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.

Staylistening with a Six-Month-Old Twin

I have a friend who has twin girls. Ever since they were born one of the twins (the second to be born) was labeled the more difficult one. She cried more than her twin sister, she ate less, and was not very easy to please. When they were about six months old, I was visiting the family, and when I held each of the girls in my arms, I could clearly see the difference in the way each of them looked at me. The older twin could look straight into my eyes and drink in my gaze, whereas her sister hardly made eye contact with me at all, and kept moving her gaze from one point to the other. I could tell that she was upset and stressed.

When it was time for her to sleep I volunteered to settle her, and she was clearly not going to fall asleep easily. I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to listen to her, and see if it would help to support her as she cried some of her upsets away. I showed her the bed, and she cried when she figured out that a nap was expected. As she cried, I listened and reassured her. 

Her mother soon came to try and sooth her with a bottle, then a pacifier, but she was not hungry and refused these distractions. I held her in my arms, offered gentle eye contact, and  told her, phrase by phrase, “You’re safe now. It’s O.K. I’m going to be here with you. You are a wonderful girl.” I wasn’t doing a lot of talking. Mostly, I held her gently, looked at her warmly and lovingly, and let her do the rest. She cried really hard, perspired, arched her back, and tightened her little muscles as she moved. I made sure that her mom came to the room off and on so her daughter could see that Mommy was still there. She kept crying hard like this for 30 minutes, and then for 10 more minutes she cried hard in spurts. She would calm down, and then cry a little bit more. At the end of those 40 minutes she fell asleep. I had to leave before she woke up.

My friend, the mother of the twins, called me later that evening to tell me in astonishment about the remarkable change she noticed in her younger twin’s behavior. She was very calm, smiled often (which she would rarely do before), and was mostly content. In the next few days, she was exceptionally responsive to everyone around her, including her twin sister, who had been constantly trying, unsuccessfully, to connect with her sister before.

My use of the listening tools started when my girls were 5 and 9, so I didn’t get to offer them Staylistening support when they were babies. I was really excited to see how this tool worked so beautifully with an infant. Although I’ve heard about it before, it was fascinating to notice that she needed someone to listen to her and then, to see the results for myself. 

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

Trading Places in the Family

Recently, my husband and I were on vacation with our three boys, and our oldest was seemingly always putting a damper on our fun adventures. The walk was too long. Someone was talking too loudly. Another’s socks were pulled up too high. Someone blocked the TV in the middle of the baseball game (because it was necessary to pass in front to get to the bathroom)… You get the picture. After a few days everyone wanted to bite this child’s head off.

My husband woke up one morning and announced that there was a new plan for the day – everyone was going to take on the identity of someone else in the family. Since we were there, in part, for a business conference, we all even had official name tags that clipped to our clothes! The boys (and we, too) got really excited, and after a lively discussion of who got to be who, we each clipped on our name tag and headed down to breakfast.

The second my husband was out the door of the hotel room, he began jumping all over and making goofy sounds, exactly the way our middle son would have done. We all busted up laughing. One of the kids said, “Dad, watch out! People are coming down the hall!” He ignored them and kept on with his silliness. The kids tensed up for a moment, but when they saw the smiles on the faces of the people walking towards us, fell back into laughter. I was our youngest, and kept hanging onto the leg of our oldest, who was acting as me. “MOM! Carry me! I’m tired!” (Mind you, this is 20 minutes after wake-up, and ten steps out of our hotel room.) Again, laughter, as our youngest son (now Dad), scolded me and told me to leave mom alone. “This is a public place!” Our middle son, playing our oldest, jumped right into his role beautifully: “Why is the restaurant so far away from everything?? This place is too big!” Then he began poking at his two brothers, purposefully trying to knock them down, or scare them by jumping out from behind a pillar. Everyone was rolling in laughter. Not just us, but everyone we passed!

After a while, our oldest tried to take on the role of correcting us all, and orchestrating how we should be acting, and what we should be saying – a pattern we’re working hard to help him shed. None of us caved. We just continued on in our roles, and the laughter kept coming and coming. I admit that our oldest, the inspiration for the game, wasn’t doubled over, but he was grinning ear to ear, and I definitely detected a handful of chuckles.

I also noted that he was really watching “himself.” How interesting to see “yourself” from the outside looking in. Identity is complicated, and so often we lack the insight to differentiate between our behaviors and who we really are at the core, or our children’s behaviors and the sweet, lovable kids we know they are. Taking on the identity of another with them watching, and seeing “ourselves” from the outside, broke the tension created by all that identity confusion, and allowed us to see ourselves, and one another, for the people we really are:  good people with some behaviors that we would all do well to shed.

