Helping My Teenage Son Work Through Stifled Feelings with Listening

My 13-year-old son was off track in a way that doesn’t happen often. I asked him to turn off the TV in order to shift to bedtime mode at 9pm on a Sunday, and he resisted. It led us to a talk about screen time and balance. This weekend had been both very busy for me, and full of screen time for the boys, my older son especially. I was occupied with pulling together the last details on our beehive in preparation for picking up our first package of bees the next day. I actually was quite preoccupied and even overwhelmed by what needed to get done for that project before Monday. Understandably, we were not connected by the end of the day.

My son and I had a good dialogue about the screen time, but something must have struck a nerve because soon afterward, emotion came up for him. I realized he was in the bathroom, crying. I tried to go in to be with him but he held the door shut. I told him I’d be close outside ready to listen. He eventually came out and lay down on the couch with a blanket over his head. I sat on the edge and put my hand on his back, but he shrugged it off and pushed me away with his body.

I let him be for a time to give some bedtime attention to my younger son. Just as things were quieting down and I thought he was falling asleep he got up and came to me saying, “Mom, I want to rearrange the room.” He let me hug him a moment and then veered off to push furniture around. I watched him for a bit and helped move things out of his way. Then I started to feel exhausted by the amount of disorder that was being created. I noticed that feelings were being stirred up for me, and retreated to my bed.

When he started moving things in front of my bedroom door, I understood that the moving of furniture was another sign of disconnect. I went in the bathroom and saw how he had moved things from the counter into the sink and squeezed out toothpaste. He was off track again. I went to him and put my arms around him to pause his moving of things. He immediately pushed back. I stood strong and held the force of his pushing body with mine, meeting his push. We did this back and forth for a while. He went to my bed and we wrestled there. He went to the couch and we wrestled there. He tried to go into the bathroom and shut the door but I followed close behind and kept the door open. My goal was to be close to him and limit his ability to channel his emotion into off-track behavior. I could see clearly that the disorder he was creating by moving furniture was an attempt to move the internal chaos he was feeling up and out of his body, and I wanted to offer a more constructive way out. I wanted to give him a safe container to feel it fully and release.

For a long time we went back and forth, wrestling, or me being close by while he lay on the bed or couch. Each time he was alone on the couch or bed he reached out with a leg or an arm to swipe at me or throw blankets and pillows at me, sure signs of disconnect. I was tired and not sure about this territory. My
13-year-old has rarely released feelings in this very physical way.

As we wrestled, I sometimes got my arms around him from behind and was able to hold him in a way that kept us both safe from his hitting and kicking. He tried to bite and scratch me. A couple of times he pulled my hair. If I felt hurt or that I was vulnerable to getting hurt, I pulled back and got out of his way. I knew it was my job to keep myself safe; that he was not functioning from a clear thinking place in his brain; that he was working on releasing something deep.

I tried to keep my own thinking to a minimum. I focused on my breathing, and being fully present, I imagined waves of calm flowing from me to him. My younger son was up and about playing with the kittens and a bouncy ball the whole time. After about an hour of this back and forth, holding and letting go and holding again he broke into tears and sobs and cried in my arms. It was after midnight. When he was finished crying, he crawled to his bed and lay down. I wasn’t sure he was completely done, so I stayed close to him, sitting in the chair by the bed until both boys fell asleep.

The next morning older son came to me first thing and gave me a big hug. I felt relief that he had obviously released enough the night before to be back to himself. However not only was he back to himself, he was back, bigger and brighter than ever. He launched into a story about a game and interactions with friends from the day before. He was reflective, expressing curiosity, amusement, cleverness. The rest of the day was fabulous. He was so connected to himself, to me, and to his brother. He was playful, helpful, engaged the entire day. We had a great time in the city picking up our bees. Getting the bees in the hive was an adventure both boys helped out with. He played computer games with his friends for a couple hours and then he came back home and engaged in Star Wars origami and “Jedi training” with his younger brother for the rest of the night. At one point, he made reference to our conversation about balance the day before and he said, “Hey, Mom, this is something I can do to be balanced–origami! It’s hard and frustrating, but I like it and want to do it.”

I’m grateful I was able to offer listening power for as long as it took. Seeing the good results of my son’s clearing work made the lack of sleep and energetic mustering so incredibly worth it. I’m also grateful that I had had listening partnership time that morning over the phone. I’m sure that helped me listen
from a place of emotional stability.

Karen Murphy, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor

Join Karen in her Building Emotional Understanding course on Monday afternoons, starting May 13.

Karen Murphy is the mother of two sons, ages 13 and 8. Karen started using Hand in Hand listening tools with her children 8 years ago and it literally changed her world. Using the tools revolutionized Karen’s parenting in such inspiring ways that she studied to became a Hand in Hand Instructor in 2010. She is excited to share knowledge, tools, experience and support to anyone seeking to increase connection with children. Karen offers classes, listening partnerships and consultations in the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon & Washington. Connect with Karen via her website at http://www.mindfulparentingtools.com

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.

