Using Playtime to Help My Son’s Speech Impediment

When my son was 4.5 years old, he needed to see a speech pathologist for a significant difficulty he had with his pronunciation.  At the end of the first session I felt light and hopeful that this might really help.  The Speech Pathologist sent us home with some exercises to do. And then came the challenge: getting my son to practise!

Well, I tried everything.  I tried making them fun but he hated it anyway, he just put his fingers in his ears and made silly noises.  I tried some Playlistening – getting his teddies to do it, pretending it was a really stupid idea, and putting them in the bin, etc.   I got a few laughs, but it didn’t help him want to do the exercises.  So I tried setting limits – first playfully “oh, yessy, yes, yes, we’re going to do our sounds practise,” and letting him run away and giggle as he hid from me, but that didn’t work.  Then seriously, “We’re going to do our sounds practise,” but all he would do is say silly words and throw our sheets of paper away.  I was beginning to lose my patience and my ability to think.

Listening Time for me!  I vented to my Listening Partner on my frustration and let my feelings of overwhelm and confusion flow.  How on earth was I going to get him to practise?  This was just too hard…

For the first time in 4 years of using Parenting by Connection ideas, I was thinking I would just have to resort to the rewards approach the speech pathologist had suggested.  I really couldn’t see any other way.  We had to practise or the therapy was a waste of time; maybe just this once I had to let go of my beliefs and do whatever it took to get the practise done.  And just as my mind was starting to think about what kind of rewards system to set up, another idea flashed through my head and I found myself saying to my son, “Okay today we’re going to have a Special Time Sandwich.”  This wasn’t pre-planned, it just popped out my mouth.  “After breakfast, we’ll have 10 minutes of Special Time, then sounds practise, and then 20 minutes of Special Time.”  He looked interested.

Well, much to my amazement, when it got to sounds practise he was fully engaged.  He tried really hard to do the exercises.  I could hardly believe it.  So we tried the Special Time Sandwich the next day and the same thing happened.  He was fully part of it and even had ideas like “can you hide the sound cards around the room and I’ll find them and say the word.”   The next day he brought his teddy and made it do the practise and get everything wrong .  I started to hear him practising the sounds by himself during the day.  He would ask me questions about words like “is it skittle or stittle?”  After about five days of this he came up to me at the end of the day saying, “could we do some more sounds practise today , I really enjoy it.”  He wasn’t asking for special time, just the sounds practice!

And, interestingly, he became increasingly frustrated when he wasn’t understood.  He started to get quite angry and start crying when I couldn’t make out his words.  This was loud anger that I found quite hard to listen to and my heart ached for the frustration he was feeling.  But I did manage to listen and the anger would turn to tears.

He made fantastic progress.  The speech pathologist was impressed – and so was I!  His speech came along in leaps and bounds.

I think what happened was that he could feel all the effort I put into helping him try and practise.  He kept letting me know he couldn’t do it the ways I was suggesting.  I have a hunch that if I’d have dived straight in with the Special Time Sandwich it might not have worked. I think he needed to feel that I was on his side, that I was partnering with him.

—Rachel Schofield, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor (living in Australia)

Keiko Sato-PerryJoin Rachel in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding online class starting June 1.  Learn more >

Screen Time Becomes Connection Time

As my son grows older the draw towards video games is getting stronger and17748588-boy-playing-game-on-cell-phone-kid-holding-mobile-on-grey-background
stronger, and so is the family struggle over them. I started to notice the tension and frustration around video games increasing and began to set limits, but it did not seem to be quite enough. I would set a limit, and he would express his feelings, but never quite follow them all the way through, and for a period of time it continued as a daily negotiation.

He began suggesting playing video games during our Special Time. I hesitated at
first, thinking that it was not a good use of our quality time together, and worried that it might serve to encourage his constant desire to play them. But I told him it was his choice, and so we snuggled up real close under some blankets to play games on my iPhone. The first time we did this, he wanted to play the whole time and have me watch. I simply offered as much connection and enthusiasm as I could muster during the time. Then the timer went off, and I told him it was time to stop and put the games away. I moved in close to set the limit, and I held my hand over the screen on the phone. He erupted into a heap of feelings, insisting he had to play one more round, and angry that Iwas making him shut it off. I sat and stayed close to him while he kicked and yelled and offloaded his frustration. After he wound down he was flexible enough to do other things.

