Solutions for My Son’s Homework Tantrums

After the start of the second grade, I very quickly noticed some heavy struggles around homework come up. At the start of the year, my son’s second grade teacher gave all the parents special instructions for doing homework this year: set a timer for 30 minutes for homework time, and when that timer goes off, put the pencil down and walk away. If any tears or yelling happens before the timer goes off, put the pencil down and walk away. It was as though he was perfectly foreshadowing what we were about to see.

For a number of days in a row, when homework time approached in the evening, my son met it with resistance and frustration. I would see a range of reactions, from announcing that it was boring and he wasn’t going to do it, to kicking and yelling and crying over his homework. I noticed in myself how inflexible I was around homework time – I was frustrated that he wouldn’t just sit down and do the assignments that looked to me like they were easy enough to do with his eyes closed! It got to the point where I could not touch homework time – we just had to wait until my husband got home to do it with him, as he was somehow able to put more play and lightness to it and succeeded in helping our son get it completed. I could see that this was going to be an emotional project for the whole family and needed a new strategy fast.

I started on this issue in my own listening partnerships. I got listening about how frustrating homework was, how intolerable my sons behavior was, especially when it was always topics I know he is good at and have seen him complete with ease! I got listening around how when I was his age homework was easy for me, so why did it have to be such a struggle for him? And finally, how I don’t like that homework even exists! It cuts into our family time in the evenings, and more often than not is IS as boring as my son says it is.

Next, I made a point to do Special Time with my son before my husband got home to do homework with him. Honestly I was happy to do Special Time in place of homework with my son, it was much more enjoyable. We would wrestle, or pillow fight, or play his favorite video game depending on what he would choose. I started to notice that homework time seemed to go much easier when he would get this extra connection. I saw these as little victories along the way, but still I found that writing homework of any kind continued to be a frustrating struggle.

One evening my son pulled out his spelling and writing assignments and asked for my help. He was already upset about the subject of the homework before he even pulled it out of his backpack. I asked him to read me the instructions while I was cooking something in the kitchen. He became more and more distracted and agitated. I told him it was time to stop playing with what he was playing with and sit down to focus on homework. “Then come help me!!” He screamed. He screamed this again, and I put down what I was doing to come in closer to him. He kept yelling “Help me! Help me!” over and over again, and the closer I got to him while offering my help with my words, the louder he yelled it. He was kicking and screaming on the floor and I just continued to say “I am here to help you,” while he continued to scream for help.

This went on for some time and I continued to stay close, holding a gentle arm around his baby brother to make sure he did not accidentally get kicked. I acknowledged that homework was frustrating, that he works really hard all day at school. He screamed and kicked, and cried a small amount. After a while his system began to settle down and relax. He turned to a toy to play with and I let him take his time to play and relax while I went back to the kitchen to cook dinner.

By the time dinner was done, he had returned to the table and quietly completed his homework on his own. He was very proud of his work, and showed me each part.  In these last few weeks, I have continued my connection tools all in combination, and it has meant that I have been able to help him with his homework. He now will often complete it before my husband gets home and we get extra time to play and connect as a whole family.


Natalie Thiel, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor

If you have challenges around homework or setting limits, Natalie can help.  Join Natalie in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding online class starting April 30.  Register now!

Listen to the podcast of her teleseminar How Do I Connect With My Baby?.

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

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

A Shark Attack on my Child’s Feelings

I took my boys, 6 and 7, to the Museum of Natural History to see a 3D movies about marine dinosaurs. The youngest is especially sensitive to traumatic events in movies and games, so I had checked that the movie’s rating was age-appropriate.

However, instead of having an impersonal nature movie, the plot was a mommy prehistoric dolphin who gave birth to two babies, and the story centered around their lives. Just at the description, I started feeling wary. I’ve been surprised so many times about what is considered appropriate children’s culture. Sure enough, halfway through the movie the mother got eaten by a huge shark. Our youngest turned to me wide-eyed and asked if the young siblings were okay.

I said yes, but a few minutes later the brother was also killed and the sister was injured by the large shark. By then I knew that I would have some emotional cleaning-up to do later that day.

I had promised them a look around the museum shop before leaving and my youngest came running to me with a (no surprise!) 30-dollar plush Great White shark which was way out of his budget. He was heartbroken when I said that we weren’t going to buy it. He balked, pouted and whined all the way home. At home he kicked and screamed and would not eat any snacks. I began making contact with him and he said that he really wanted to buy the shark so that he could play with it and (again, no surprise!) his own toy dolphin.

I said that his big brother had a blue soft shark that he could play with but no, he wanted a grey shark, THAT grey shark. My mind was racing, trying to figure out how to help my little guy unload his feelings. I was pretty upset, actually, so play was far from my mind. I found a grey long-sleeved t-shirt and wrapped the blue shark in it. Only the teeth were sticking out in the front. My son whined that the tail was sticking out and it was blue. I saw that he was wearing grey socks and playfully pulled one off to put on the blue shark tail. And then I approached him with the ill-disguised blue shark which looked so ridiculous that we both started laughing very, very hard.

