Parenting Help: Burn-out Can Be Lightened by Listening

Yesterday I had a new friend over with her 3 daughters.  My 9-year-old daughter, Maeve, was feeling shy, and we had already had a bumpy weekend, including a cancelled trip that she very much wanted to go on.

After the girls made art for a while, we decided to go to the park and get a muffin on the way.  The cafe was closed for a film shoot, however, and we went straight to the park.  Maeve started asking over and over again whether she could just go ask the cafe owners to see if they could get something to eat anyway.  She said she was hungry, but her tight, insistent tone sounded like it was not really about that.  I told my friend that I had to take my daughter home to get her something to eat.

I was acutely embarrassed, and when we arrived home, I said all the things I know not to say.  I told her she embarrassed me, and I said, “Can’t you just give me a little bit of time to do something I want to do?”  She started crying, and I didn’t care.  I was exhausted, and the last thing I wanted to do was repair anything or try to be close to her.  She went upstairs, and I headed back to the park for a short while.

After my friend left, I emailed one of my listening partners and set up a time almost right away.  I cried hard on the phone with her, which was a great relief.  The thing that brought up the most crying was telling her that I didn’t want to have to fix anything, that I was tired of parenting, and that I wanted to quit.  I told her that I hated that you can never quit it, never leave entirely, and never feel carefree again.  I told her that I hated that I try so hard, and I still mess up so badly.  It felt like too much work.  The responsibility felt like too much.  I told her how I hated being responsible for people’s LIVES!  It was just so good to cry hard right when I needed to.  She simply listened and made sympathetic noises.  She hardly needed to do anything — she just heard me and didn’t judge.  I felt some weight lift and I was more available to my kids for the rest of the day.  I could probably have benefited from having even more time to cry, but I didn’t know how long Maeve would stay upstairs in her room.

When Maeve came down later, I asked her what would make her day better, and we planned sushi at home while watching TV.  It gave us some space to hang out together and be close.  Things were a little better.  Later we did some Special Time, and I rubbed her back while she read.

I particularly noticed the difference the next morning, in a “cleansed” feeling and a renewed energy for parenting and everything else.

Sandra Flear, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor

Keiko Sato-Perry

Join Sandra in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding online class starting April 23.  Register now!

Listen to this 3-minute audio clip, in which Sandra describes how you can help your listening partner release emotions.

You can read more of Sandra’s stories here and learn more about Parenting by Connection in the Listening to Children booklet set.

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

Working Through Dangerous Fears with Laughter

Hey! Do you want to play, “You cross the street and then I come along and run you over?”

boy on scooterSo, my 4-year-old son and I were about to exit the gated park and walk to our car. I noticed he was a little bit off track, but I didn’t want to take the time to connect with him right then. I just wanted to get in the car and go home. Our car was parked across a busy street and I asked my son to wait for me. He dashed away from me, wanting to start a fun chase game. For me it was a trigger. Any feelings of potential danger send me off track with yelling or grabbing his arm a little too hard. (These are feelings of mine that I have since worked on during my Listening Partnership time, and I have managed to become softer and gentler in my response since then.)

I got worked up immediately—my heart was pounding and I felt so enraged that he wouldn’t come to me. He was running all around, and all I could think of that he could get hit by a car if he ran across the street before I could get to him. I yelled for him to come over here right now, and I grabbed his arm in anger and marched us across the street, with him protesting my hasty, unkind approach, and the “This Is So Dangerous!” speech that I gave him. I was quickly aware of my heightened reaction and apologized to him for reacting so angrily. I asked him how that was for him and he said, “Not good.” That sent my heart into my stomach with sorrow and regret.

I knew there was work I needed to do around crossing streets, as this was not the first outburst I’d had in this kind of situation, and I felt like a monster. I beat myself up in my head the whole rest of the evening, because of my response to this situation. “What a terrible Mom,” I thought to myself. “How can I be so abrupt with my little boy?!”

The next day I was sitting at the kitchen table and my son came rolling along the floor on his scooter and said, “ Hey! Do you want to play, “You cross the street and then I come along and run you over?” “Ah ha! Brilliant,” I thought! My little boy is working out his fear from yesterday. “Yes!” I said. I was more than happy to help release a little bit of what hurt I had so harshly inflicted.

