Play Helps Dissolve Frustration

nightgownBefore bed, my daughter and I had a fun Special Time together doing whatever she wanted. When the timer beeped (signaling the end of Special Time) she happily trotted off to her room to change into her new nightgown and get ready for bed. Within a few minutes though, she returned very unhappy.

“This nightgown is too short and I’m cold,” she complained.

“Yeah?” I replied. “Do you want to wear something else?”

“Ugh!” she growled. “I hate it! I don’t want it! You can just donate it!”

Since she was so happy after our time together I wasn’t sure what had shifted. I suspected the nightgown wasn’t really the issue, but sometimes I wonder is it the clothes or is she just needing something to get upset about? Only time would answer that question so I decided to stay close, available and calm to see what she would show me next.

I followed her into her room where she took off the nightgown and threw it into the laundry basket. I opened her drawer and pulled out her favorite jammies. “Do you want these?” I asked.

“Ugh!!” she growled again as she grabbed them from me and put them on.

I wanted to offer her my warmth and support for whatever was coming up for her, but wasn’t sure what direction to go. Did she need more connection through play or just my quiet presence and listening?  So, I said, “I noticed you were pretty happy a few minutes ago. And now, it’s like PHEW! all this stuff’s gotta come out.” I waited for her response to clue me in to what she needed.

She made some more ‘growly” noises, but then looked at me playfully and said, “Yeah! I just need to wrestle you!”

“Alright!” I said enthusiastically. Play was the way to go!

We wrestled for a little while. She laughed hard and came up with some new wrestling moves. We had a lot of good, non-stop giggles. When I was ready to stop I gave her a big hug and said it was time to brush teeth. She transitioned easily.

While we were in the bathroom she said, “I’m really hot, maybe that nightgown is a good idea.” She went back to her room and changed into her nightgown.

Just as I suspected, the nightgown wasn’t the issue. Just a little tension that needed to be released through a fun time wrestling and laughing with mom. Connection and play saves the evening again!

– Michelle Pate, Parenting by Connection Instructor and Consultant
Join one of her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding classes starting May 22nd @ 6pm Pacific Time OR May 23rd @ 10:30 am Pacific Time —– You can also connect with her on Facebook.

A Playful Response to Sharing

I want it!!!

I want it! Give it to me!

How long can we simply BE with our children, lighting the way to reconnection, without rushing to solve “the problem”?

My daughter and her friend were playing well one day until they both wanted the same blue scarf. They came to me for help, their voices raised, as they both desired to be heard. I crouched down and said, “Ok, one at a time.” I asked my daughter to wait while we heard what her friend had to say and assured her I would listen to her next.

“She ALWAYS wants the blue scarf!” her friend said. “I want it this time!”

When her friend was finished, I turned to my daughter. “What do you have to say?”

“No I don’t! I used to use the pink one. I tried to be fair and let her pick one from behind my back, but SHE kept peeking!”

“Oh,” I say. “It sounds like fairness is important to both of you.” The girls nod in agreement as they each tighten their grip on their end of the scarf.

My mind is blank, so I am (thankfully) forced to just stay present and supportive to both of them. The three of us look at each other and I wonder how this scarf issue will shift.

Then my daughter’s friend starts pulling on the blue scarf and my daughter starts tugging back. I smile and say, “Wonderful, you’ve figured it out, Tug-o-war! Now you BOTH have the blue scarf.”

They look at me with a look I would describe as “playful mischievousness”. The girls tug back and forth. There’s no meanness to it, but I stay close and engaged with them by putting my hand in the middle of the scarf and gently tugging along with them. “Yeah!” I say. “Now we can ALL have the blue scarf!”

The tug-o-war with the scarf continues around the living room until I playfully say I should tie them together with it. They love this idea. I tie them together around the waist. They work to move around and end up falling a bit. They get back up, trying to figure out how to move while tied together. Once they get the hang of it they decide to be a 2-headed, 4-legged dragon and go off to find treasure together.

And I think to myself, in working through this conflict they already found the real treasure of connection and friendship.

~ Michelle Pate, Parenting by Connection Instructor and Consultant. Join her Building Emotional Understanding course, beginning March 14th. You can also connect with her on Facebook.

PS On a recent playdate, with the same friend, my daughter came to me with the scarf and said, “Mom! We are NOT getting along. You need to tie us together!”
I did, and the mood immediately shifted from disagreement to cooperation. 🙂

My Children’s Limbic Radar Picking Up My Extra Attention

I recently attended the Hand in Hand Weekend Retreat and wanted to report on what happened upon my return home. 
The retreat was wonderful. I was surrounded by beautiful redwoods, had fabulous meals prepared for me, and got a much needed break from full time mommyhood.

I got to spend time with other parents who are using the Parenting by Connection approach, got lots of listening time, unloaded a lot of built up tension, and spent a lot of time focusing on the goals I have for myself and my family. In short, my emotional bank account got filled up and I came home in great shape.

And my kids could tell.

I came home after bedtime on Sunday night. In my mind I planned to spend a good part of Monday hanging out and playing with my two children.

