How a Single Hour Can Solve Parenting Problems

“Although the Hand in Hand resources (booklets, podcasts, and videos) that I had already used had been so helpful to me and my husband, we still had so many questions. Having contact with a real human who similarly valued establishing connections with her children and could answer questions related to Hand-in-Hand was remarkably uplifting. It’s not just our kids who crave connection! And, this may sound strange, but simply making the commitment to do the consultation helped me feel even more committed to following through on the many wonderful things I have learned from Hand in Hand.” ~ a mom in Alaska

“I chose to try a Hand in Hand consultation because my son was waking up many times in the night. The longest stretch was 4 hours and then he would wake every hour to two hours. It could take over an hour to get him to sleep even if I nursed or bounced him. Naps were also suffering. During the consultation, I learned that crying is necessary. It doesn’t mean that you’re not doing a great job or that there’s something wrong with your child. I felt stronger as a parent listening and holding my son as he cried. While the consultation wasn’t an instant fix, it was extremely helpful and we continue to use the techniques that we learned. My son is now sleeping 8-9 hours a night, so we are inching in the right direction and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.” ~ a mom in California


When you schedule an hour with a Parenting by Connection consultant, you are matched with a parent consultant who has real experience and is trained in the Parenting by Connection listening tools. They know how hard you are trying and how deeply you care for your children. They listen with respect and warmth for you and your job as parent, which will give you time to think about your family and notice things you haven’t thought of before. This unique style of listening will allow you to find clarity in your situation.Our parent consultants will give you the support you need to move forward with patience and love. They will be ready to answer questions you have about the listening tools and offer new ways of connecting with your child.If you are ready to get the one-on-one support you need please visit our consulting page for more info >
Hand in Hand is a non-profit organization. We’re here to make a real difference for you and your family. So we offer a simple guarantee: If you aren’t completely satisfied with your consulting session,  we’ll either schedule you with a different consultant, or refund your fee.
With deep appreciation for the work you do as a parent,

The Hand in Hand Team

Staylistening at Bedtime

My 5 year-old has always been clingy with me, especially at bed time.  Tonight I decided I would do StayListening with him.  I sat with him for awhile, and we chatted and giggled.  The whole time he worried about me leaving though.  He would ask every time I changed my sitting position, “Are you leaving now?”  And he would say, “Please don’t go.  I don’t want you to go. You’re mine.  Nothing of mine can leave.”

When I’d say I was leaving, he would climb on top of me and say, “No, I don’t want you to leave.  You have to stay.  If you leave, you won’t ever come back.  Then I can’t see you.  I want to see you all day, and all morning, and all night, and in the afternoon, too!”  No amount of, “I always think about you when I’m not with you.  I’ll still love you even when I’m not here.  I’ll come back in just a bit to check on you.  Even when you fell asleep, I always come to see you and check on you,” helped with his separation anxiety.

So I kissed him good night, and pried myself, legs, then hands, away from his hold, and left his bed.  He started to cry while repeating, “You have to stay!”  I sat down half way across the room on a chair, and said, “I’m here.  I’ll always be here.  I’ll always love you, for ever and ever and ever and ever and ever…”  After awhile, he stopped crying and tried to come to me.  I asked him to stay in bed and said I’ll be right here.

He sat at the edge of the bed and said, “You’ll be right there?  You won’t leave? You have to stay!”

That’s when I realized I wasn’t quite far away enough for him to work through all the feelings.  So I said, “I’ll be here for awhile, then I’ll leave.  Do you know I’ll always love you?”  He said, “No I don’t.  I’ll forget.”  I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was a bit taken
aback nonetheless.  I assured him, “I will always love you, even when I can’t be with you.”

Then he surprised me with, “Even when we are dead?”

I’ve known that he’s been working on issues with death since he found out about one of my miscarriages about a year ago.  He became fascinated with death especially after having been introduced to Van Gogh’s art and life at school.  The death question hadn’t come up for a few months.  And I was really surprised that it came back in a moment like this.  But I said, “Yes honey, my love will still be with you even when we’re dead.”

