Setting Limits Helped My Daughter Cooperate Willingly

My six year old daughter seemed fine when she came home from school.  Her nine year old brother had been sick for three days and I was looking forward to her being with us.  However, it wasn’t long before she started being cutting snowflakesuncooperative, demanding and grumpy.

She said, “No, I’m not putting my backpack away” and then commanded, “Get me some milk.”  This was really a jolt to my system after a quiet day with my son. I didn’t like where this was going so I decided to set a limit and see what would happen.

She was cutting snowflakes at the table and I put my hand over hers saying, “Honey, your backpack needs to be put away, so I cannot let you cut anymore snowflakes until you do that.”  She screamed at me, “Noooooo” and stomped off to the living room.  I followed her, moved in next to her warmly and put my hand on her knee.  Instantly, she put her head on my lap and sobbed for about 30 minutes.

She told me that it wasn’t fair that her brother got to stay home with me and that we all did stuff that he wanted to do.  She was able to offload her feelings of being left out and the unfairness of me doting on her brother.  After about 30 minutes of this, without me saying a word, she got up and put her backpack away.  I got her a glass of milk and we calmly and playfully sat at the table making more snowflakes.  It was amazing to watch the shift in her after she got her big feelings out.

-Certified Instructor, Kristen Volk

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.

Screen Time Becomes Connection Time

As my son grows older the draw towards video games is getting stronger and17748588-boy-playing-game-on-cell-phone-kid-holding-mobile-on-grey-background
stronger, and so is the family struggle over them. I started to notice the tension and frustration around video games increasing and began to set limits, but it did not seem to be quite enough. I would set a limit, and he would express his feelings, but never quite follow them all the way through, and for a period of time it continued as a daily negotiation.

He began suggesting playing video games during our Special Time. I hesitated at
first, thinking that it was not a good use of our quality time together, and worried that it might serve to encourage his constant desire to play them. But I told him it was his choice, and so we snuggled up real close under some blankets to play games on my iPhone. The first time we did this, he wanted to play the whole time and have me watch. I simply offered as much connection and enthusiasm as I could muster during the time. Then the timer went off, and I told him it was time to stop and put the games away. I moved in close to set the limit, and I held my hand over the screen on the phone. He erupted into a heap of feelings, insisting he had to play one more round, and angry that Iwas making him shut it off. I sat and stayed close to him while he kicked and yelled and offloaded his frustration. After he wound down he was flexible enough to do other things.

This same scenario repeated a second and third time when we did Special Time.
He chose to play video games, and after the timer went off I would ask him to turn it off and he would offload his feelings about it. After a few of these, I began to notice shifts in the way the Special Time was going. He was having me play more and more of the levels with him, and becoming much more flexible about turning it off, as well as not asking to play any more for the rest of the evening.

These past couple of weeks he has wanted to play video games during his Special Time, and I have come to really enjoy it! We snuggle under a blanket together, and he facilitates us switching turns back and forth on the different levels and challenges of the games we play. It feels like we are really playing together and we laugh and get excited and give each other “high fives” to celebrate good moves all the way through. When the 15 minutes are up it has been me who says, “OK, we’ve gotta do one more round!” It really does feel like connected play. Then when it is time to stop he is flexible and ready to shift to the next thing. I have also been noticing that he is not asking to play as much,
and when he does and I set a limit, he can cooperate with my limit.

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

Listening Helps Calm My Grandson’s Fears

When our grandson was one, and just walking, we convinced his parents to let us babysit so they could have a night out.  They were quite nervous because they did not like to hear their son crying.  We told them we could handle it, and promised we would call if things got out of hand. We invited them to keep their phone set on “vibrate” in the movie theatre and restaurant.

About 20 seconds after they left, he began to ask for them. We told him they would be back in a bit.  He began to cry hard, getting his shoes and handing them to his grandpa to put on.  His grandpa said, “You want to go out and get momma and poppa?”  He shook his head yes vigorously and went to get his coat from the hook by the door.  We told him we were going to wait at home for them.  We sat with him by the door with him, he cried and cried.  He rolled himself up in a ball on the floor.  We put our hands on his back and told him we were going to stay right with him until they came back and we were sure they would.  He cried for about an hour.