I had checked in with my husband the night before and knew that they had had a good weekend. I have found that when I have abundant extra attention my kids know it. And their emotional systems know how to make good use of it. It’s like all these little nagging hurts that are lodged in there get a chance to bubble to the surface saying, ‘Hey, over here! Look at me! I need some help over here. I’ve been waiting for someone to show up.’ So first thing in the morning… here comes ‘their stuff’ but only more amped up because I have all this good extra attention floating around. They could probably smell it the minute they woke up.

The younger one woke up, snuggled me for a few minutes, then immediately started whining about being awake. The older one came in and after just about 10 minutes of chatting started finding reasons to hit his brother. The younger one didn’t want to eat, etc. Your garden variety of ‘nothing is quite right’. And the older one continued to find ways to initiate conflict with his brother.
The great thing was that I was completely prepared and able to welcome this with an open heart and clear mind, because I had been listened to so well in partnerships over the weekend.

I started with some playlistening, climbing back in bed and pulling the blanket over our heads, begging not to have to get up. Then I begged them not to get up as they laughed and tried to squirm away from me. After 20 minutes or so of that game and lots of laughing, the older one started back on hitting and teasing of his brother and I was able to set some firm, yet playful, and connected limits. This led to some staylistening, as he cried and sweated and told me what a rotten brother he had. Just as he was beginning to wind down, the younger one started to do some of his own “Notice me! Notice me!” behavior, very disconnected, wild in nature, and I was able to playfully get him to reconnect.

After that they seemed like they were in pretty good shape, so I left the room to get breakfast started. They began to wrestle, which quickly became too rough from the sound of things, so I headed back in. I grabbed some pillows and began to get in on the ‘fight’. They both said, “No mom, you’re not rough enough!” I could see that they really wanted to exert themselves, but were still not connected enough to know the limit, so that the younger one wouldn’t get hurt.

So I said, “Oh you think I’m not rough enough, huh? How ‘bout this!” And made a HUGE swing at the older one with a pillow and completely missed, falling flat on my face on the bed. They then pounced on me and we had a great vigorous pillow fight with them ganging up on me and me being the buffoon. I was able to let them go at me really hard without getting upset. They were able to get lots of energy out, and lots of laughter and connection. And lots of brotherly teamwork.

We laughed and laughed for over an hour. And they played really well together for the rest of the day and several days afterwards.
Because my bucket was so full, I was able to be really present and relaxed with them. What a difference it makes! I could come up with fresh ideas, I had patience, I had play stamina. We all benefited, not just them. It really is true; the oxygen mask works best when applied to the caregiver first.

Kirsten Nottleson-Join Certified Instructor Kirsten Nottleson in her Building Emotional Understanding course. Starts March 27. Register now.

Roughhousing Helps My Daughter with Math

(C) Sigurd Decroos 2008

One day after a fun-filled Special Time it was time for me to sit down and balance the check book. My daughter decided to sit with me and do her math work. The first bit was new to her so we worked together on a couple of problems. She seemed to understand it, but was soon whining, “Do I have to do it all? Can I go play on the computer?”

“Finish the first half and then we’ll talk about it,” I said. She growled, got up from the table and stuck her tongue out at me.

Oh boy, I thought. She came back to the table, struggled with a problem and then started waving her pencil toward my face. I could feel myself triggered by this action, but managed to calmly say, “I don’t like that. Please stop.” She replied in an ever-annoying ‘tween tone. “Whaaat? I’m not touching you.”

“You’re not touching me,” I said. “But I still don’t like it. I want you to stop.”

“Grrrr!” she growled. “I just want to throw it at you! You’re the meanest mom!”

My words were not getting through to my usually cooperative daughter. I knew that whatever tension had its grip on her, it needed to be broken with some play. I got up, smiled at her and said lightly, “Ok, throw it at me.” She looked surprised.

I walked to the far end of the house where I knew she wouldn’t be able to really hit me, and then she threw the pencil hard. I playfully flinched, even though the pencil wasn’t near me, and she laughed.  I moved close to her, putting my arms around her waist, and said playfully, “You wanna fight me?” She struggled against me as I acted as her opponent and commentator.

“Oh, she’s getting me now! She’s taking me down!” I said as I rolled to the ground. She promptly sat right on top of me. We wrestled with her doing her best to stay in control and keep me down. I gave her a challenge by flipping her onto my legs airplane style, but I always let her manage to get back in charge of the game.

We played this way back and forth with me begging her to “Go away” (as she often tells me when she’s upset) and then after she went away I would cry, “Hey wait! Come back! Don’t leave me alone!” She would then return to jump on me and wrestle around more.

At one point, she got the tape and proceeded to tape my mouth shut! I played along with her and let her keep the upper hand while still putting up a “fight” to get away. I tried to talk with the tape on, begging her to take it off, but I was all mumbles. She laughed and just added more tape.

As our play slowed I went back to balancing the checkbook and she quietly sat at the table beside me and started to do her math work. Barely a minute later, she handed me her completed paper. “You’re done already?” I said. She smiled big. I was amazed at how quickly she completed the work she had been complaining was too hard for her.