There were more tears, “I don’t want to die.  I don’t want you to die.”

“I know honey.  I know.  I’ll still love you.”  (I was in tears, too, by now.)

“I want other people to die.  But I don’t want to die.”  (I admit, this made me chuckle a bit.)

“My love will still be with you even when I can’t be with you.  Will you remember that I’ll always love you?”  (More tears on my part.)

Then I said, “Look I’ll show you.  I’ll be on the other side of the door, and I’ll still love you.  No, I won’t keep the door open.”  He became upset again and cried, “But then I can’t see you.”  When he calmed down eventually, I waved goodbye to him.  I sat outside his door, and closed the door.  He cleared his throat, I cleared my throat.  He giggled, I giggled back.  He coughed a bit, I coughed, too.  There was more laughter now, and he started clapping.  I clapped back.  He laughed a few times then said he didn’t like it.  So I stopped echoing him.  He signaled a few more times and I didn’t reciprocate.  Then he said, “I like it now.  Do it again!”  So we went back and forth on it some more.

Eventually I said, “OK, you go to sleep now.  Do you remember that I love you?”  He said, “OK!  Yes.  Do you remember I love you?”  I said yes, and he yawned.

I sat for a few more minutes and asked him a couple of more times if he remembered that I love him.  He said yes and was quiet.  Less than 10 minutes later I went in to check on him as promised, and he was asleep.  I kissed his cheek.  He opened his eyes a bit and nodded when I asked if he remembered I loved him.  And then he went back to sleep.

The whole thing probably took an hour, which is no more than if I had stayed with him, or just left him.  And it was a lot less stressful for both of us.  I felt like I knew what I was doing.  And he went to sleep calmly by himself.  I hope his anxiety about separation (and maybe death?) is a bit relieved, too.

The next night we went through this again, but the session was shorter.  Over the next few weeks, it became a ritual that I’d sit outside his door while he fell asleep.  Sometimes he would come out and drag the chair over for me.  Other times he would agree that I would do work or wash dishes instead of sitting by his door.  Occasionally when he had trouble falling asleep, he would come out to make sure I was still there and get a hug.  Then he would go back inside, leave the door ajar just a bit, and get back in bed and go to sleep.  I still stay with him to chat for a bit in his bed after our bedtime stories.  Occasionally I fall asleep while snuggling with him.  But over all, bedtime had been much less struggle for both of us.

~A Parenting by Connection Instructor in California

You can read more about Parenting by Connection tools in the Listening to Children booklets or get a download of our Helping Children Sleep Audio.

Helping a 5-year-old Sleep on Her Own

My habit had been to lay down with my five year old daughter at bedtime until she was asleep, which often took half an hour or more.  She would fall asleep fairly easily when others put her to bed, reading books with the light on until she fell asleep.  I was ready to make a shift in this pattern, but didn’t want to use that approach.

She and I share a room and I told her that I would lay next to her for a few minutes and then go over to my own bed to sleep there.  I had a cold at the time and wanted to get to bed early, so this felt right to me.  As I started to get up out of her bed, she protested.  In the past I would have been focused on moving myself farther away in spite of her protests.  Instead I moved in closer and just said, “You really don’t want me to go.”  I touched the side of her face.  She began crying.  These were big fat tears rolling down her face.

She sat next to me and said that she didn’t want me to go because she might feel lonely, that she would feel all alone, that she didn’t want to feel lonely.  I said, “You don’t want to feel lonely,” and she said, “No, I want someone to be with me, that’s what I want.”  She said this very strongly several times.  She cried and cried for about 10 or 15 minutes.  Toward the end she said, “And I might not have anyone to play with” and cried very hard again.