Saying Good-Bye to Our Old House

It was mid-October and we had been in the new house for about 8 weeks. My daughter LOVED the new house. She had her own room with a bunk bed, a tree house, a hot tub… and a big yard to play in every day. Except for the evening when we moved, most of her attention over these weeks had been on how fun and exciting it was to live in our new house.

But on this particular evening, 8 weeks in to living at the new house, my daughter uncovered feelings of loss about leaving the old house. When I was tucking her in, we were praying (part of our usual routine), and she asked if we could pray a blessing for our new house. As I was praying for the new house, my daughter let out a sob and turned and threw her arms around me. “I miss the old house SO much!” she said. The tears came readily, and she quickly had big fat tears streaming down her cheeks, and sobs coming from deep in her belly.

The light had been out, so I turned it on dimly so she could see my face as I listened to her, propped up on my elbow. At first I just made little noises of compassion, occasionally adding, “You really miss the old house!” or repeating other phrases she had said.

Then she started talking about the particulars of the old house, like “There were four steps leading up into the house and it was perfect for my sli-i-i-nky! (sob, sob) And this house doesn’t have enough steps for my slinky to go down!” She would cry for a minute or two and then remember something else she loved about living in the old house, like “Remember how you would pull that cutting board out of the kitchen counter and pull my high chair right up to it, and then I could eat breakfast right next to where you were doing the dishes! (sob, sob) Now I never get to stick so close to you while you do the dishes!” Or, “I miss that couch with the big cushy cushions—we made the BEST forts with that couch! (sob, sob).” With each thing she mentioned, as she started to slow down with her sobbing, I would quietly add, ““Good-bye steps!” or “Good-bye favorite-spot-at-the-counter!” or “Good-bye cushiony couch!” at which point her sobs would deepen again. When the sobs lessened, I would repeat the good-bye, until it ran out of steam, and then she’d move on to a new “favorite thing” to say good-bye to.

It was sweet to hear the long list of things that mattered to her so much about our life together in our old place—details that made up her experience of “home” there. The old house was actually a tiny little cottage that was right next door to the new house. After she’d been crying heartily for about 30 minutes I suggested that we go look out her bedroom window from where we could see the cottage. We sat at her window, her on my lap, for another 15-20 minutes, with her looking longingly at the little cottage, saying, “I loved that home SO much!“ and sobbing deeply, with big fat tears, remembering more and more about what she loved there. At one point she said, “I feel like if I never see inside that cottage again my heart will break into eleven pieces!! (sob, sob).”

Eventually her sobs settled down, she wiped her face and said, “I’m ready to go to sleep now, Mommy.” I tucked her in and she slept deeply for twelve hours. The next day there was no sign of the upset of the previous night, and she was back to enjoying her life in our new house. I imagined how different my life would have been if with every move I had had the chance to say good-bye—with attention and in detail—to each and every tiny thing I loved about the previous house. I took this to my next listening session, and had a good hearty cry myself. Once again, following my daughter’s lead, I got to clear out a little section of my own old hurts that had previously gone untouched.

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.

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

How I Got My Daughter to Give Up the Pacifier and Settle in to Deeper Sleep

My daughter Leah was an extremely agitated infant who slept very poorly. Our pediatrician assured us that the problem was not a medical one, but we never fully understood what had her so upset and out of sorts.

By the time she was three months old, my entire life was focused on helping her get some good sleep. I hired two sleep consultants, read every book on sleep available, but found no answers or magic cures. What I knew I could not do was leave her alone to “cry it out.” Instinctively I knew she was struggling with something that she needed my help with, and I couldn’t bring myself to leave her alone.

So… I spent hours a day sitting in a rocking chair in a darkened room with her in my arms. Blackout shades and a sound machine made our bedroom a sleeping haven (at least it seemed that way to me!), but she could not succumb easily to sleep and could not stay asleep for more than ten minutes without my arms around her.  I had found that sucking appeased her quite well, and I had allowed her to grow accustomed to nursing or taking a bottle, and eventually sucking on a pacifier to stay asleep. The problem was that she couldn’t stay asleep unless something was in her mouth to suck on. I had to stay with her and keep the pacifier in her mouth or it would fall out and she’d wake and cry until I put it back in.

I knew the pacifier—and the need to suck in order to fall asleep and stay asleep—was a habit I had allowed her to develop, and that the only way she was ever going to be able to sleep deeply and independently, was if I helped her give up the pacifier. I tried some different methods I had read about—gentle ways to help a baby “ease off” the nipple so as not to require it for sleep, but the methods never seemed to work.

