Helping My Child with Keeping Agreements

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(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.

How Listening to My Son Helped his Separation Anxiety

We went away camping with four other families.  Between us, we had eleven kids between the ages of 1 and 7.  The weather was beautiful.  We cooked over a wood fire and the kids hung out playing well and laughing together.  The sea was still warm enough for a swim.  It was a beautiful weekend.

On the last day, my partner and I went to pack up the tent.  I’d told my son earlier that we were soon to pack away.  We’d just taken the fly sheet off when he came rushing over to us. “I need a rest, put the fly sheet back on,” he whined.

I let him know that we weren’t going to put the fly sheet back on, but said he could rest inside the inner tent if he wanted.  He went inside and started leaning against the tent walls.  I got inside and put my arm gently behind him, “No, I’m not going to let you lean against the tent like that. It could rip.”

He stayed put, so I said, “I’m going to move you away now,” and did just that.

He protested loudly, “Get away from me!” he shouted angrily.  I moved back a little.  He was still very angry, but crying now, too.  He kept screaming, “Get away from me!

I wasn’t quite sure how close to be, so I thought I’d experiment with distance.  I moved back further. He was still shouting at me and crying, so I got out of the tent.

Come back,” he shouted!

I had obviously gone too far.  I got back in, and he started crying harder.  The anger subsided and just tears remained.  I moved a little closer.  The sobbing died down and we cuddled.

I got on with the packing and he lay in the tent for a little while longer, then got up and joined the other kids, who were eating sausages.

Amazingly, there was no further issue or upset about leaving.  When it was time to go, he happily went round saying goodbye, and hopped straight in the vehicle.

It seemed like the wonderful weekend had made him feel safe, loved, and good.  And that feeling of goodness allowed some buried sadness to pop up.  Probably because he’s been listened to regularly, he was able to let me know I’d moved too far away from him!  I think by staying close and listening to his anger and tears, I helped him clear away old hurts.  When they were flushed out, he was free to think well and say goodbye with lightness and warmth.

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

Rachel SchofieldJoin Rachel in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding online class starting June 1.  Learn more >

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.

My Son Finds the Courage to Speak Up

My son and his babysitterOur babysitter came over, and she and my 4-year-old son were having a pillow fight in the other room. My son ran to me and buried his face in my lap. I could sense he was very upset about something that just happened. I put my hand gently on his back and tried to make eye contact with him. I was quiet and listened to him cry. I could tell he wasn’t badly hurt and just needed me to do some Staylistening with him.

After a minute he popped his head up from my lap and said, “Emily was too rough with me.” “Oh, I see,” I said. “I’m wondering if you’re okay?” He pointed to his back. It looked fine.

Emily came in the room and said he hurt his back. My son was still crying and I continued to listen and offer my warmth and attention. After a couple of minutes he got up and went to eat something. About 10 minutes later my son said very clearly, in a big voice, “Emily, you were too rough with me.” She apologized.

-Christine Ashe, Certified Instructor

Helping my Child Move Through Upset After Hurting Another Child

When my daughter Leah was just under two years old, we were playing one day with a friend and her one-year old son, Malcolm.

While gently nuzzling the leg of the younger boy, my daughter suddenly took his thigh in her mouth and bit down, HARD. He immediately started screaming and crying. My daughter lurched away, looking startled, but was frozen and not able to cry. It wasn’t clear if she had been trying to hurt him, or just trying something out (she looked more curious than aggressive). I went to my daughter and held her, reminding her that we have to be gentle with babies. None of what I said seemed to go in; she was frozen and not listening. Shortly, both children seemed over the upset and were back to playing.

Some month or six weeks later, while attending a mommy/toddler class together, a slightly older toddler bit my daughter on the arm. My daughter cried briefly, but stopped when the teacher arrived offering a band aid. I realized that this classroom wasn’t going to be the environment to allow her to offload her feelings, and I hoped the feelings would come up later to be worked out.

Later that day, I was crouching down to get something out of the refrigerator and my daughter came up behind the door and pushed it closed (bumping it gently into me). I lost balance and stood up to avoid falling. Leah looked startled and immediately started crying really hard. I realized that she thought I had been hurt, and I assured her I was okay. I sat on the kitchen floor for a good twenty minutes while she stood and cried, a loud “whah!” kind of cry with lots of sweat.  I stayed close and spoke tenderly to her (I forget exactly what I said).