She had just started kindergarten a month earlier and had told me before that sometimes at recess she would look around and not see anyone to play with.  She then was snuggling in my lap and looking very sleepy.  After this she said, “Mommy, can you lay one more minute next to me?” and I said yes.  I laid down for only a minute and gave her a hug as I told her I was getting up.  She very sweetly looked up at me and said okay.  She was very peaceful as I left, and didn’t ask for her night light.  I went over to my bed and I could hear that she was asleep within minutes.

The next night as I explained that I would again go to my bed, she began protesting vehemently.  She asked to sleep in my bed, and I explained that tonight we were going to keep working on having her sleep in her own bed and mommy sleep in her own bed.  As I got up to leave her bed, she was clinging to my leg and then she ran over to my bed.  I said, “Tonight you need to sleep in your own bed.”  I was able to keep my voice sweet, calm and matter of fact.  After several minutes of her going back and forth around the room, she became angry at me.

I approached her and said, “You need to come back to your own bed.”  She began to hit me and kick me to keep me away.  I moved in close and gently held her arms.  She was crying hard and raging at me.  I maneuvered one of my legs to keep her legs from hitting me.  She was crying very hard and perspiring.  I remained calm and said, “I am here with you, I’m not going to let anything bad happen to you.”  She looked at me with absolute terror in her eyes and screeched, “I might die! I might die!”  I said “I’m not going to let you die.”

At various points she was pulling my hair and I would need to release her fingers from it.  At one point she said, “Don’t hold my wrist, you’re hurting my bee sting, my wrist hurts, you’re hurting the bee sting on my wrist!”  I wasn’t actually holding her wrist, but was holding loosely farther up on her arm and she has never had a bee sting on her wrist.  She’s had one bee sting last summer and it was on her hip.

Then I remembered that when she was one day old she had blood drawn from the vein on the top of her hand.  We had needed to take her into the hospital to have the routine blood test for newborns since that wasn’t something they could do at the birth center where she was born.  The technician was very inexperienced and she got poked many times while he tried to get the needle into her wrist.  As he did this she was screaming and I was distraught myself.  We’d had a difficult time getting breast feeding to work and I had been feeling I was failing her.  In this state of overwhelm I had asked her father to hold her during the procedure while I was right next to them.  These memories flashed through my mind as I was with her.  As she cried and raged and tried to kick me and pull my hair I just said in a very calm, very sure voice, “I am right here with you, I am watching you every minute, I’m not going to let anything bad happen to you.”

After about 20 minutes she became very calm and climbed into my lap to be cuddled.  We went over to her bed and she again asked if I would lay down next to her for one more minute.  When I got up to go I gave her a big hug and she said, “I love you mommy.” and went peacefully to sleep.

– a Parenting by Connection Mom

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Helping an Adopted Child with Night Waking

Photo (C) Roli Seeger 2010

We adopted our daughter at birth but due to the state’s adoption laws and her case of jaundice, she was confined to the hospital nursery for 5 days. We had limited access to her during visiting hours. So her welcome to the world was to be separated from both her birth mom and me, sick, and in need of necessary but frightening treatment.

The nurses were wonderful but they were limited by conventional medical concepts and practices. They woke her on a rigid schedule and fed her every four hours. This was the only time she was really held and received affection or physical connection.  The feedings occurred without regard to signals from her—sometimes she was hungry, but sometimes she was wakened from a deep sleep on the hospital’s schedule.

Once my daughter came home, she continued to wake every two to four hours and would cry hard until she was fed. I believe the rigidity of her waking was a result of her early experience in the hospital.

After several months, I became more confident that she wasn’t actually hungry and didn’t actually need a bottle every time she woke in the night. I also got some listening time for myself on my strong feelings that I need to eat every 4 hours, so that I could better distinguish between my own fears of starving her, and the real situation each time she woke. I began to listen to her feelings when she woke in the night and wanted to be fed. I gave her my loving attention, but no bottle. We saw some lessening of nighttime waking, but the pattern persisted.

