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

How Listening to My Son Helped his Separation Anxiety

We went away camping with four other families.  Between us, we had eleven kids between the ages of 1 and 7.  The weather was beautiful.  We cooked over a wood fire and the kids hung out playing well and laughing together.  The sea was still warm enough for a swim.  It was a beautiful weekend.

On the last day, my partner and I went to pack up the tent.  I’d told my son earlier that we were soon to pack away.  We’d just taken the fly sheet off when he came rushing over to us. “I need a rest, put the fly sheet back on,” he whined.

I let him know that we weren’t going to put the fly sheet back on, but said he could rest inside the inner tent if he wanted.  He went inside and started leaning against the tent walls.  I got inside and put my arm gently behind him, “No, I’m not going to let you lean against the tent like that. It could rip.”

He stayed put, so I said, “I’m going to move you away now,” and did just that.

He protested loudly, “Get away from me!” he shouted angrily.  I moved back a little.  He was still very angry, but crying now, too.  He kept screaming, “Get away from me!

I wasn’t quite sure how close to be, so I thought I’d experiment with distance.  I moved back further. He was still shouting at me and crying, so I got out of the tent.

Come back,” he shouted!

I had obviously gone too far.  I got back in, and he started crying harder.  The anger subsided and just tears remained.  I moved a little closer.  The sobbing died down and we cuddled.

I got on with the packing and he lay in the tent for a little while longer, then got up and joined the other kids, who were eating sausages.

Amazingly, there was no further issue or upset about leaving.  When it was time to go, he happily went round saying goodbye, and hopped straight in the vehicle.

It seemed like the wonderful weekend had made him feel safe, loved, and good.  And that feeling of goodness allowed some buried sadness to pop up.  Probably because he’s been listened to regularly, he was able to let me know I’d moved too far away from him!  I think by staying close and listening to his anger and tears, I helped him clear away old hurts.  When they were flushed out, he was free to think well and say goodbye with lightness and warmth.

Rachel Schofield, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor (living in Australia)

Rachel SchofieldJoin Rachel in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding online class starting June 1.  Learn more >

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.

My Son Finds the Courage to Speak Up

My son and his babysitterOur babysitter came over, and she and my 4-year-old son were having a pillow fight in the other room. My son ran to me and buried his face in my lap. I could sense he was very upset about something that just happened. I put my hand gently on his back and tried to make eye contact with him. I was quiet and listened to him cry. I could tell he wasn’t badly hurt and just needed me to do some Staylistening with him.

After a minute he popped his head up from my lap and said, “Emily was too rough with me.” “Oh, I see,” I said. “I’m wondering if you’re okay?” He pointed to his back. It looked fine.

Emily came in the room and said he hurt his back. My son was still crying and I continued to listen and offer my warmth and attention. After a couple of minutes he got up and went to eat something. About 10 minutes later my son said very clearly, in a big voice, “Emily, you were too rough with me.” She apologized.

-Christine Ashe, Certified Instructor

Helping my Child Move Through Upset After Hurting Another Child

When my daughter Leah was just under two years old, we were playing one day with a friend and her one-year old son, Malcolm.

While gently nuzzling the leg of the younger boy, my daughter suddenly took his thigh in her mouth and bit down, HARD. He immediately started screaming and crying. My daughter lurched away, looking startled, but was frozen and not able to cry. It wasn’t clear if she had been trying to hurt him, or just trying something out (she looked more curious than aggressive). I went to my daughter and held her, reminding her that we have to be gentle with babies. None of what I said seemed to go in; she was frozen and not listening. Shortly, both children seemed over the upset and were back to playing.

Some month or six weeks later, while attending a mommy/toddler class together, a slightly older toddler bit my daughter on the arm. My daughter cried briefly, but stopped when the teacher arrived offering a band aid. I realized that this classroom wasn’t going to be the environment to allow her to offload her feelings, and I hoped the feelings would come up later to be worked out.

Later that day, I was crouching down to get something out of the refrigerator and my daughter came up behind the door and pushed it closed (bumping it gently into me). I lost balance and stood up to avoid falling. Leah looked startled and immediately started crying really hard. I realized that she thought I had been hurt, and I assured her I was okay. I sat on the kitchen floor for a good twenty minutes while she stood and cried, a loud “whah!” kind of cry with lots of sweat.  I stayed close and spoke tenderly to her (I forget exactly what I said).