This same scenario repeated a second and third time when we did Special Time.
He chose to play video games, and after the timer went off I would ask him to turn it off and he would offload his feelings about it. After a few of these, I began to notice shifts in the way the Special Time was going. He was having me play more and more of the levels with him, and becoming much more flexible about turning it off, as well as not asking to play any more for the rest of the evening.

These past couple of weeks he has wanted to play video games during his Special Time, and I have come to really enjoy it! We snuggle under a blanket together, and he facilitates us switching turns back and forth on the different levels and challenges of the games we play. It feels like we are really playing together and we laugh and get excited and give each other “high fives” to celebrate good moves all the way through. When the 15 minutes are up it has been me who says, “OK, we’ve gotta do one more round!” It really does feel like connected play. Then when it is time to stop he is flexible and ready to shift to the next thing. I have also been noticing that he is not asking to play as much,
and when he does and I set a limit, he can cooperate with my limit.

Natalie Thiel, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor

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 set.

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.”

Using Special Time and StayListening to Help My Daughter Get Ready for Company

It was a Sunday afternoon, shortly after my we had moved to our new house. My four-year old daughter Leah had just come home from an overnight at her father’s house and we had two hours until our House Warming Party. We had been happily anticipating this party since our move. Leah was especially excited to share her new tree house with our friends. Leah had returned from her dad’s house chock full of feelings—she seemed sullen and sad and had lost all enthusiasm about the party.

I decided to help my daughter get in better emotional shape so that she would be able to enjoy our party. I asked her if she wanted some Special Time in order to help her really know that she had me. We did 10 minutes of Special Time, in which she wanted to hang out on my big bed and snuggle and wrestle. I offered lots of warmth and body contact. We did “flying airplane” and “trot-trot to Boston” and other physical games, with snuggles in between.

When the timer went off, I told Leah that Special Time was over and that it was time to start getting ready for our guests to arrive (I was already ready for the party, but wanted her to begin anticipating the arrival of our friends).

She said that she only wanted to be with me and that she changed her min about the party. I said, “You have a little bit longer to be alone with me, and the our friends will come over.” She insisted that she didn’t want to see anyone else. I repeated again (in a light, warm tone, while giving lots of eye contact) that soon lots of our favorite people would be coming to our house. She became more adamant. “No! I only want to be with you! I don’t want anyone else!” She began to cry. I kept my words simple, saying that I was sorry it didn’t feel like what she wanted, but that our friends would be arriving soon. Soon she was crying mightily, telling me that she never gets enough time with me and that she misses me when she’s with her dad.”

I stayed in close and told her, “You’ve really got me. And you get to be close to other people, too.” Her cries were deep and hearty, with big tears streaming down her face, which was getting red. She cried like this for about twenty minutes, continuing to repeat that she didn’t want to see anyone else, that I was the only person she wanted. I reassured her again and again that she really has me, and that she has other people who love her, too.

After about twenty minutes her crying slowed down. I continued giving her eye contact, and staying in close. Suddenly her eyes brightened and she said, “Do you think Hazel will be coming to the party?” I said, “Yes!” She perked up and said, “Yay! Because I haven’t seen her all weekend!!”

Soon our friends did start to arrive, and Leah enthusiastically welcomed each person—squealing and hopping up and down as each new friend arrived. She played hard all afternoon—bringing her friends into her tree house, showing them her new bedroom, and the back yard. She thoroughly enjoyed herself, playing and laughing with friends for over three hours. That night she went to bed happily and easily, and slept deeply.

Join Certified Instructor Angela Jernigan in one of her classes:

1) “Tears and Tantrums” class, beginning March 16. More information available here.

2) Building Emotional Understanding class, beginning March 27. More information available here.

3) Professionals Intensive course, beginning March 29.  More information available here.

Candy Time!

The talks and negotiations for candy and sweet treats reached an all-time high in the weeks following the holidays. I grew weary of the asking, the begging, the whining. One day when my son asked me for “One more gelt,” (or was it, “One more candy cane?”) I realized I was sick of rationing. Taking a page out of a friend’s book, I instituted a Special Time session called “Candy Time.”