As she became more verbal, and sometimes switched from “hungry” to  “thirsty” I would get confused sometimes as to whether she really needed the bottle she was crying for. To sort this out each time, I learned to offer her water in a cup when she cried for her bottle in the night. If she rejected this and continued to cry, I knew she was not thirsty but looking for the sucking behavior and the pattern of eating to numb out big feelings. I offered close physical connection instead and listened to her feelings many times.

When I didn’t have the attention to listen to how she felt, I would lightly explain that to her and feed her, so we could all get some sleep. Her night waking lessened in frequency but continued to occur at least once or twice every night.

Finally, when she was somewhere between eighteen months and two years of age, we were very tired. I made a commitment to listen to her feelings through the entire night every night for as many nights as it took. We started on a night when my spouse could take care of our older daughter, and I made arrangements to able to sleep the next day. My daughter started as usual by waking and crying for a bottle.  As I held her close in bed I thought harder and harder about how best to help her with the feelings she experienced during the first five days of her life. I finally said quietly,  “We will never leave you alone with strangers again.”

It was a fascinating moment. The instant I said this, she hiccupped once, took a very deep breath, sighed and relaxed into my arms. Then after a minute the sobs started coming again, but this time they were much deeper. She cried hard for a few more minutes and I told her once more that we would never leave her alone with strangers again. Again, she immediately went quiet, took a few more deep sobs, and instantly fell asleep. She slept through the rest of the night.

The following night was a repeat of the above on a less intense level. From then on we had far, far fewer night wakings. I can’t say it all went away instantly or entirely, but things improved dramatically from that night onward. For many years, I continued to reassure her with that same thought when she cried. She did persist in wanting “nighttime juice” in a sippy cup right before bed. It served as a dependable outlet for the hurt she experienced at the beginning of her life. It took us years to log the amount of listening time she required to loosen up her strong sense of need, but she is now about to turn 8 and she is the world’s best sleeper.

In order to listen to her all those times with an open heart, I had to cry a lot about my own feelings about her having been alone in the nursery, and about adoption in general. We have always assumed that our children understood much more that people traditionally think, so we have talked to them like this since they were newborns. If they do not grasp all the words, they certainly grasp the feeling and the intent. Telling them how safe they are with us can serve as a powerful anchor for them as they face and release their worst feelings.

-a mother in West Tisbury, MA

Listening Helps my Daughter

Photo (C) Bev Lloyd-Roberts 2009

Yesterday my two-year-old daughter and I were shopping when we heard another mother threatening and speaking quite meanly to her child. (Poor woman was on the verge of losing it and I have been there myself!)

I moved us away and we went about our day, but my daughter grew increasingly clingy and teary throughout the busy day. At bedtime, she was rolling around, unable to settle, so I held her firmly and said, “I will keep you safe.”

She started to cry on and off, and I tried to remember if anything had happened that might have upset her. I remembered the mother in the store and said, “Oh, that was so scary, wasn’t it, when the mommy was mad at her son?” And my daughter started to cry heartily and deeply, crying, “Mommy, mommy, mommy.” After a really long cry (nearly an hour), she settled in for a good sleep, and woke up very cheerful and excited about preschool this morning.  A success!

– a Parenting by Connection mom in Ithaca, NY

Pillow Fighting Saves the Day

Photo (C) Joshua Tan 2007

A friend, her grandson, my daughter and I went on a ski weekend together.  My daughter is almost 9, and her grandson is 12.  He has a very hard life–this weekend was, among other things, an attempt to give him a fun time and some connection with us away from the difficulties of home.

He took some ski lessons on the first day, and learned  quickly.  He was fearless on skis.  It was a bit of a problem, actually. On the lifts, he kept wanting to lean over and spit down onto the snow. From 30 feet in the air, I didn’t think it was safe for him to lean out like that, so I kept asking him to sit back. He kept wanting to go down hills that had jumps on them, too, although he was still new at skiing.