Tosha Schore~ Tosha Schore is a Certified Parenting by Connection instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area. Join Tosha on January 28 for her next Online Parenting Class, Building Emotional Understanding.

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

Nighttime Farting Dissolves Tension

After a weekend together, my husband and I were putting our kids to bed.  The lights were out, but my 5-year-old was not settled; he was making a raspberry noise.  This annoyed his brother, my 9-year-old, who shouted, “Be quiet! Stop that noise!”

We tried, “your brother is asking you, please stop.”  But nothing seemed to stop our younger son’s noise making or our older son’s annoyed shouting.

The little brother’s noise sounded like passing gas.

I wasn’t sure what to do.  I wondered if it was time to turn on the light and set a limit, but I decided to take a playful approach instead, hoping to bring laughter, bring our sons together, and make them more relaxed.

I said slowly, “That noise… makes me imagine… a sea lion… passing gas!”  All of a sudden, the annoyed big brother stopped bickering and laughed.  The younger brother also stopped making noise and laughed.  They thought this was hilarious.

So I continued, “I am imagining…. a humming bird…. toot!”  There was more laughter.  And we laughed about different animals’ flatulence for a few minutes.  The mood quickly changed from heavy to light and the brothers were laughing together.

Soon, after about seven or eight animals, I stopped as it was getting late.  I said, “It’s time to sleep, let’s be quiet and sleep.”

The 5-year-old made raspberry sounds a couple of more times, but the big brother didn’t get annoyed this time.  Gradually they both became quiet, and within a couple of minutes, they were fast asleep.

—Keiko Sato-Perry, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor

Keiko Sato-Perry

Join Keiko in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding online class starting April 22.  Register now!

Listen to a podcast of a recent teleseminar “Parenting: Going Deeper”, in which Keiko presented.

You can read more of Keiko’s stories here and learn more about Parenting by Connection in the Listening to Children booklet set.

“No More Hitting” Made Our House a Home

Our life has changed so radically that even people who visit us are beginning to ask questions.  Our nanny was stunned at the difference in behavior and has passed along the course information to her sister.  My father who works with therapists, has been sharing your website with board members and any one else who will listen. A couple who stayed with us last week passed the information along to their parents and are saving it for when their baby comes along.
I have done four different parenting courses and have read somewhere in the ballpark of 70 plus parenting related books.  I have certainly picked up a number of wonderful strategies to use with our girls, but none of the information I was busy collecting made this type of immediate shift in being.  I was so sad when they were not getting along and my oldest was hitting and biting, particularly because I had read so many books and was from the beginning practicing attachment parenting and positive discipline.I thought all the work we had put in “should” make it so those kind of behaviors would be rare occurrences. I was devastated when they became routine.  I felt a bit like a failure.  I was beginning to crack and stray from the positive discipline methods I had so avidly been learning.  I found myself yelling and saw my daughter burst into frightened tears.
What a contrast that was to this work.  My first staylistening session with my daughter happened over a fort she had built that her sister knocked down.  She wailed that it was ruined.  Instead of talking her out of her upset, I held her as she cried about her sister ruining her things and taking her things.  I mostly listened and told her I knew it was hard. At some point, I told her that her sister may take her things, but could never take her place.Shortly after that, she stopped crying, looked at me and said, “I know, we can build it again.”  I asked her what would happen if her sister knocked it down.  She giggled and said, “That would be fun because then we can build it AGAIN!”  She hopped down and ran over, calling for her sister to come and knock down the fort with her.They played together.  I mean, really, they played together.  They had never done that.  That was the beginning of an amazing shift in their relationship and in my relationship with my daughter.
Now when my daughter hits or pushes, I look at her and she just knows what is about to happen.  She says some odd things while I hold her and she cries, but invariably after it is over she will thank me for helping her feel better.Yesterday after a rough patch at the park, I held her and she told me that she just needed to cry. She is no longer associating her behavior with anything bad or wrong about herself, instead she is thinking that she is having a hard time inside and needs to cry.  I cannot imagine what a difference this is going to make over the course of her life.She was heading down a path that could have caused her to perceive herself as a “mean” or “not nice” girl.  I wonder how that would have influenced choices she made in the future.  Your work is simply the best gift I have received as a parent.  Watching the girls giggle together and be generous to each other has been so heartwarming.My house has become a home.

Staylistening Helps my Sons Share

My three-year-old and I had a Special Time during my older son’s piano lesson.  When it ended and was time to pick my older son up, my younger son asked if he could get stickers also.  His brother gets stickers at the end of a piano lesson.  I said casually, “Okay let’s go in and ask the teacher.”