Until then I wasn’t really focused on playing, more on “seriously” providing him with a good-enough grey shark. But that was just not going to happen, and instead we got something much better in return. From then on, it all unfolded beautifully. I could start being creative again having found an inroad to his feelings. I played stupid and kept telling everyone that he was an authentic, grey, terrifying, prehistoric shark, in spite of his terrible disguise. I also played the scared shark who swam away screaming with fear when the dolphin stuck out his head from hiding. The whole family was shrieking with laughter. Later we also re-enacted the killing scene but the dolphin killed the shark instead because the shark was too full and sleepy from eating and had a tummy ache, etc… After this the boys took over the game for a couple of minutes and played out other unrelated scenarios, and little brother was his happy self again, ready for a snack and more good times!

Are you ready to learn how to employ parenting techniques like this, and turn troubling moments into ones of connected play time? Sign up for one of our core classes, Building Emotional Understanding.

Breaking “Bad” News

firstgrade-bearWhen my 6-year-old son began the first grade in a new school district, school went from being easy to being a big challenge for him both socially and academically. Being the youngest in his class with a late November birthday, it seemed to his teacher and me that repeating the grade the following year might be a good direction for him. When we reached the second half of the school year and it came time to make the decision a reality, regardless of how prepared I thought I had been, the emotional side of it hit me like a train.

I had all the good reasons in the world, but it was just a minefield of triggers about not being a good enough mom, feeling so embarrassed, having failed him in some way, convinced that he would hate me later for destroying his first grade social life, thinking back to the fact that his father was treated like an outcast in grade school and not wanting him to meet the same fate, and feeling a well of guilt around having to break the news to him.

Clearly these feelings were all about me, and I could see all the red flags go up when I thought of telling my son about the retention when I was in such an upset state about it. So I lined up all the listening sessions I could get. I set up with my listening partner, my Skill Building Class, and regular group phone sessions to get listening time. I got a chance to cry, to feel guilty, and offload all the horrible ideas I had of how telling him was going to go. I must have had seven or so listening sessions in the course of a week and a half, until I started to feel less charged about the matter, and far more relaxed.

Then finally, on an afternoon when I was feeling particularly calm and connected with my son, I told him simply that his teacher and I thought it would be a good idea for him to do the first grade again next year. I anticipated a Staylistening session about it, and I finally felt ready for it.

He simply asked, “Why?” I gave him the reasons and my voice was calm and confident about the choice, to which he responded positively. I watched him put all the pieces together in his head and he responded simply, “OK, Mommy, can I have my teacher again for next year then?”

As simple as that. No freak-outs. No blaming tantrums about how I was ruining his life. And whenever re-doing the first grade is brought up, he is clear and confident about it. “I get to be 7 when everyone else in my class will be 7,” he likes to say. It turns out all the emotional upset about it was mine and mine alone, and with it out of the way I was able to give it the positive light it deserved.

Natalie Thiel, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor

Join Natalie in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding online class starting April 30.  Register now!

Listen to the podcast of her teleseminar How Do I Connect With My Baby?.

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

When I Grow Up Will You Recognize Me?

When my son was 4 he went through a period when he was very resistant to getting dressed. It didn’t matter if he was dressing himself or if I offered to help him, it was a struggle every morning. Over the course of a few weeks I attempted all sorts of play to try to loosen the tension. I pretended that his clothes were talking to him or hiding from him because they didn’t want to be worn. I tried to put his clothes on myself and acted dismayed because they were too small. I pretended I couldn’t figure out where his shirt went and tried to put it on his feet. Despite my efforts, and a few smiles here and there, getting dressed remained a daily struggle.

One day I decided to hold out the expectation that he get dressed and see what would happen. I told him it was time to put his clothes on. When he tried to run away I pulled him onto my lap and restated the limit, saying ‘it’s time to get dressed now’ without elaboration. He started to cry and thrash, attempting to get away. I kept him with me and listened, holding his arms gently when he tried to hit or scratch. He’d periodically interrupt his crying with distractions, which took the form of asking me questions about planets, one of his passions at the time. Having been through lots of staylistening previously, I knew that when he asked questions one after another, especially questions that he already knew the answers to, it meant that there were still difficult feelings coming up. In response to ‘Mommy, is Mars bigger than Mercury?’ I drew his attention back to the limit and told him again that it was time to put his clothes on. This led to more crying and I stayed close and listened.

After what felt like a very long time he stopped struggling, sat up in my lap, looked right at me and asked if I would still recognize him when he grows up. I reassured him that I’d always know him, always love him, and always be his mom, even if he looked different. It was like a switch had been flipped. After offloading the fear getting dressed was no longer an issue.

-Join Michelle Kokel in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding course, beginning May 3rd.