“Hey Joshua, let’s have some Special Time where all we do is eat candy! What do you say?”

“Yeah!” he replied most enthusiastically. We bonded in our united sense of purpose as we pulled every treat we could find out of the cupboard:  holiday treats, marshmallows, fudge, cookies, chocolate chips.

“Don’t forget the raisins Mom,” he said and only then did I realize just how much rationing I’d been doing!

“Okay Josh, here’s the deal, I’m going to set the timer for five minutes and you can have as much of all this stuff as you want, OK?” His eyes lit up and he started unwrapping and arranging as I set the timer.

As I intentionally delighted in all the sugary treats he was ingesting and made comments like, “That one looks so yummy,” and “Doesn’t that taste so good!?” I could see in his eyes how different an experience it was for him to enjoy his treats in a different zone, not the one where I was begrudging him his joy in the sweets, but one where I was making eye contact, smiling, even enjoying his enjoyment.

“Do you want a bite, Mommy?” he offered.

“Sure,” I replied as I took a taste of the fudge, “Mmmm, that is tasty!”

After what seemed like forever, he asked me how much time he had left.

“About two minutes.”

He didn’t rush, he enjoyed every bite, and when the timer did go off he asked if he could eat the last few mini-marshmallows he had lined up. I agreed and we put everything away.

Now he asks for “Candy Time” about once a week. Sometimes he asks more frequently and I say, “Yes,” or “No.” But, interestingly, it doesn’t seem to be a problem the times when I do say “No.”

-Sarah MacLaughlin is a Hand in Hand Instructor in Training who also blogs at

A Little Special Time in the Morning

“She’s so clingy,” I found myself complaining about my one-year-old daughter. “I can’t get anything done!”

Crawling-from-KateAlmost all the mothers with babies of a similar age agree with me. We spend our days socializing in baby groups, or at other people’s houses, trying to avoid going back to our own homes. My baby seems fine when we are out and about, but turns into a koala whenever it’s just the two of us.

When I talk to parents of toddlers, and older children, I get worried that it’s not going to get any easier. Children of all ages need attention, and lots of it. It seems that no matter how much we give our children, they always want more. Their need for attention seems infinite!

From my Building Emotional Understanding Course, I learned that the clingy,
attention-seeking nature of our children is actually hard-wired into their brains. It makes biological sense that children evolved to make sure they were under an adults’ radar at all times, to protect them from wolves and other dangers in the wild. There may not be any wolves in our houses these days, but children’s brains are still the same.

According to Patty Wipfler, when children feel connected to their parents, they can be their naturally good selves, happy, relaxed, and eager to co-operate with us. However, their sense of connection is fragile, and is easily broken by something as simple as a parent giving attention to another sibling or getting distracted by a phone call. When children behave in “off track” ways, it’s a signal to us that they need some connection.

But giving children constant attention is impossible. Many of us work all day, and it’s not much easier for stay-at-home parents, who struggle to balance doing the cooking and housework with giving their children one-on-one attention.

Mornings were the worst time for me. I’d be struggling to get breakfast sorted, clean up the kitchen and get out of the house. As I rushed about, my daughter would start screaming for my attention, which stressed me out. As the screams escalated, I would feel more and more stressed, and she would get more and more frustrated. We were reacting to each other, so that by the time we left the house our sense of connection had been lost, and everything I tried to do just seemed to make her whine and complain.

After reading Julianne Idleman’s article “Start School Days with Special Time,” I decided to implement ten minutes of Special Time with my daughter every morning. I loved Julianne’s advice to, “Make sure everyone in the house knows they are loved and cared for, and welcomed into this new day, before any of the many mundane chores gobble up your attention.”

During Special Time I would get down the floor, and follow my daughter as she crawled about exploring. It seemed almost silly to be doing this, to just follow her, doing nothing but simply watching what she was doing. She barely looked at me, as if I wasn’t even there! But then I reminded myself that if I wasn’t with her, she’d be wanting to be picked up. She did feel my presence even if she wasn’t directly interacting with me. She enjoyed this time of exploration, safe in the knowledge that I was close by and giving her my complete attention.