He wanted me to pretend to wait on the side of the road, and look both ways before crossing the street. I waited on the side of our pretend street, in our dining room, and looked both ways. Just when I saw him driving down the street on his scooter he would say “Okay, now run across the street, Mommy!” I dashed across and let him gently “hit” me. (I made sure I stayed safe, and he was careful, too, in the midst of this “crash.”) Down I went, and he thought this was hysterical! He then had me pretend to get on his back and he scooted me off to the hospital. This went on and on, with plenty of laughter. He ran me over time and again, I fell every time with some comic flair, and then he rescued me. I was in awe of my son’s invention, a way to release his hurt feelings in laughter.

We’ve played this game quite a few times, always with plenty of laughs over my incompetence. I just can’t manage to cross the pretend street without getting run over by my son Every Time! Laughter was just what we both needed to heal our hurts over a scary situation.

Not surprisingly, our street crossing problems seem to have disappeared after all this silly fun. Can you believe it? I use to dread having to cross a street with my little one, and now it’s effortless. Gotta love Playlistening! It gets the job done!

– Christine Ashe-Elizondo, Certified Instructor

Listening Time Clears My Mind

I was going through a particularly stressful time. I wasn’t sleeping well, and often felt impatient with my kids, and not available enough for them. I had a consultation with a Hand in Hand consultant: in it, she helped me connect back to a memory of time when I felt very afraid as a child. Later that evening, I had a huge cry and rage in the car on the way to the gym. I felt cleaned out after that, and I was more available for my daughter the next morning than I had been in a long time. My daughter was having a hard time that day, but I felt calm and peaceful, able to listen and help her, and she was able to feel better, too.

Sandra Flear, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor

Keiko Sato-Perry

Join Sandra in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding online class starting April 9.  Register now!

Listen to this 3-minute audio clip, in which Sandra describes how you can help your listening partner release emotions.

You can read more of Sandra’s stories here and learn more about Parenting by Connection in the Listening to Children booklet set.

Moms Need Listening Too

During a recent listening session, I vented about my six-year-old daughter’s inability to get ready on her own. She would get her clothes on, but then she wouldn’t brush her teeth or put on socks, etc. unless someone was with her guiding the whole process. I was getting really irritated with her about this and not acting like the parent I wanted to be. Our mornings were a roller coaster of disconnecting power struggles and then reconnection attempts at drop off.
I unloaded my frustration to my listening partner, saying all the things I didn’t want to say to my daughter and telling her how frustrating this whole situation was to me. When the timer went off I still felt like there was more emotional charge there so I made a mental note to work on this more later. Maybe next week, I thought, I could actually come up with a plan to work this out.
The next morning I was reminded of what magic can happen even when I do just a small amount of work on an issue. As I was getting ready for work my daughter came in, still not dressed. I got down at her level and smiled warmly saying, “I’d really like it if you’d get dressed for the day.” She looked at me and said back, “Play puppy?” I said, “Okay, I’ll throw the balloon for you to fetch, then you go do one thing to get ready.” She gave me a puppy pant and nodded.
Getting ready for the day went smoothly as she fetched the balloon, then ran off to dress. Then she fetched the balloon again and went to brush her teeth. Fetch, get snack ready. Fetch, book bag packed. Fetch, socks on. The morning routine was easy for her with just a little playtime mixed in. And, I felt amazed that this high-stress time could shift so easily after some listening time for me.

We played this game only once more, and since then I am happy to say she has been getting ready without me having to “shadow” her through the process.

– Michelle Pate, Parenting by Connection Instructor and Consultant, join her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding class starting March 14th. You can also connect with her on Facebook.

Helping My Child Sleep in His Own Bed All Night

My son has co-slept with me since he was born.  When he was about 18 months old, I bought him his own bed with the plan to move him into it so I could have my bed to myself.  I tried getting him to stay there, but I could never make it work.  We had gotten into a routine where he would wake up sometime in the night and come into my bed, and we would sleep together until the morning.  That was working for both of us most of the time.  It would become an issue though when I was sick or if one of us was experiencing some insomnia.  Any attempt to get him to sleep in his own bed at these times just ended in disaster!

