Trading Places in the Family

Recently, my husband and I were on vacation with our three boys, and our oldest was seemingly always putting a damper on our fun adventures. The walk was too long. Someone was talking too loudly. Another’s socks were pulled up too high. Someone blocked the TV in the middle of the baseball game (because it was necessary to pass in front to get to the bathroom)… You get the picture. After a few days everyone wanted to bite this child’s head off.

My husband woke up one morning and announced that there was a new plan for the day – everyone was going to take on the identity of someone else in the family. Since we were there, in part, for a business conference, we all even had official name tags that clipped to our clothes! The boys (and we, too) got really excited, and after a lively discussion of who got to be who, we each clipped on our name tag and headed down to breakfast.

The second my husband was out the door of the hotel room, he began jumping all over and making goofy sounds, exactly the way our middle son would have done. We all busted up laughing. One of the kids said, “Dad, watch out! People are coming down the hall!” He ignored them and kept on with his silliness. The kids tensed up for a moment, but when they saw the smiles on the faces of the people walking towards us, fell back into laughter. I was our youngest, and kept hanging onto the leg of our oldest, who was acting as me. “MOM! Carry me! I’m tired!” (Mind you, this is 20 minutes after wake-up, and ten steps out of our hotel room.) Again, laughter, as our youngest son (now Dad), scolded me and told me to leave mom alone. “This is a public place!” Our middle son, playing our oldest, jumped right into his role beautifully: “Why is the restaurant so far away from everything?? This place is too big!” Then he began poking at his two brothers, purposefully trying to knock them down, or scare them by jumping out from behind a pillar. Everyone was rolling in laughter. Not just us, but everyone we passed!

After a while, our oldest tried to take on the role of correcting us all, and orchestrating how we should be acting, and what we should be saying – a pattern we’re working hard to help him shed. None of us caved. We just continued on in our roles, and the laughter kept coming and coming. I admit that our oldest, the inspiration for the game, wasn’t doubled over, but he was grinning ear to ear, and I definitely detected a handful of chuckles.

I also noted that he was really watching “himself.” How interesting to see “yourself” from the outside looking in. Identity is complicated, and so often we lack the insight to differentiate between our behaviors and who we really are at the core, or our children’s behaviors and the sweet, lovable kids we know they are. Taking on the identity of another with them watching, and seeing “ourselves” from the outside, broke the tension created by all that identity confusion, and allowed us to see ourselves, and one another, for the people we really are:  good people with some behaviors that we would all do well to shed.

Tosha Schore~ Tosha Schore is a Certified Parenting by Connection instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area. Join Tosha on January 28 for her next Online Parenting Class, Building Emotional Understanding.

You can learn more about Parenting by Connection in the Listening to Children booklet set.

My Children’s Limbic Radar Picking Up My Extra Attention

I recently attended the Hand in Hand Weekend Retreat and wanted to report on what happened upon my return home. 
The retreat was wonderful. I was surrounded by beautiful redwoods, had fabulous meals prepared for me, and got a much needed break from full time mommyhood.

I got to spend time with other parents who are using the Parenting by Connection approach, got lots of listening time, unloaded a lot of built up tension, and spent a lot of time focusing on the goals I have for myself and my family. In short, my emotional bank account got filled up and I came home in great shape.

And my kids could tell.

I came home after bedtime on Sunday night. In my mind I planned to spend a good part of Monday hanging out and playing with my two children.

I had checked in with my husband the night before and knew that they had had a good weekend. I have found that when I have abundant extra attention my kids know it. And their emotional systems know how to make good use of it. It’s like all these little nagging hurts that are lodged in there get a chance to bubble to the surface saying, ‘Hey, over here! Look at me! I need some help over here. I’ve been waiting for someone to show up.’ So first thing in the morning… here comes ‘their stuff’ but only more amped up because I have all this good extra attention floating around. They could probably smell it the minute they woke up.

The younger one woke up, snuggled me for a few minutes, then immediately started whining about being awake. The older one came in and after just about 10 minutes of chatting started finding reasons to hit his brother. The younger one didn’t want to eat, etc. Your garden variety of ‘nothing is quite right’. And the older one continued to find ways to initiate conflict with his brother.
The great thing was that I was completely prepared and able to welcome this with an open heart and clear mind, because I had been listened to so well in partnerships over the weekend.