Throughout the twenty minutes of her cry I thought she was releasing stress over the upset earlier in the day from having been bitten by the other child. But after crying for about twenty minutes, and through big sobs, she managed to say, “I don’t want to ever bite baby Malcolm again!” Then she cried and cried some more while I said things to her like, “You are so good, you are so good, even when you make a mistake, you are so good. It’s really okay. You are good and Malcolm is just fine. You get to make mistakes sometimes.”

After twenty-five or thirty minutes she finished her cry and cheerfully reached for my hand, ready to move on and into the afternoon.

I was moved by what I saw as the connection between getting bitten earlier in the day and her memory of having been the child who bit another. At the time when she bit Malcolm, she wasn’t able to release any feelings about it, but she had clearly carried that memory—and the emotional pain of having hurt another child—and it was ready to be released when the right circumstances brought it up again.

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.

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.

Getting the Support You Need to Resolve Sleep Issues

One of the mothers in my ongoing support group has a 2-year-old daughter who had a really hard time falling asleep. This is her story:

Ever since our sweet little daughter was an infant we had to help her fall asleep, which meant sitting by her bedside for two hours (every night!), patting her head and back, giving her water, and feeling like we were there against our will. And in spite of this bedtime routine, she usually woke frequently and demanded our presence during the night as well.

Ever since she was a baby our daughter has been going through many different medical procedures that have made her life and ours pretty challenging. And I kept feeling that, as her mother, I could not cause her additional pain and frustration. Watching her cry for a long time in bed was hard for me to handle, and this was keeping me from doing what I needed to do, and knew I should do. 

For a few months I worked on my own feelings about this issue in my listening time in our support group. And then I felt like we were ready to move forward and bring some change. It took both my husband and me to be there with our daughter and our older son. We started by telling them over dinner: “Tonight, we are going to try something different at bedtime, something that will help you sleep better in your bed without mommy and daddy staying in the room the whole time.” Then, after taking a shower, both kids got to do some Special Time (5 minutes for each child with each parent). Then there were some more stories and a few songs, followed by a hug and a kiss. And then we suggested that we were going to go to the other room and fold the laundry.

The first few nights this suggestion was not really accepted (as can be expected…) and there was a lot of moving around and going in and out of the room. Some nights there was crying and resistance to our leaving the room. At that stage, I generally tried to stay as close as possible to allow the crying to flow and to reassure my daughter, saying, “Mommy loves you,” and “Mommy will always keep you safe, even when she’s in the other room.” Bit by bit, over many nights, I moved farther away from her as I listened to her feelings pour out until the crying subsided and I could leave the room. I always had to keep the “right distance” for the feelings to come out, because if I came too close then the crying would stop but she still couldn’t fall asleep without me.

During this process I had a lot of feelings of my own, including uneasiness and fear about what this process was going to look like and for how long it would last. How much more crying would we have to face? I was getting a lot of help and support from my husband as well as my Listening Partners.

After a week or so there was no crying (!) at bedtime, but there were still some difficulties in falling asleep. What I tried to do then was to stand at the doorway and tell her some reassuring words and leave again. After a few days you could tell by the look in her eyes that her bed felt like a safe place to her, and she wouldn’t want to get out of it.

Today, a month after we started this process, my daughter falls asleep quietly and happily, and the quality of her sleep has improved significantly. She wakes up very relaxed and does not cry as she used to before.

This whole process helped me, and my partner, enjoy our evening once again. On top of that, we feel empowered in our ability to make changes in our family and move things forward. It reminded us that our role as parents is to lead our family and not get “trapped” by our kids’ behavior.

As for me, I feel that helping my daughter through this hurdle has allowed me to finally see her clearly with joy and vitality, without any filter of anger, guilt, or the need to go easy on her to compensate for the medical procedures she has had to go through. All I can see now is how proud I am of her and how much I love and admire her.

I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart (as well as the three other hearts in my family) for this precious support that we are getting from you and from the support group you’re leading. This has made this whole process so doable, sensitive, and real. And thank you to all the moms in the group who are also a big part of this great gift!

Yes! I would like more free resources on helping my children sleep. Click here.

Ravid Aisenman AbramsohnRavid Aisenman Abramsohn, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor in Israel