The math work itself wasn’t too hard, only the tension she was carrying made it seem too difficult. By allowing her to take the more powerful position in our play she was able to work through the tension so it could dissolve and her intelligence could flow again. I am continually amazed at how play and wrestling can transform a tense situation and I am always pleased with the happy, connected place we end up.

~ Michelle Pate, Parenting by Connection Instructor and Consultant. Join her Building Emotional Understanding course beginning March 14th. You can also connect with her on Facebook.

Listening Time Makes a Difference

I was teaching a Playful Parenting class one night and the topic was how we notice when our children disconnected.  A woman volunteered to come up and demonstrate what her son acts like when he is disconnected. She got to move her body a lot and ‘feel’ what it might feel like for him. We all sat and watched her show us what it looked like, and afterwards I gave her some listening time. She then said she had a really different perspective of what it must be like for him when he is in that place.

She came back the next week with exciting news. She said that when she left the last class she went to pick up her son. She immediately recognized that he was in disconnect. In the past she hadn’t noticed his vacant stare and had gone about talking with the babysitter for a minute or two before moving to the car without taking time to reconnect. She said trying to leave always ended up in a big messy meltdown.

But on the  night after that class she recognized he was in need of connection after their time apart and decided to engage him in some play before they even thought about leaving. They played a little chase game and “oh where, oh where has my son gone?” She said it was like magic. Not only did they reconnect and have fun, but he left happily, and when they got home he had an incredibly easy bedtime. His father brought him from the car, laid him down, and he was able to fall asleep in his own bed without ever getting up once, which was highly unusual for him.

It seemed to me that the attention of the group allowed her to see her son more clearly and get a better understanding of his experience. As a result she was able to come up with a great spontaneous solution that made the transition to the car much smoother.It’s amazing what just a little bit of listening can do!

Kirsten Nottleson-Join Certified Instructor Kirsten Nottleson in her Building Emotional Understanding course. Starts May 8. Learn more.

Playlistening to Get Through the Morning Rush

(C) Chris Gilbert 2010

It was one of those mornings that are really hard to start. My youngest (6 at the time), was sleeping in more than usual, and I was also dragging myself around the morning routine. By the time she got up and I was ready, it was pretty tight time-wise. I knew if I rushed her to get ready, she would only get mad and we would probably be late for her school.

So, I decided to connect with her more playfully and hopefully get us all out of the door on time.

Instead of looking at the clock and saying: “It’s awfully late. Let’s get ready”, which would be my non-playful version, I pretended to be afraid of looking at the watch and asked her to stay with me and not leave the room.

We were both standing in the bathroom. I ‘fearfully’ tiptoed into the bedroom to get a glance at the watch. That got a lot of  laughter going for my daughter. Then we had a quick session of ‘catch and kiss’ because she did not stay in the bed room. All this time she asked me to ‘cry’ some more about the time and about her leaving me.

We did this once more. It lasted about 12 minutes in all. Only fifteen minutes were left to get her ready for school. Surprisingly enough, she got dressed in a swift, and even had enough time to sit and have breakfast. She was cheerful and calm.

Had I not chosen the playful path I believe we would have had a quarrel, with both of us getting frustrated about our needs not being met. We would have  hardly made it out of the house in 20 minutes, and there would be breakfast in the car. I think I’ll stick with the playful path!

– Ravid Aisenman Abramsohn, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor in Israel

You can read more about Playlistening in the Listening to Children Series by Patty Wipfler.

– Join Certified Instructor Ravid Aisenman Abrahmsohn in one of her classes / teleseminars:

Ravid Aisenman Abramsohn

1) Building Emotional Understanding Online starting February 27. Register now.

Hair Washing Glee!

bathtime can be a great time for playlistening

When my son was about 21 months old, he started to hate having water poured over his head when I washed his hair in the bath. He would scream and scream every time, even when I was meticulously careful not to get any suds or water in his eyes.

After a few weeks of this battle, I remembered what Patty told us about Playlistening. One night, during his bath, but before washing his hair, I took the special hair-washing cup and (discreetly making sure it was empty first!) held it upside down over my head. I shrieked, pretended to cry, and shook my head back and forth. My son howled with laughter!

He kept handing me the cup over and over again with a big smile on his face, and he laughed uproariously as I feigned intense distress. In between mock cup-pourings, I would smile at him to let him know I was okay. Gradually my hair got wet from the traces of water in the cup, and he was fascinated to touch my wet hair and rub the top of my head, which was now quite wet.

Later in the bath, when I washed his hair, he clearly did not enjoy it much, but he sat still and did not actually scream. Over the course of the next week or so, I always preceded washing his hair with play-washing mine, complete with loud shrieks and cries. He continued to laugh with abandon, and touch my wet hair with fascination. Now he has taken control of the cup, and insists on being the one to hold it over my head! It took three or four baths, but now he does not object to his hair being washed. In fact, what was once a torture session for both of us, is now one of his most gleeful games. In the evening when I say, “bath time!” he runs into the bathroom to get the cup, and runs over to me with it, laughing and holding it out to me!

– A mother in Pacifica, California