I started with some playlistening, climbing back in bed and pulling the blanket over our heads, begging not to have to get up. Then I begged them not to get up as they laughed and tried to squirm away from me. After 20 minutes or so of that game and lots of laughing, the older one started back on hitting and teasing of his brother and I was able to set some firm, yet playful, and connected limits. This led to some staylistening, as he cried and sweated and told me what a rotten brother he had. Just as he was beginning to wind down, the younger one started to do some of his own “Notice me! Notice me!” behavior, very disconnected, wild in nature, and I was able to playfully get him to reconnect.

After that they seemed like they were in pretty good shape, so I left the room to get breakfast started. They began to wrestle, which quickly became too rough from the sound of things, so I headed back in. I grabbed some pillows and began to get in on the ‘fight’. They both said, “No mom, you’re not rough enough!” I could see that they really wanted to exert themselves, but were still not connected enough to know the limit, so that the younger one wouldn’t get hurt.

So I said, “Oh you think I’m not rough enough, huh? How ‘bout this!” And made a HUGE swing at the older one with a pillow and completely missed, falling flat on my face on the bed. They then pounced on me and we had a great vigorous pillow fight with them ganging up on me and me being the buffoon. I was able to let them go at me really hard without getting upset. They were able to get lots of energy out, and lots of laughter and connection. And lots of brotherly teamwork.

We laughed and laughed for over an hour. And they played really well together for the rest of the day and several days afterwards.
Because my bucket was so full, I was able to be really present and relaxed with them. What a difference it makes! I could come up with fresh ideas, I had patience, I had play stamina. We all benefited, not just them. It really is true; the oxygen mask works best when applied to the caregiver first.

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

Laughing Our Way to Daycare

My 2.5 year old son had just transitioned to a new daycare. He had been there three days, and he had done very well with the transition. He was asking excitement in the morning to go to see his new friends at his new daycare. The teachers reported that he was playing well with the other children, eating and sleeping well, and seemed to be in a good mood throughout the day there.

On the fourth day, after driving to daycare, I went to take him out of his car seat, but he was hiding his eyes behind a cup. I thought he might be having some feelings about meeting so many new people and having to make contact with others he didn’t know well, so I decided to play with this a little by saying, “Oh – I want to see those beautiful eyes! I love looking in your eyes!” But he didn’t respond much. I continued for a while, but he kept hiding with little response.

Then I hid my eyes behind my hands, too. He saw what I was doing, laughed a little, and kept hiding, only ever so slightly peeking out the side of the cup.

He seemed to respond to this a little, so I exaggerated it a bit, to help bring out more laughter. I pretended to be playfully afraid of looking at him, “Oh! Oh! OH! I’m scared. I’m scared to see your eyes. I want to but I’m scared.” My son started giggling, so I continued. “What’s going to happen when I see your eyes? I’m scared! What’s going to happen?” He said, “Mommy…” and he tried to push my hands away. “I’m scared!” I continued to say. “Ohhh…I’ll try…” I peeked at him a little, and he was looking at me with warmth in his eyes. He held the gaze for a few seconds, comfortably, and I looked warmly back at him. Then I covered my hands again, pretending to be afraid. He laughed, then tried to encourage me to look at him, gently reassuring me it was ok. We looked at each other warmly, I said, “It’s nice to see you,” and then repeated this a few times more.

By the time I took him out of the car seat, he was relaxed and at ease. He was not only able to make warm contact with me, but he was also helping me to make warm contact with him.  It’s amazing what a little laughter and play can do.  It only takes a few seconds. I’m very grateful for these tools, because without them I would have missed the opportunity to help him playfully process his feelings. I probably would have scolded him, only making things worse. I can only imagine how different it would have been if I had said, “Let’s go, we’re late.” Or “Stop that. We have to go.” He would have started his fourth day feeling disconnected from me, and probably feeling kind of badly about himself. Instead, with just a minute or two of playful responding, I was able to simultaneously boost our connection, build his confidence and increase the likelihood that his fourth day at daycare went well.

