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 Shark Attack on my Child’s Feelings

I took my boys, 6 and 7, to the Museum of Natural History to see a 3D movies about marine dinosaurs. The youngest is especially sensitive to traumatic events in movies and games, so I had checked that the movie’s rating was age-appropriate.

However, instead of having an impersonal nature movie, the plot was a mommy prehistoric dolphin who gave birth to two babies, and the story centered around their lives. Just at the description, I started feeling wary. I’ve been surprised so many times about what is considered appropriate children’s culture. Sure enough, halfway through the movie the mother got eaten by a huge shark. Our youngest turned to me wide-eyed and asked if the young siblings were okay.

I said yes, but a few minutes later the brother was also killed and the sister was injured by the large shark. By then I knew that I would have some emotional cleaning-up to do later that day.

I had promised them a look around the museum shop before leaving and my youngest came running to me with a (no surprise!) 30-dollar plush Great White shark which was way out of his budget. He was heartbroken when I said that we weren’t going to buy it. He balked, pouted and whined all the way home. At home he kicked and screamed and would not eat any snacks. I began making contact with him and he said that he really wanted to buy the shark so that he could play with it and (again, no surprise!) his own toy dolphin.

I said that his big brother had a blue soft shark that he could play with but no, he wanted a grey shark, THAT grey shark. My mind was racing, trying to figure out how to help my little guy unload his feelings. I was pretty upset, actually, so play was far from my mind. I found a grey long-sleeved t-shirt and wrapped the blue shark in it. Only the teeth were sticking out in the front. My son whined that the tail was sticking out and it was blue. I saw that he was wearing grey socks and playfully pulled one off to put on the blue shark tail. And then I approached him with the ill-disguised blue shark which looked so ridiculous that we both started laughing very, very hard.

Until then I wasn’t really focused on playing, more on “seriously” providing him with a good-enough grey shark. But that was just not going to happen, and instead we got something much better in return. From then on, it all unfolded beautifully. I could start being creative again having found an inroad to his feelings. I played stupid and kept telling everyone that he was an authentic, grey, terrifying, prehistoric shark, in spite of his terrible disguise. I also played the scared shark who swam away screaming with fear when the dolphin stuck out his head from hiding. The whole family was shrieking with laughter. Later we also re-enacted the killing scene but the dolphin killed the shark instead because the shark was too full and sleepy from eating and had a tummy ache, etc… After this the boys took over the game for a couple of minutes and played out other unrelated scenarios, and little brother was his happy self again, ready for a snack and more good times!

Are you ready to learn how to employ parenting techniques like this, and turn troubling moments into ones of connected play time? Sign up for one of our core classes, Building Emotional Understanding.

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.

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. 🙂

Working Through Dangerous Fears with Laughter

Hey! Do you want to play, “You cross the street and then I come along and run you over?”

boy on scooterSo, my 4-year-old son and I were about to exit the gated park and walk to our car. I noticed he was a little bit off track, but I didn’t want to take the time to connect with him right then. I just wanted to get in the car and go home. Our car was parked across a busy street and I asked my son to wait for me. He dashed away from me, wanting to start a fun chase game. For me it was a trigger. Any feelings of potential danger send me off track with yelling or grabbing his arm a little too hard. (These are feelings of mine that I have since worked on during my Listening Partnership time, and I have managed to become softer and gentler in my response since then.)

I got worked up immediately—my heart was pounding and I felt so enraged that he wouldn’t come to me. He was running all around, and all I could think of that he could get hit by a car if he ran across the street before I could get to him. I yelled for him to come over here right now, and I grabbed his arm in anger and marched us across the street, with him protesting my hasty, unkind approach, and the “This Is So Dangerous!” speech that I gave him. I was quickly aware of my heightened reaction and apologized to him for reacting so angrily. I asked him how that was for him and he said, “Not good.” That sent my heart into my stomach with sorrow and regret.

I knew there was work I needed to do around crossing streets, as this was not the first outburst I’d had in this kind of situation, and I felt like a monster. I beat myself up in my head the whole rest of the evening, because of my response to this situation. “What a terrible Mom,” I thought to myself. “How can I be so abrupt with my little boy?!”

