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.

My Daughter’s World Becomes Safer

My daughter, who is almost four, has had a fear of black people since she was a baby. I first became aware of this when she was about nine months old and my wonderful black African hairdresser walked into the house and my daughter started screaming.

I was surprised, as this wasn’t a normal reaction, and I didn’t realise it had anything to do with her colour at the time. It became obvious later on, when she started to cry every time she saw a black person, including a friend’s boy friend, who we happened to go on holiday with. The whole time, my daughter was very wary of him. By the time she got to the age of three and was still terrified every time our hairdresser came to cut our hair, I realised it was time to take some action. We live in a very white town where few black people live, so there wasn’t much opportunity to work with this issue.

I suggested to my daughter that the next time my hairdresser came to cut my hair she could also cut her hair. She said, “OK, maybe,” but she also said that she didn’t like Sheena, which she has said many times before. I also did some role-playing, using her dolls around being scared of black people.

My daughter was fine until the moment the doorbell rang, and then she hid in the
corner of the room and cowered in fear. I went to let Sheena in whilst my daughter stayed with her Dad. When my daughter heard her enter the house she started to cry and immediately went upstairs to get away. I asked her Dad to keep setting the limit with her, saying, “OK, let’s go down stairs and say hello to Sheena now,” and then to listen to her feelings, but not forcing her to come down.

Whilst I was having my haircut downstairs, I could hear my daughter screaming and crying on and off. When my hair had been cut, I went upstairs to see her. She had spent the whole time crying in her Daddy’s arms with her Daddy encouraging her to come downstairs and say hello, and then listening to her cry, and reassuring her that she was safe and that Sheena is a lovely person and nothing bad was going to happen.

I asked my daughter if she wanted to come down and say goodbye to Sheena because she was about to leave. She said she wanted to. She came downstairs and Sheena was very friendly and playful with her. Although my daughter was trembling a little, she interacted with Sheena, and it was very sweet. They were talking about what my daughter was going to be cooking in her play kitchen, and she told Sheena she would make her some food next time she came round. They also talked about her new doll that she had got for Christmas. This went on for a few minutes before Sheena had to leave.

Once she had left, my daughter said that she liked Sheena, and then she said that she loved Sheena and began to plan for the next time she came round. She said she would stay downstairs the whole time whilst Sheena was here and play with her.

I was so happy, because this had been an issue for so long and by using the Hand In Hand tool of Staylistening, which is simply listening to a child’s feelings rather than distracting her or trying other ways of getting her to stop crying. It allowed my daughter to move through her fear and feel brave enough to come downstairs and interact with someone who she had been very scared of for a long time. My daughter was totally elated after this incident and felt great! And I’m really looking forward to getting my hair cut again!

-S. Parker, England

Playlistening Raspberries

After school, my 6-year-old was clearly off track and needing to offload some feelings. He had been at his little brother since he got in the car, and then on the way home, he started calling me “stupid.” Normally, being called stupid is very restimulating for me, but I had been working on it with my Listening Partner and on this day I felt like I could play with it.

So I said to him, “Oh, that’s not my secret name! My secret name is Kombucha Head, but don’t tell anyone. It’s a secret!!!” So of course, he and his 2-year-old brother started yelling out, “Kombucha Head!” as loud as they could. I pretended to be horrified, worried that everyone would know my secret name. This kept going for a while and I felt like it was losing its allure. So I changed tack and said that I had lots of raspberries* to give them. They both ran and hid under the blankets, giggling together. I pretended I couldn’t find them, and ended up sitting on them whilst they were under the covers. They were laughing and squirming and I sat there blowing raspberries towards them, without being able to actually reach them, pretending to be upset I couldn’t land any.

Then, the two of them turned the game around and started trying to raspberry me. So I played it up. “No, no, no! You can’t raspberry me! I’m the raspberry person around here!!!” I protested, whilst they landed raspberries all over me. After about five minutes of this, they both got up and went off to play together.

They were fine for the rest of the evening, until just before bed. We had a pillow fight. When I told them that it was time to stop and get ready for bed, because I was getting tired and felt unable to keep everyone safe, my 6-year-old kicked me and tried to bite me. So I moved in quickly and held him in my arms, so that he couldn’t hurt me or his little brother. He started screaming and raging and yelling, “ No, no, you are hurting my neck! Don’t hurt my neck!!!”

I was checking in to make sure I wasn’t holding or hurting his neck, and my arms were not even near his neck. I repositioned him, just in case I was somehow hurting him, but he continued saying the same things and thrashing about. This is a familiar pattern, one that I have been working on a fair bit with him. It’s got to do with being held down for stitches, I think.

After only five minutes, he stopped crying, looked at me and said, “I want to sit next to you, Mum,” and we all read a book together. He fell asleep that night quickly, holding my hand.

I was amazed at how quickly the Playlistening allowed both of my sons to connect with one another again, after a pretty torrid time in the car. I was also very pleased that the evening ran so smoothly after our Playlistening and that the night ended so sweetly after a big rage and release of feelings.

* A “raspberry” is the American word for putting your moist mouth on someone’s skin, usually tummy or back or arm, and blowing hard, so that a big wet sound is made.

-Melinda Booth, Queensland

Jack and the Rude Beanstalk

After a prolonged illness, my 6-year-old was full of feelings and energy. I could tell by the way he was quick to anger, quick to become indignant, and generally by what hard work it was to parent him!

I was recovering myself, and hadn’t found many opportunities to be playful. However, last night, I was happy to note that I didn’t need to instigate anything, I just followed his lead and trusted his instinct to heal by laughing.

We were reading a book upstairs when one of the characters, Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk (who was appearing in another story!) said that last year he hadn’t bothered planting a beanstalk because the giants had been bothersome by yelling out rude things down the beanstalk.