So we all had a full first day and a really rousing card game that night, in which the kids won and we adults lost miserably in the midst of lots and lots of laughter.  It was really fun.

The next morning, he was saying that he was going to go down the runs with jumps. My friend, his grandma, said, “No, you’re going to go down slopes that you can handle, so you don’t hurt yourself.”  That was too much for him.  He hung his head, went over to the bed, and curled up silently in fetal position.

My friend and I thought for a moment, “What shall we do?”  My daughter went over to him and asked him something like, “How come you went back to bed?  Are you sick or something?” but he wouldn’t say a word.  He had dug deep into bad feelings.

Then, I said, “Let’s go pull him out!”  My friend said, “Really??”  and I said, “Sure!” and went over and grabbed one of his ankles and began to drag him across the bed. He began to kick and struggle, but I kept it on the fun side, just kept dragging him and begging him to come with us.  He got me back onto the bed, and I started throwing pillows at him, and he began to laugh and get into the pillow fight.  At one point, his grandma tried to hang onto him–that was too much, and he began to get upset.

I thought, “No, we aren’t going to be able to handle a big upset right now!” so I got her to let him go, and we kept on pillow fighting and wrestling for a long time–10 or 15 minutes. It was really fun, lots of laughter and good tussling.  When I was getting tired, finally, I yelled, “OK, who wants to go SKIING?!” and he and my daughter jumped up, put their fists in the air in a victory V, and said, “We do!” and they hopped into their jackets and boots, did everything they needed to do quickly and cooperatively, and we went off to have another great day.

– a Parenting by Connection parent

Helping My Son Sleep in His Bed

The night before last my almost 3 year-old, the youngest of my three boys, awoke at 4:30am crying and very scared.  He kept asking, “Is someone gonna come?” He had watched Kung Fu Panda with us earlier that day, a movie that he’s seen many times and likes, but this time it seemed to get to him – at least subconsciously.  I had gone to sleep very early, and actually wasn’t so tired when he awoke.

Something similar had happened about a month earlier where, after watching something that didn’t seem to scare him in the moment, he awoke scared in the night. It was a week where I was not rested, so when he woke up and came to our bed, I just cuddled him up and we both fell instantly back asleep.

The problem was that this went on for several days, and I was starting to feel resentful – not to mention exhausted. My husband was also moaning about how he was falling off the side of the bed. All in all, this “solution” was not working for 3/5 of the household.

So, the night before last seemed the perfect night to put my limit setting to the test. When my youngest woke up and wanted to come to our bed, I said in a loving tone, “No. I’m going to go sleep with Aba (dad), and you are going to stay here in bed with your brother.”

The terror and tears came flowing out. “No! I want you to stay with me all night!” I tried laying him down in bed and lying across the bottom of the bed, holding his hand. This quieted him, but no matter how long I waited before gently removing my hand from his grip, he would sit upright, call my name, and grab for my hand. I realized this was not going to get me anywhere. A couple of times, I did “escape”, but no more than a minute later, he would show up at my bedside again wanting to sleep with us. I took him back to his bed and repeated that he was going to sleep in his bed and me in mine, and, again, the tears flowed. (This is all, by the way, being said in a very loving tone.)

I sat on the edge of his and his brother’s bed and held him as he screamed and cried that he wanted to sleep with me. Then he quieted down and explained very creatively that I should get in bed with his brother and that he would go sleep with Aba. Uh, nice try!

Again, I set the limit and he cried and screamed. He actually woke his oldest brother in the bed next to us (my kids don’t wake for anything), and he was very sweet telling his little brother he could come sleep with him. But my youngest would have nothing of it. I just kept holding him and he kept crying and screaming for a whopping two hours. At 6:30 am he fell asleep in my arms, I laid him in his bed, and went back to sleep. I felt great knowing that he had been able to shed all that fear, and even greater when last night he slept right through as he usually does.

– T.S. a mom in Oakland, CA