband and I were both feeling a little stressed this morning, trying to get the turkey, pie, cranberry relish, and salad ready to pack in the car and get over to grandma’s house for the big meal. We have two boys 4 and 10. My four-year-old asked me to play with him repeatedly and had already heard enough “just a minutes” to last a week and it was only 11:30 in the morning.

My husband was trying in vain to get our son to take a bath, but he was NOT going for it. He was digging his heels in and was not going to budge. I could tell my son needed a good cry, and I could tell neither my husband nor myself felt we had the time or good attention to listen to him.

I suddenly had an idea. He had been watching me focus most of my attention on this silly bird for the last 24+ hours. (I did a brining process that takes a whole day. It seemed like it would be simple until I got into it.) I asked him, “Will you be my little turkey? Can I wash you in the sink to get you ready for cooking?” He loved the idea. He climbed up in the kitchen sink and I poured water all over him using measuring cups, stirred the water around, and ‘basted him’ with the clean baster brush, with lots of talk about what a sweet little turkey he was, what spicing I was putting on him, etc. I kept talking about which parts of him might be the tastiest. He giggled and giggled while he soaked up all that good attention and the tension in both of us disolved away.

We were both more relaxed afterwards as I gathered my clean boy into the ‘oven’ (towel) to dry off. Such a good reminder to me that just ten minutes of play can change the whole day.

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

Three Minutes of Listening Helps

timerI was recently visiting family with my two children and my husband. At one point when I was with my cousin, my youngest, 21 months old, was playing a bit rough with the dog. I was redirecting him and showing him how to use gentle touches with the dog. He stopped.

The dog was under the chair my cousin was sitting on to do work on the computer. My son started to climb the chair and the dog growled at him as if to protect his owner. She misunderstood and thought he was being rough again and turned around and said, rather sternly, “Now Bobby, if you don’t stop that I’m going to spank your hand. You can’t do that to the dog.” I quickly explained that he wasn’t doing anything to the dog, just playing with her chair and scooped him up and took him out of the room.

A few minutes later, she came out and said, “I’m sorry. You know I wouldn’t really do that but I had to get him to stop. I hope you don’t think I’d do that.” “I know,” I said, “but next time I’d like you to just ask me to take him out of the room. I don’t want him to be hit and I don’t want him being told he’s going to be hit.” It was actually a very amicable conversation and I was pleased that I could be so clear with her without attacking her.

My husband and I left soon after. As we drove off in the car, I noticed I was feeling very anxious and scared and my thinking was fuzzy. I knew I could use some listening time. So when we stopped for gas, I went over to the side of the car where my husband was pumping gas and asked, “Could you just listen to me uninterrupted for about three minutes? I’m having some big feelings.” “Sure,” he said.

As I talked about what had happened at the house, I was able to remember:

1. My cousin loves children and was operating on the best parenting information she’s had access to. She is a good person and she cares deeply for my children.

2. I was able to do what I felt was necessary to keep my child safe. I did the very best for him and am able to make good on the spot decisions. He will not be scarred by that incident.

3. I am safe now. No one is going to hit me anymore. I know what to do to keep myself safe, and I am able to do that.

4. The fear I was experiencing was old. (I was hit repeatedly as a child.)

It was amazing to me how quickly I could recover my thinking, offload that anxiety, move on to have a relaxing, fun day with my family, and have no ill feelings towards my cousin. Sometimes three minutes is all it takes!

—Kirsten Nottleson, a Parenting by Connection Instructor  in Austin, TX

Preserve your own peace of mind as a parent. Train someone close to you as a listener so that on a regular basis, or when times are tough, you have someone who can help you notice, identify, and shake the stresses that make parenting difficult. You deserve it!

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