That was all it was. Gabriel giggled and giggled and found it enormously funny that Giants would be yelling out rude things down the beanstalk. It was perfect, as it was right in my energy level area and I could continue the laughter by repeating over and over what Jack said. Then we started to talk about what the giants might have been yelling down and this lead to all sorts of name calling around toileting and potty. There were tears running down his face and it felt so good to see him so joyful again.

I was reminded of how Playlistening doesn’t have to be contrived in any way, if you just remain open to what they find funny and stick with it. I actually felt relieved to know that I can take some pressure off myself by not feeling like I have to be the funny one all the time. I didn’t even have the energy to set up Playlistening, but he found the laughter all by himself.

Confessions of a Parenting by Connection Nanny: Part II

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. But 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 one of my nannying stories. 

One of my nanny jobs is with Mira, who is 5 1/2 yrs. old. I officially started watching her (and sometimes her 7-year-old brother) about three months ago. I feel we are now growing in closeness. At the beginning, I was once again seen as the “bad” person who is there because her mom is not! The first several weeks were ones when Mira would show her upset at not being with her mom. This arose consistently when I pulled up at her house after picking her up from school. Her mom has taken on a new position and therefore is not as present for Mira as she used to be. She would say she does not like me, and that I am stupid and I suck!

There have now been several times when, seemingly out of the blue, Mira will start making sobbing sounds (but shedding few tears), grunting, kicking her legs, and telling me to stop looking at her, while I would try to make eye contact and show my concern. She even has yelled at the top of her lungs, “Stop! Don’t look at me!” I gently tell her that because she is feeling so bad, I will stay close (but I stay only as close as she allows), though I attempt to respect her request that I do not look directly at her. Often her father is upstairs. There have been times when she has barged into his office while he is having a phone session with a client (he is a psychologist). At this point, I scoop her up and remove her while she is kicking and yelling. Fortunately, her father is on board with Parenting by Connection, and has mentioned that he trusts me. He allows me to handle the situation. She has this kind of outburst with mom and dad as well.

These outbursts usually happen after she and I have had a lot of fun and connection (playing memory games or Connect Four, dancing, doing yoga) together. Of course I see this as a very good sign that she is trusting me more and can then “let it all hang out.” As time goes on, I feel that Mira accepts me more and more. She now sits on my lap, and will whisper secrets to me when we are with others if she does not want them to know what she is thinking. I attribute this, in part, to my allowing her from the very beginning to make all the decisions as to what we are going to do. I allow her to always go first in games, and I dote over her as she demands, “Look, look at me! Watch, watch!” as she does cartwheels, handstands, and headstands.

In a sense, it has been one big Special Time every time we’ve been together. As I feel and sense our connection growing, I plan to push against her will a bit (insisting I go first, for instance, or insisting that this time, I decide what game we will play). One interesting thing to note:  today when we were playing Connect Four and I would block her, she would comment:  “Good move, good block.” This was in complete contrast to how she was in the past, when she would get really upset if she did not win at a game I am pleased and a bit amazed how fast she is opening up and trusting me!

-S. Hart, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor

Special Time – Add a Daily Spark to your Romantic Life

Before my daughter was born I always vowed that I would not let having a baby change my relationship with my husband. I wanted to show my own child a model of what a good relationship is like.

When my daughter was born, I found having a baby so all-encompassing that it seemed hard to even imagine physically separating from her in order to rekindle my romantic life! I carried her in a sling, we co-slept, and she woke frequently in the night. When she was asleep I felt so exhausted that sex was the last thing on my mind. I spent my time reading books about parenting, and my thoughts were consumed with how to be a good mum. I loved this important work, but I also missed my husband who sometimes seemed like a distant figure in my life. A year has passed, and though my daughter now sleeps better, I’m still tired and not always feeling in the mood!

A few weeks ago my mum was visiting, and my husband and I nipped out for a 15-minute bike ride together. For those 15 minutes it was like going back in time to before we had a baby. I felt so free cycling on my bike, chatting and laughing with him. And I was surprised to find that during the days after our bike ride I felt closer to him.

Later I realized that the bike ride had been our form of Special Time. That spending concentrated quality time is something we can do with our partners as well as our children. It wasn’t necessary to have a big chunk of time. 15 minutes could bring us closer together. So I decided that every night, when my daughter was asleep my husband and I would do Special Time too. We would do it, without fail, even if it was just for five minutes.

My husband’s response was, “What about the cleaning?!” But after giving it some thought he agreed it would be a good idea. And so starting a few weeks ago, we’ve been doing Special Time. One of us chooses an activity, and we do it for between five minutes and half an hour. One night we played cards, another we sat on the balcony looking up at the stars. Sometimes we just snuggle up on the sofa to have a chat about our days. We’re gradually becoming more creative and adventurous with our ideas for special time. Soon we may even venture out for dinner at the local restaurant in our village!

I’ve never been good at being domestic, and though I love cooking I’ve always lacked enthusiasm for tidying and cleaning. But now I’ve found I’m going about my domestic tasks with much more enthusiasm. There is a purpose to getting all the cleaning out of the way, so that we have time to be together at the end of the day.

When we think of rebuilding closeness with a partner after having a baby, we tend to focus on the obvious “sex” part. But it’s important not to neglect spending time together doing other things as well. Having Special Time in the evening means that even if though I spend most of the day away from my husband I still feel close to him. And I’m finding that this extra feeling of closeness makes me more in the mood for some extra-special time!

– Kate Orson in an Instructor-in-training in our Certification Program. She lives in Switzerland. You can connect with Kate on Facebook at Parenting by Connection with Kate Orson.

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!”