Throughout the twenty minutes of her cry I thought she was releasing stress over the upset earlier in the day from having been bitten by the other child. But after crying for about twenty minutes, and through big sobs, she managed to say, “I don’t want to ever bite baby Malcolm again!” Then she cried and cried some more while I said things to her like, “You are so good, you are so good, even when you make a mistake, you are so good. It’s really okay. You are good and Malcolm is just fine. You get to make mistakes sometimes.”

After twenty-five or thirty minutes she finished her cry and cheerfully reached for my hand, ready to move on and into the afternoon.

I was moved by what I saw as the connection between getting bitten earlier in the day and her memory of having been the child who bit another. At the time when she bit Malcolm, she wasn’t able to release any feelings about it, but she had clearly carried that memory—and the emotional pain of having hurt another child—and it was ready to be released when the right circumstances brought it up again.

Join Certified Instructor Angela Jernigan in one of her classes:

1) “Tears and Tantrums” class, beginning March 16. More information available here.

2) Building Emotional Understanding class, beginning March 27. More information available here.

3) Professionals Intensive course, beginning March 29.  More information available here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silencing Myself Opened My Son Up More Than Ever

My son and I had special time once a week for many years.  He always wanted to do the same thing–go to the mall.  We would play at the arcade, have an ice cream and come home.  It seemed I was always struggling to get him to tell me more about his thoughts and feelings.  I had some success, but not as much as I wanted, and chalked this up to him being a boy.

One week, a good friend of mine died and I decided to not speak for a few days. I told my son that we could go to the mall and have our special time if he wanted, but I would not speak.  He said OK that he wanted to go anyway.  We began the drive and about 5 minutes down the road, he began to talk to me about pretty deep stuff.  Like how he felt when his brother was born, and what he thinks about god and other people’s ideas about religion.  He told me how he struggled when his father and I separated but now how he has worked it out so it is ok.  He talked about school, friends, teachers, in great detail.  I said nothing.

We cruised the mall, he did not want to play games, we just walked and he talked in a really relaxed way.  We drove home with him talking and when we got home he asked me not to get out of the car yet.  He talked another 20 minutes and then kissed me goodnight and said he was tired.  I sat in the car alone after he left, quite stunned and realized that the only thing different this week was me. I did not encourage, lead, explain, teach, guide, criticize him in any way and he was able to pour his mind out in an easy stream of talking about his life and his world.

Now that he is an adult, we often laugh about that time and sometimes when he feels I am not listening he will remind me of that night and it is our signal for me to just listen.

-Certified Instructor Emmy Rainwalker

Emmy Rainwalker

Join Emmy’s Building Emotional Understanding Online starting March 18. Register now.

From Failing to Flinging: How Throwing Books Helped My Son Pass Math

When my son was in college, he called me to tell me that he was dropping out of his math class because he did not understand it anymore and was going to fail. He said he would rather have an incomplete than a fail.  I said, “How about neither?” and told him I would be there soon.  I drove the hour to his dorm room, and by now he was really mad at me for not just accepting his decision.

I said he wasn’t dropping the class or failing the class.  He asked me (sarcastically) how I was going to do that?  I told him I was not sure yet, but asked him to get the book with the material he did not understand.  He got the book and I asked him to open it to the assignment that had him confused.  With great exasperation, he did. I told him to read it to me.
He said, “Why, do you understand it?”  I said no, but I didn’t need to because it wasn’t my class, but that I knew he was smart enough to understand it.  He read it with more exasperation and I took the book and threw it across the room saying, “I can’t believe how stupid you are!” to the book.  He was surprised and laughed a bit.  I got the book and asked him to read it again. He did and I suggested he throw the book.  We kept getting the “stupid” book and throwing it and laughing and each time he read the part he did not understand.  He said that I was pretty ridiculous to think this was a good idea. In fact, I was pretty sure this would not work and that it was rather foolish, but I was not willing to give up yet.

Finally, he read the passage again and said, “Oh, I think I see what this means.” He said it in a very calm and quiet voice and I was not sure I heard it right.  I just stayed quiet and he picked up his notebook and began to work out the problems.  He hardly noticed when I said I had to leave because he was so engrossed in the subject.  He did pass the course.

– Certified Instructor Emmy Rainwalker

Emmy Rainwalker

Join in Emmy’s class, Building Emotional Understanding Online starting March 18.
Register now.