-A Parenting by Connection parent

School Success Through Listening Time

At the end of a school year, my husband came home ecstatic. “My sons are geniuses!  Did you see their report cards?”  Our sons just finished third grade and Kindergarten, and we had just received their report cards by e-mail.

Our sons did well in all areas. My third-grader scored in the 99th percentile nationally in reading, having scored in average range last year. Our Kindergartener leapt from knowing almost no Kindergarten facts to showing advanced skills.  This was not because I pushed them on academics–I didn’t push at all.  I think it was because my primary focus was on increasing the time I spend listening to them and encouraging play. That’s why my children advanced by leaps and bounds. It showed up on their report cards.
I did work hard listening to them.  When my Kindergartener was afraid to take the pre-Kindergarten test, and when he didn’t want to go to school the first two weeks of school, I listened to him cry for hours, reassuring him all the while that he would be safe as he did those things.  My listening led to him being able to go to school confidently, and also to his loving to learn so much that I couldn’t stop him from reciting and writing the alphabet and practicing his numbers at home.
When my third-grader came home from a day of school with nasty behaviors and harsh remarks, and wouldn’t do his homework, I listened to him cry and rage for hours.  Many nights, he didn’t do homework, and I worked with his teacher and even his principal on this issue, as I agreed with him that he had too much. He also had difficult social experiences at school, and I listened to his feelings about those.  I listened to relieve his mind, and took action when I thought it made sense, advocating for him and changing my expectations of him, according to what I learned through listening.
I listened to both my children when they fought.  They fought not because they didn’t like each other, or because that is just what siblings would do, but because things were hard in their lives.  Nowadays, they amaze me with their increasing ability to roughhouse with each other like lion cubs,  laughing and creatively coming up with new play when their upsets are cleared through listening.
My husband and I offered them each a short Special Time daily, and whenever I found opportunities for more one-on-one time. We did Special Time before getting out of bed and before their homework or music practice.  We even did Special Time sleepovers for one parent to take one child on a special outing overnight.  My children and I spent time pillowfighing and roughhousing in the evening, and we spent time chasing after each other or playing hide-and-seek when going through a morning or bedtime routine.
I listened to their crying every day from three minutes to an hour at a time.  Even with frequent short Special Time and Staylistening sessions, by the end of the school week, my sons would become very tight, sizzling with upsets.  So over weekends, my husband and I did longer Special Time sessions, and we ended up Staylistening with them when their big feelings would finally surface. Then they would go off to school again on Monday. This is what I did in my family to try to turn their troubles at school around.  And when the emotional obstacles were removed, my children went ahead and learned a lot on their own. My Hand in Hand mentor’s comment was, “Your husband should say, ‘My wife is a genius!'”
I kept listening to my children because I saw their positive transformation and because we felt closer even though it wasn’t easy to do.  I kept listening because I gradually remembered and worked on my childhood and came to think I would have liked it if I had been listened to back then.  I was able to keep listening because I had other parents listening to me.  So thank you to all my listening partners in my community of parents, for your support.
Parenting by Connection Instructor in California