My son is nearly four now, and after another night of sickness, with him feeling too scared to be in his bed by himself, I thought it was time we dealt with the issue properly.  I decided to tackle it as an emotional project.  It wasn’t that I minded my son in my bed. The issue for me was that he was scared to sleep by himself and I didn’t want him to feel that way.

I started by taking it to my listening time.  I would talk to my listening partner about all of my fears.  I was scared he was going to feel all alone, and that I was abandoning him by leaving him in his bedroom all by himself.  I was worried I wouldn’t be able to listen to his cries in the night.  I was worried that it wouldn’t work and I’d have another attempt at this and fail.  I enjoyed having him in my bed most of the time – I’d miss him being there.  I’d be all alone in bed.  I stomped and raved and cried about my fears.  I gave myself time and preparation.  I would talk through the process I was going to use, I would talk about all the things that could go wrong and what I could do if that happened.  I kept talking about it until I knew that my son was going to be completely safe and happy in his bed.  That I wasn’t abandoning him and he wasn’t all alone.  I was still with him, only a call out away if anything came up for him.

The first night I was going to start working on the issue with him, I made sure he was really tired.  We started off with a big session of wrestling before bed.  We played our favourite wrestling game.  This involves covering his bed in pillows, making sure there are enough around the walls to avoid head banging, and then I stand at the end of the bed and he runs up to me and pushes against my hands with his hands and then he flies back onto the pillows.  Then we both turn around and we use our bottoms to bop him onto the bed and then I fall on top of him.  This gets him laughing a lot and we do it over and over again.

Then as I was lying with him as he was going to sleep I told him that he wasn’t going to be sleeping in my bed anymore.  I let him know that I was going to help him stay in his bed, so when he woke in the night I would help him go back to sleep in his bed.  He started to cry.  He wanted to sleep with me, he didn’t want to be by himself.  I listened to him and told him how much I loved him and how safe he was here.

Later in the night he woke up and came into my room.  I was sleeping lightly and quickly got up and met him at my doorway.  “I’m sorry honey, you’re going to sleep in your bed tonight, no more sleeping in mummy’s bed. I’m going to help you back to your bed.”  I stood there with him as he cried and cried.  He told me he wanted to sleep with me. He didn’t want to be in his bed by himself.  He would reach out towards my bed, seeing it, but not being able to touch it or get into it. That would make him cry some more.  I held the limit with him and listened.  As his cry subsided, I held his hand and walked him back into his room and into his bed.  He had a little bit more crying to do, but didn’t easily go back to sleep.

As I went to leave the room, he would start crying again.  I would keep my position and talk to him, telling him I was just here and I was listening.  When his cry subsided, I would walk back to him and give him a big kiss and cuddle and tell him I was going to go to bed again.  As I left the room he would begin to whine a little and I stayed where I was and told him I was just here and he was safe in his bed.  The last time I left, I had gotten back into my bed when he called out again. I stayed in my bed (as it’s just across the hallway) and I called back out to him and told him that I loved him.  He then slept until the morning.

The next night we did the same thing – big fun wrestling before bed, and when he woke in the night and came in, I met him at the end of my bed and held him as he cried for a short time about wanting to come into my bed.  I walked him back to bed and I left the room as he was going back to sleep.  He called out to me when I was in bed and I called back.

This happened for two more nights, and each time the cry was shorter, or not at all, and he stopped calling out to me when I left the room.  Then he slept all the way through in his own bed.  I couldn’t believe it!  It was nowhere near as challenging or as painful and I had anticipated it to be.  All of the listening time I had used had cleared out any of my fears getting in the way and he just had his to work through.

I made sure we had regular Special Time each day during that week so that he could feel my loving presence and get to be the one setting the rules.  We also did lots of other playing and adventures that he chose and enjoyed.

Since we have worked through this issue, my son has been able to spend a night in my bed and then the next night in his and not have any issue with it.  He is generally happy to be sleeping in his own bed all night (although sometimes he tells me he wants to sleep with me) and he doesn’t get up in the night to come into me.  He wakes in the night and is able to go back to sleep by himself now, something he has never been able to do before.  Then, four weeks on, he decided that he no longer wanted to wear nappies (diapers) to bed. He has successfully transferred to undies without any bed wetting.  This is something I would have been more reluctant to do if he were still sleeping in my bed.

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

-Certified Instructor Meagan Probert