So we went inside the piano teacher’s house.  We asked and the teacher said yes.  She gave my older son a sticker, and also generously gave my younger son one, a different sticker.  But he didn’t want his.  Instead, he wanted his brother’s.  “I want that one!” he whined.

The piano teacher in her seventies told my younger son harshly, “This is your brother’s, not yours.”  Hearing this, he started crying, and fell down on the floor.  Seeing a three-year-old throw a tantrum, the piano teacher shook her head, waved her hands and told us that he was not welcome at her house anymore from then on.

Deeply embarrassed, I said good-bye to the teacher thanking her for the lesson and the stickers, took both boys out and managed to bring my crying son in my car.  I was triggered by the upset the piano teacher aimed at us so it took quite an effort stay as calm as I could.

Inside the car, I Staylistened for about 40 minutes.  My older son was waiting in his seat, peacefully, humming and tapping on an imaginary piano.  I sat in the back seat, Staylistening to my younger son as much as I could.  It became really hard for me to continue to listen a few times as I started thinking resentfully about what the piano teacher told us.  I took deep breaths now and then.  Then I went back to more Staylistening.  My younger son was frantic.  He asked, “Let’s go back and get the sticker!”  I replied, “No, we are not going to go back in.  We’ll stay here in a car for now.”  It took a long time, but he finally finished crying.

To my delight, my older son, who was sitting quietly next to us, looked up as soon as his brother finished crying, and offered a toy dinosaur, which was a special dinosaur he had received that day at school, something he would not share earlier.  It was very sweetly done and let me realize that I was not alone in my listening. My older son was also compassionately attending to my younger son’s crying.  The brothers were happy together all evening after this incident.

Later, after I had stopped the lessons from this piano teacher, I heard that there were others who had stopped too, due to her occasional harshness.

—Keiko Sato-Perry, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor

Keiko Sato-Perry

Join Keiko in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding online class starting April 22.  Register now!

Listen to a podcast of a recent teleseminar “Parenting: Going Deeper”, in which Keiko presented.

You can read more of Keiko’s stories here and learn more about Parenting by Connection in the Listening to Children booklet set.

Resolving My Son’s Biting

My younger son (age 2-1/2) started biting when he was just over two years old.  He would bite when he and his older brother had sharing issues, or when he didn’t get his way.  He would bite really hard.  He could not assert himself against his older brother, who was three years older, more able and verbal, and biting seemed to be an impulsive response.

Resolving the biting issue was a priority over other jobs I had, and I rationed my energy and attention to deal with his new aggression. I reduced the time I spent on my household work (I did very minimum vacuum cleaning, dish washing and cooking!) to stay close by when my sons were together so I could reach in before things escalated.  I would spend five to ten minutes hanging out in the same room often during the day, or sit between them when they were playing together.

Sometimes, though, when I was in the bathroom or answering the phone, I could not stop my son from biting.  My older son would be hurt and cry frantically, and my younger would be upset, his face frozen in guilt.  I rushed to them, apologized to both that I wasn’t there.  Then I would listen to each, one at a time.  Often when I Staylistened to one, the other one would try to climb on my lap.  So I learned how to hold them both on my lap, keeping them from hurting each other.

My success rate at holding my younger son’s forehead away from my older son’s body, thus keeping him from biting increased.  I learned to read their very first signals of disconnect, like a slight change in their tone of voice or their mood, so I could prevent an attack, and I patrolled them when they came back together after a long separation.

This vigilant patrolling went on for a while.  I worked on my embarrassment, guilt, worry and anger about this challenging situation in my Listening Partnerships, which gave me an insight into the helplessness I felt in the similar situations I encountered as a child (I was bullied). My Listening Partner gave me several chances to stand up and take charge, saying the things I had no power to say as a child, and releasing the anger I’d held for so long.  It felt like rewriting my own life history.

I kept offering regular Special Time to both sons too.  In one of the Special Times with my younger son, he would bite me suddenly really hard in the midst of our happy horsy ride.  I stopped our play, offered eye contact, though his eyes didn’t meet mine, and said, “I can’t let you bite.”  He then started crying.  Again, a few more Special Time were spent on his sudden biting, my limit setting and his crying.  This led to him biting his brother less and less.

This work brought gradual change; after six months, he did not bite anymore.

—Keiko Sato-Perry, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor

Keiko Sato-Perry

Join Keiko in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding online class starting April 22.  Register now!

Listen to a podcast of a recent teleseminar “Parenting: Going Deeper”, in which Keiko presented.

You can read more of Keiko’s stories here and learn more about Parenting by Connection in the Listening to Children booklet set.