“No More Hitting” Made Our House a Home

Our life has changed so radically that even people who visit us are beginning to ask questions.  Our nanny was stunned at the difference in behavior and has passed along the course information to her sister.  My father who works with therapists, has been sharing your website with board members and any one else who will listen. A couple who stayed with us last week passed the information along to their parents and are saving it for when their baby comes along.
I have done four different parenting courses and have read somewhere in the ballpark of 70 plus parenting related books.  I have certainly picked up a number of wonderful strategies to use with our girls, but none of the information I was busy collecting made this type of immediate shift in being.  I was so sad when they were not getting along and my oldest was hitting and biting, particularly because I had read so many books and was from the beginning practicing attachment parenting and positive discipline.I thought all the work we had put in “should” make it so those kind of behaviors would be rare occurrences. I was devastated when they became routine.  I felt a bit like a failure.  I was beginning to crack and stray from the positive discipline methods I had so avidly been learning.  I found myself yelling and saw my daughter burst into frightened tears.
What a contrast that was to this work.  My first staylistening session with my daughter happened over a fort she had built that her sister knocked down.  She wailed that it was ruined.  Instead of talking her out of her upset, I held her as she cried about her sister ruining her things and taking her things.  I mostly listened and told her I knew it was hard. At some point, I told her that her sister may take her things, but could never take her place.Shortly after that, she stopped crying, looked at me and said, “I know, we can build it again.”  I asked her what would happen if her sister knocked it down.  She giggled and said, “That would be fun because then we can build it AGAIN!”  She hopped down and ran over, calling for her sister to come and knock down the fort with her.They played together.  I mean, really, they played together.  They had never done that.  That was the beginning of an amazing shift in their relationship and in my relationship with my daughter.
Now when my daughter hits or pushes, I look at her and she just knows what is about to happen.  She says some odd things while I hold her and she cries, but invariably after it is over she will thank me for helping her feel better.Yesterday after a rough patch at the park, I held her and she told me that she just needed to cry. She is no longer associating her behavior with anything bad or wrong about herself, instead she is thinking that she is having a hard time inside and needs to cry.  I cannot imagine what a difference this is going to make over the course of her life.She was heading down a path that could have caused her to perceive herself as a “mean” or “not nice” girl.  I wonder how that would have influenced choices she made in the future.  Your work is simply the best gift I have received as a parent.  Watching the girls giggle together and be generous to each other has been so heartwarming.My house has become a home.

Helping my Child Become Who She is Meant to Be

I participated in the No More Hitting class a few months ago and saw immediate and life altering changes in my children’s behavior. I was amazed at how allowing them to cry seemed to bring them closer to each other and to me. I signed up for the class because my almost-three-year-old had become quite aggressive, with biting, pushing and hitting. After a year of trying every gentle solution I could find, I was desperate. Luckily, this time I found a class that actually had more than a temporary solution.

Photo by Gloria Plunkett

It took a few weeks for me to really get the hang of when to move in and facilitate a cry and when to just offer some closeness. I figured it out, and had achieved some dramatic successes. But nothing prepared me for what would happen once my daughter truly began to trust in the process herself.

We had guests come to stay with us from out of town. A few days into the visit, we were planning to go out to dinner when my oldest daughter started to give me the red flags that she needed to cry. She was bonking her head repeatedly on the couch, pushed her sister and bit my dress. The babysitter was on the way and I knew we would be late if I moved in to listen to her, so at first, I let it go.

Then, her sister picked up one of her toys and my eldest ripped it out of her hand and hit her. I decided right then to give up my need to be on time, and to give my daughter what she was clearly asking for. I scooped her onto my lap in her bedroom and held her. At first, the crying was about her sister taking something that was hers. I told her a few times that her sister could never take her place. This seemed to touch a core upset for her and she cried off and on for a bit. Just when I thought she had started winding down, she looked at me and screamed that her ears hurt.

I gently moved my hands closer to her ears and she screamed at me not to touch her. I told her I was going to move very gently and touch her ears. Then she screamed that her head hurt. I lightly put my hand on her head and she literally exploded with upset. Her face contorted and she howled, “I can’t get out! I can’t get out! I’m stuck!”

I was taken aback by this, but could see she was working through something very frightening for her. She put her hand on her throat and rasped for a bit. She bucked and struggled and again called out, “I’m stuck, I’m stuck! I can’t get free!” Sweat poured from her brow and her facial expression was quite intense.

I knew our guests were in the living room with the babysitter and could probably hear her howling. For a moment my concern went to them, then I let that thought drift away and refocused on my daughter’s clear distress. I am not sure how long she cried while I held her, but it was quite some time. I told her that she was safe here, that she was free, and that whatever had frightened her would never happen to her again. I said it over and over. The tears and struggling persisted. At long last, her little body relaxed in my arms. She opened her watery eyes, looked right at me and said “I love you.” Her eyes shut and she fell asleep.

I sat on the chair holding her relaxed body, in a state of shock. What had just happened? Of course, I will never know for sure. But, when my daughter was born, her cord was wrapped awkwardly around her, and her heart rate dropped alarmingly. I was given a shot of adrenaline and a team came in to reposition her. They told me I might need a C-section.The next several hours, I was very frightened as the doctors came in and out, and her heart rate periodically dropped. I rolled this way and that and then at last I dilated. They had given me Pitocin to help move things along. However, it still took two hours of pushing before she came out.