Confessions of a Parenting by Connection Nanny: Part I

On the one hand, I realize the important role a nanny plays in a child’s life; the effects of which–for better or for worse–will stay with the child for many years to come. On the other hand, as I have seen with every nanny job I have had:  I am that “bad” person who represents the replacement of their mommy! I am completely convinced that a child always wants to be with their mommy, first and foremost! With this in mind, I will now share one of my stories.

Niko is now 3 yrs. old. He was adopted from Korea when he was 10 months old (I am told from a very loving foster family). I have been working with Niko for 1 year, 3 months. Our very first encounter was one of much laughter, eye contact and connection! This was a good start, I felt!

Over these many months with Niko, there have been many Staylistening sessions. I will also add, for almost an entire year, Niko did not want to cuddle with me when reading a book or at any other time. And, once when I said, “I love you,” he clearly told me he did not love me and that love was only for his mom and dad. This was a cue for me to “zip my lip!” Our listening sessions are always the same themes:  “I want my mommy, now,” “I want my daddy to pick me up from school, not you,” “I want mommy to put me to bed, not you.” (I put Niko to bed 3 nights each week).

On each and every one of these occasions, I remain calm, stay close, talk little, but softly acknowledge that he misses his mom or dad, and that they always come back. Some of these sessions have been deep tantrums. Without exception, after his emotions have been listened through, Niko emerges calm, talkative and ready to have fun with me. Recently, at a respite in one of Niko’s tantrums, he noticed me looking at him with deep love and caring. He became very quiet and he looked deeply into my eyes for what I think was 4 whole minutes as I continued to look at him with deep caring. It was really touching, and he seemed to calm down after this and wanted to be close.

Throughout my entire experience with Niko, we have had many Playlistening times with great laughter. For example, he loves it when I lie on the floor trying to get up, and he pushes me back down. As hard as I try to resist, I fall back down. We repeat this again and again, with consistent laughter. This is one example from many.

I feel my relationship with Niko continues to be an ongoing process as we develop more deep connection. There are now big stretches of time when he does not mention mom anymore, but when there are upsets, they center around the absence of mom or dad. On 3 consecutive mornings each week, mom drops him at school at 8 a.m.; I pick him up at 4 p.m., care for him and put him to bed. So for those 3 days, he is basically at school and then with me, with very little contact with parents. His parents have told me on several occasions that Niko fondly talks about me. They tell me that they consider me part of the family and that I am helping to raise him! (Wow, what a BIG responsibility!)

So, even though Niko will continue from time to time to tell me to “go away,” or “I don’t want you here,” or “I don’t like you,” I do know how deeply we are connecting. The other day as we were driving, he said, “Will you be my new mother?” I replied that he already has a mother, so then he asked me to be his wife! Oh, and now (finally!), we cuddle while reading books, he happily runs into my arms when I pick him up from school, and he now accepts it when I say, “I love you” (I tested this very gingerly). And he will sometimes say he loves me back!

Yesterday as we were building together (he has had a very bad cough and runny nose for 2 weeks), he was acting “grumpy.” I mentioned that I feel grumpy, too, when I am sick. He then said, “Yes, and I am also grumpy because I am at school so much.” This was said so clearly and causally. He then immediately switched to talking about the structure we were building.

I really see the importance of me having listening time in my Listening Partnership, so that I can deal with my own feelings about Niko’s adoption and abandonment issues, and about his clear upset from being away from his parents for long periods of time.

Stay tuned for Confessions of a Parenting by Connection Nanny: Part II.

-S. Hart, a Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor

Waffles and Wiggles

One morning, my 3-year-old said, “I am my brother, not me,” while I was busy getting my older son ready for school.  Ah, a sign of something coming, I thought.  I squatted at his level to acknowledge him, but could not stop for more than a short minute.

Then, my younger son started complaining, “I don’t want the waffle cut in half!”  Ah, a louder signal.  I still couldn’t pay attention to him, though I did make eye contact with him. I was still  busy with my older son.

Then I told him that he needed to change out of his pajamas.  He said, “I don’t want to change!  I want a Batman costume.”  However, he wouldn’t change into the Batman costume which I handed to him.  He threw that away.

Then, he was sitting in front of the clothes drawer, unable to make up his mind what to wear.

He was bouncing around.  A sure sign of disconnection, I thought.

I was busy packing my older son’s lunch, and didn’t have the time and attention to Staylisten for more than a couple of minutes.

So when my older son went off to school, I offered Special Time for half an hour.

First, my son disappeared for a minute as he sometimes did during Special Time.  I begged, “Please don’t go!  Please come back!”  Then he smiled, waved good-bye and left the room.  In a minute, he came back.

Then we covered ourselves under a blanket and played with flashlights.  Lots of laughter.That turned into a physical play.  He wanted to be up side down.  So I held his feet and lifted him up.  A head stand.  He wanted me to tumble over too.  More laughter.

When the time was up, he went and changed his clothes before I even noticed.

And he ate the same waffle he had rejected because I had cut it in half.  I said, just to be sure, “I am sorry I cut it in a way you didn’t like.  How is it?”

He was busy eating, and he said, “Good!”