Around this time I learned about lovingly listening to babies cry by reading Althea Solter’s book, The Aware Baby. It reminded me that, years before, I had been introduced to Patty Wipfler’s approach to helping children with their feelings, and so I looked her up. I found that not only was Patty still working with parents and children, but she was starting a Building Emotional Understanding class for parents the very next week, and only a mile from my home! The class was where I learned about “Staylistening,” and got the support I needed to be able to listen to my daughter’s deep feelings.

I realized right away that I needed to help my daughter with the feelings that were being held in place by the pacifier. One night when we were doing our bedtime routine (bath, bottle, pacifier and rocking in the rocking chair), I told her after she finished her bottle that I wasn’t going to give her the pacifier anymore, but that I would stay right with her while she had her feelings. Holding her little body in my arms that night while she thrashed and cried, arching her back, turning all red, sweating profusely, and screaming in what sounded like agony, was the hardest thing I’d done as a parent. It was even harder than giving birth! Tears streamed down my face while I held her in my arms, offering her eye contact, and telling her gently but with conviction that she was safe, and that I wouldn’t leave until she felt peaceful. That night I listened for an excruciating hour and a half. When she was done crying, her body relaxed and she slept more deeply than she ever had.

The next night, and for three more nights after that, I listened lovingly to my daughter cry for forty-five minutes before she could sleep. It was still quite hard for me and I needed to cry afterward in order to recover from the experience.  But her sleep was improving—she could now stay asleep for a two-hour stretch (at night) without me holding her, and without sucking on anything! It felt like a miracle. And knowing that I had found a way to help my daughter made me feel much, much better about myself as a parent. For the first time I felt the sweet confidence that my love and attention could indeed make a huge difference for my child.

After that, my daughter would still cry in my arms before falling asleep, but her cries were much shorter and far less intense. Her dad started taking turns putting her to bed. He agreed to listen to her in the way I had learned: offering eye contact and speaking to her gently. We noticed that when he put her down she would cry intensely again for long stretches—sometimes for a half an hour or more. This was interesting since she didn’t cry as much with me anymore. We realized that there were feelings she could get at with her dad that she was unable to reach with me because my body had become a sort of “comfort” that soothed her away from her feelings. During these times of listening, my daughter and her father began to develop a deep bond that they both enjoy to this day—deeper than what I’ve seen many children get to have with their fathers.

Sleep continued to be an area of challenge for us as a family, but taking away my daughter’s pacifier and listening to her cry those first times was a dramatic turning point in our steps toward improved sleep. We still had a long road to go, and many hours of listening to do, but her sleep continued to improve as we listened through her upsets. In addition to improved sleep, through the listening, my daughter became more relaxed and content as a baby. With our help she was able to “offload” a pile of fear that had had her in its grips in those early months.

Today she is almost three-and-a-half. She is a bold, confident, adventurous, loving child who is delightfully and delightedly herself.  She also—gratefully—sleeps a deep twelve hours almost every night!

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

Join Certified Instructor Angela Jernigan in one of her classes or local groups in the East Bay.

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.

Listening Helps Calm My Grandson’s Fears

When our grandson was one, and just walking, we convinced his parents to let us babysit so they could have a night out.  They were quite nervous because they did not like to hear their son crying.  We told them we could handle it, and promised we would call if things got out of hand. We invited them to keep their phone set on “vibrate” in the movie theatre and restaurant.

About 20 seconds after they left, he began to ask for them. We told him they would be back in a bit.  He began to cry hard, getting his shoes and handing them to his grandpa to put on.  His grandpa said, “You want to go out and get momma and poppa?”  He shook his head yes vigorously and went to get his coat from the hook by the door.  We told him we were going to wait at home for them.  We sat with him by the door with him, he cried and cried.  He rolled himself up in a ball on the floor.  We put our hands on his back and told him we were going to stay right with him until they came back and we were sure they would.  He cried for about an hour.

We kept getting nervous.  Grandpa wanted to give him a bottle (he had less experience at this than I do), and I suggested maybe we just wait a little more, that I did not think he was hungry, and told him I know it is hard to listen to, especially at first.  The baby finally stopped.  I am always amazed that they do stop, because the message in my head says things like, “What if he doesn’t stop and his parents come home and they never let us babysit again! “  We played with his toys and after about 20 minutes he went to the door again and got his coat and shoes, crying for momma and poppa.  This time it lasted about 5 minutes.  It happened several more times.

Fortunately, when his parents came home, he had fallen asleep on top of grandpa on the couch.   Now he is three and has a baby brother.  Once a month we babysit them overnight at their house.  They usually cry for a few minutes, and ask many times during the evening when momma and poppa are coming home, and where they are and what they are doing.  If they get hurt or fight over a toy, they usually want momma and poppa, and cry for them for awhile. We just Staylisten, and assure them that their parents miss them too, and that they will be so happy to see them when they come home.

– Join Certified Instructor Emmy Rainwalker in her Building Emotional Emmy RainwalkerUnderstanding Online class, starting March 18. Register now.