The next day I was sitting at the kitchen table and my son came rolling along the floor on his scooter and said, “ Hey! Do you want to play, “You cross the street and then I come along and run you over?” “Ah ha! Brilliant,” I thought! My little boy is working out his fear from yesterday. “Yes!” I said. I was more than happy to help release a little bit of what hurt I had so harshly inflicted.

He wanted me to pretend to wait on the side of the road, and look both ways before crossing the street. I waited on the side of our pretend street, in our dining room, and looked both ways. Just when I saw him driving down the street on his scooter he would say “Okay, now run across the street, Mommy!” I dashed across and let him gently “hit” me. (I made sure I stayed safe, and he was careful, too, in the midst of this “crash.”) Down I went, and he thought this was hysterical! He then had me pretend to get on his back and he scooted me off to the hospital. This went on and on, with plenty of laughter. He ran me over time and again, I fell every time with some comic flair, and then he rescued me. I was in awe of my son’s invention, a way to release his hurt feelings in laughter.

We’ve played this game quite a few times, always with plenty of laughs over my incompetence. I just can’t manage to cross the pretend street without getting run over by my son Every Time! Laughter was just what we both needed to heal our hurts over a scary situation.

Not surprisingly, our street crossing problems seem to have disappeared after all this silly fun. Can you believe it? I use to dread having to cross a street with my little one, and now it’s effortless. Gotta love Playlistening! It gets the job done!

– Christine Ashe-Elizondo, Certified Instructor

Playlistening Raspberries

After school, my 6-year-old was clearly off track and needing to offload some feelings. He had been at his little brother since he got in the car, and then on the way home, he started calling me “stupid.” Normally, being called stupid is very restimulating for me, but I had been working on it with my Listening Partner and on this day I felt like I could play with it.

So I said to him, “Oh, that’s not my secret name! My secret name is Kombucha Head, but don’t tell anyone. It’s a secret!!!” So of course, he and his 2-year-old brother started yelling out, “Kombucha Head!” as loud as they could. I pretended to be horrified, worried that everyone would know my secret name. This kept going for a while and I felt like it was losing its allure. So I changed tack and said that I had lots of raspberries* to give them. They both ran and hid under the blankets, giggling together. I pretended I couldn’t find them, and ended up sitting on them whilst they were under the covers. They were laughing and squirming and I sat there blowing raspberries towards them, without being able to actually reach them, pretending to be upset I couldn’t land any.

Then, the two of them turned the game around and started trying to raspberry me. So I played it up. “No, no, no! You can’t raspberry me! I’m the raspberry person around here!!!” I protested, whilst they landed raspberries all over me. After about five minutes of this, they both got up and went off to play together.

They were fine for the rest of the evening, until just before bed. We had a pillow fight. When I told them that it was time to stop and get ready for bed, because I was getting tired and felt unable to keep everyone safe, my 6-year-old kicked me and tried to bite me. So I moved in quickly and held him in my arms, so that he couldn’t hurt me or his little brother. He started screaming and raging and yelling, “ No, no, you are hurting my neck! Don’t hurt my neck!!!”

I was checking in to make sure I wasn’t holding or hurting his neck, and my arms were not even near his neck. I repositioned him, just in case I was somehow hurting him, but he continued saying the same things and thrashing about. This is a familiar pattern, one that I have been working on a fair bit with him. It’s got to do with being held down for stitches, I think.

After only five minutes, he stopped crying, looked at me and said, “I want to sit next to you, Mum,” and we all read a book together. He fell asleep that night quickly, holding my hand.

I was amazed at how quickly the Playlistening allowed both of my sons to connect with one another again, after a pretty torrid time in the car. I was also very pleased that the evening ran so smoothly after our Playlistening and that the night ended so sweetly after a big rage and release of feelings.

* A “raspberry” is the American word for putting your moist mouth on someone’s skin, usually tummy or back or arm, and blowing hard, so that a big wet sound is made.

-Melinda Booth, Queensland