She came out crying and it was months before she stopped. She could cry for hours in a car seat, in a crib or anywhere you ever set her down. I tried every technique in the book to stop the crying. I rocked her, bounced her, swayed her, fed her or set her in front of Baby Einstein. I achieved my goal, but ended up with a child that never stopped moving, who never wanted to be alone, who was a picky eater and evidenced real aggression.

I came out of her room after that shocking Staylistening session and shared what had happened with our friends. They were also stunned and were not at all resentful of the time they’d had to wait. At dinner all we could talk about was what might her life look like, having been given the opportunity to let something like that go.

What would have happened to her if she carried it around forever? When someone got too close to her as an adult, would she push them away for fear of being trapped? At dinner, I wasn’t sure if she would be different after in the days following, but now that a few weeks have passed I can tell you, the answer is yes.

My frenetic daughter, whom people often would suggest was hyperactive, is now calm and even-keeled. She remains an energetic, highly curious child, but no one would ever use the word hyperactive. I took her to a book reading at Pottery Barn recently. There were many kids at the start of the reading. One by one, each child left to play with other toys and wander around the store. Half an hour later, there was one child still sitting in her original seat. My daughter sat through the entire book reading happily watching and patiently awaiting her stamp. I videotaped her because I was too shocked for words.

Two months ago, that would not have happened. Two months ago, I was worried that when she reached school age, someone would suggest Ritalin and I would be in for the fight of my life.

My picky daughter, who has been a self-proclaimed vegetarian, has started eating meat. She now eats ham, chicken, turkey and, get this, chili! It seems as if offloading her old fears has given her the space to try new things that previously seemed frightening. The last few weeks, she has been extraordinarily loving with me, her sister, her father, even her friends. She is generous in ways you would not expect a three-year-old to be.

I am now left with the profound conclusion that my daughter has become the person she really was meant to be. I made a mistake when I tried to stop her from healing through tears in the months after her birth. I made that mistake because I thought the tears meant I was being a bad Mom, unable to soothe or provide whatever it was my daughter needed. I feel blessed to know that my mistake was not an irrevocable one.

I found Hand in Hand Parenting and they provided me with the tools I needed to help my daughter heal at last. The bouts of aggression and frenzy, followed by guilt and remorse are over. Not only hers, but my own.

As I watch her blossom, my heart softens and my chest relaxes. This is the life I wanted for her, one where she is free to choose how to be. She can be kind, generous, warm, creative or even grumpy, sad and angry. She can run full throttle or sit quietly to read book after book. Now, it is her choice, not a reaction beyond her control.

I intend to continue taking Hand in Hand courses and to pursue this work to wherever the journey leads me. What a gift to my child, to myself and to the world. If only all children had the chance to be who they were meant to be, what a different place this would be.

Building a Parenting Community for Yourself and Your Family

Doing something new or different with your parenting can be an adventure. It can also feel deeply validating when you connect with other parents who are doing the same thing. Here are some ideas for bringing together a local group of families to support, encourage and enjoy one another along the Parenting by Connection path.

ImageMeet Globally, Connect Locally

To start off, you are welcome to join our online discussion group of over 1000 Parenting by Connection parents. Our group is quite active. It’s a welcoming, supportive place for parents, caregivers and professionals to talk about using Parenting by Connection and our archives contain years of inquiries and discussions on a multitude of parenting topics. But even more importantly, you can use the group mailing list to connect with parents who live near you. You are welcome to post a note there asking parents in your area to contact you. Then you can talk about ways to connect in person, perhaps meeting at a local park to introduce yourselves. You can post the same type of message on our Facebook page, if you would like.

If you’d be interested in writing about how you are using Parenting by Connection in your family, we’d be happy to include it on our blog along with any contact info you’d like to share with local parents who are interested in connecting with you.

You might also consider starting your own local Parenting by Connection Study Group. You can download the guidelines for the Study Group and get started right away. You don’t need to be an expert. We have booklets and articles to guide you. You simply need an interest in listening to other parents with deep respect, warmth and confidence in their intelligence, and a commitment to listen without offering judgment or advice.

Have a wonderful time building your parenting community!


Julianne Idleman
Director of Communications at Hand in Hand