We kept getting nervous.  Grandpa wanted to give him a bottle (he had less experience at this than I do), and I suggested maybe we just wait a little more, that I did not think he was hungry, and told him I know it is hard to listen to, especially at first.  The baby finally stopped.  I am always amazed that they do stop, because the message in my head says things like, “What if he doesn’t stop and his parents come home and they never let us babysit again! “  We played with his toys and after about 20 minutes he went to the door again and got his coat and shoes, crying for momma and poppa.  This time it lasted about 5 minutes.  It happened several more times.

Fortunately, when his parents came home, he had fallen asleep on top of grandpa on the couch.   Now he is three and has a baby brother.  Once a month we babysit them overnight at their house.  They usually cry for a few minutes, and ask many times during the evening when momma and poppa are coming home, and where they are and what they are doing.  If they get hurt or fight over a toy, they usually want momma and poppa, and cry for them for awhile. We just Staylisten, and assure them that their parents miss them too, and that they will be so happy to see them when they come home.

– Join Certified Instructor Emmy Rainwalker in her Building Emotional Emmy RainwalkerUnderstanding Online class, starting March 18. Register now.

Listening Helps When Things Get Gummy

My son and I had an outing  where we went to the store together to get the week’s groceries.   We have done this from the time he was born, and as he got older, he participated more frequently in the choices of what to buy. He was quite protected from the world of sugar at home and did not watch TV, so we seldom had a disagreement about what to buy.

When he was almost 4, his baby brother was born and we decided to take him along.  Everything went well until we got to the checkout line and he asked for gum.  I said no and he began to have a full blown tantrum,  I was completely overwhelmed with the baby, the groceries and him.  So I bought the gum.  All the way home, I kept saying to myself, “You are being controlled by a child!  This can only get worse.”

I consulted with a friend and we agreed that she would come with me the following week on our grocery trip and I would try to Set the Limit and Staylisten.

All went well until the checkout.  He demanded gum and when I said no, he pushed his little fingers into the spaces on the wire display rack where the gum was– right at his eye level.  My friend took the baby and handled the groceries and after peeling his fingers out carefully one by one with him screaming the whole time, I took him aside and got on the floor with him.  I had to hold him so he would not hurt me as he flailed.  I wrapped myself around him and had my face near his ear.  I told him we were not going to get gum and that I could see he was pretty mad.  I struggled to figure out what to say (and not say), and resisted the temptation to “explain” why.  I said things like, “You really like gum, and are very disappointed.”  He kicked and screamed for about 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, my friend was engaged in very lively conversations with people in the store, explaining what we were doing.  I could hear them off in the distance, some people laughing, some angry.  Finally I said something about things being different now with a baby brother and he cried hard, saying that I loved the baby more than I loved him.  I calmly said that I loved him as much as ever and was so proud of him.

He finally fell asleep in my arms, and I carried him to the car.  He woke up happy. I took as much time that week as I could to reassure him that he was not being replaced. My friend encouraged me to say all the things I did  not say to him in the store, the explanations and my own internal exasperation, in our Listening Partnership time, and I said some ugly and mean things. We laughed at how terrible it would have been if I had said them and how much more complicated everything would have gotten, especially his feelings about his brother.

The next week we went again, with the baby.  He asked for gum at the checkout.  I said no.  He said, “Phooey!” and that was that.  I was prepared to Staylisten again, but was glad I did not have to.

-Certified Instructor, Emmy Rainwalker

– Join Certified Instructor Emmy Rainwalker in one of her classes / teleseminars:

Emmy Rainwalker

1) Teleseminar “Staying Close to Our Sons” on Tuesday, March 5.  Register now.

2) Building Emotional Understanding Online starting March 18. Register now.

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.