What I noticed is that when Special Time was finished, she was often happy to continue playing even after I stopped to get on with other things. Because I’d invested time with her, she continued to feel a sense of connection, even when that time ended.

Now, whenever my daughter is in a particularly clingy mood, I give her some Special Time, and it often helps her to enjoy playing independently. Daniel Siegel, the co- author of Parenting from the Inside Out, says that humans have oscillating needs for connection and solitude. When I have met my daughters need for connection she can confidently go off to explore her world, learning, in self-directed play. The practice of Special Time, together with the other Parenting by Connection listening tools, have helped me to help my daughter discover her independence. It is a joy to watch, and it’s great to get some time to clear up the house too!

Daniel Siegel says that our brains develop during interactions with others. We feel connected, and internalize a sense of the loved ones in our lives so that they are with us even when we separate from them. When we devote time to our children, it helps them to internalize a sense of having a loving safe base that makes them feel confident and secure even in our absence. This could be when we just need five minutes to go to the toilet, or so that children can cope with separations such as daycare or school. Ultimately, our children internalize the sense of feeling safe and connected to us, which means that when our children are grown and fly the nest, they will still feel us with them. I love this idea that when we connect and interact with our children, we are interweaving ourselves together so that we will never really be apart.

– Kate Orson in an Instructor-in-training in our Certification Program. She lives in Switzerland. You can connect with Kate on Facebook at Parenting by Connection with Kate Orson.

Confessions of a Parenting by Connection Nanny: Part II

I realize the important role a nanny plays in a child’s life; the effects of which–for better or for worse–will stay with the child for many years to come. But as I have seen with every nanny job I have had:  I am that “bad” person who represents the replacement of their mommy! I am completely convinced that a child always wants to be with their mommy, first and foremost!   With this in mind, I will now one of my nannying stories. 

One of my nanny jobs is with Mira, who is 5 1/2 yrs. old. I officially started watching her (and sometimes her 7-year-old brother) about three months ago. I feel we are now growing in closeness. At the beginning, I was once again seen as the “bad” person who is there because her mom is not! The first several weeks were ones when Mira would show her upset at not being with her mom. This arose consistently when I pulled up at her house after picking her up from school. Her mom has taken on a new position and therefore is not as present for Mira as she used to be. She would say she does not like me, and that I am stupid and I suck!

There have now been several times when, seemingly out of the blue, Mira will start making sobbing sounds (but shedding few tears), grunting, kicking her legs, and telling me to stop looking at her, while I would try to make eye contact and show my concern. She even has yelled at the top of her lungs, “Stop! Don’t look at me!” I gently tell her that because she is feeling so bad, I will stay close (but I stay only as close as she allows), though I attempt to respect her request that I do not look directly at her. Often her father is upstairs. There have been times when she has barged into his office while he is having a phone session with a client (he is a psychologist). At this point, I scoop her up and remove her while she is kicking and yelling. Fortunately, her father is on board with Parenting by Connection, and has mentioned that he trusts me. He allows me to handle the situation. She has this kind of outburst with mom and dad as well.

These outbursts usually happen after she and I have had a lot of fun and connection (playing memory games or Connect Four, dancing, doing yoga) together. Of course I see this as a very good sign that she is trusting me more and can then “let it all hang out.” As time goes on, I feel that Mira accepts me more and more. She now sits on my lap, and will whisper secrets to me when we are with others if she does not want them to know what she is thinking. I attribute this, in part, to my allowing her from the very beginning to make all the decisions as to what we are going to do. I allow her to always go first in games, and I dote over her as she demands, “Look, look at me! Watch, watch!” as she does cartwheels, handstands, and headstands.

In a sense, it has been one big Special Time every time we’ve been together. As I feel and sense our connection growing, I plan to push against her will a bit (insisting I go first, for instance, or insisting that this time, I decide what game we will play). One interesting thing to note:  today when we were playing Connect Four and I would block her, she would comment:  “Good move, good block.” This was in complete contrast to how she was in the past, when she would get really upset if she did not win at a game I am pleased and a bit amazed how fast she is opening up and trusting me!

-S. Hart, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor