Helping My Teenage Son Work Through Stifled Feelings with Listening

My 13-year-old son was off track in a way that doesn’t happen often. I asked him to turn off the TV in order to shift to bedtime mode at 9pm on a Sunday, and he resisted. It led us to a talk about screen time and balance. This weekend had been both very busy for me, and full of screen time for the boys, my older son especially. I was occupied with pulling together the last details on our beehive in preparation for picking up our first package of bees the next day. I actually was quite preoccupied and even overwhelmed by what needed to get done for that project before Monday. Understandably, we were not connected by the end of the day.

My son and I had a good dialogue about the screen time, but something must have struck a nerve because soon afterward, emotion came up for him. I realized he was in the bathroom, crying. I tried to go in to be with him but he held the door shut. I told him I’d be close outside ready to listen. He eventually came out and lay down on the couch with a blanket over his head. I sat on the edge and put my hand on his back, but he shrugged it off and pushed me away with his body.

I let him be for a time to give some bedtime attention to my younger son. Just as things were quieting down and I thought he was falling asleep he got up and came to me saying, “Mom, I want to rearrange the room.” He let me hug him a moment and then veered off to push furniture around. I watched him for a bit and helped move things out of his way. Then I started to feel exhausted by the amount of disorder that was being created. I noticed that feelings were being stirred up for me, and retreated to my bed.

When he started moving things in front of my bedroom door, I understood that the moving of furniture was another sign of disconnect. I went in the bathroom and saw how he had moved things from the counter into the sink and squeezed out toothpaste. He was off track again. I went to him and put my arms around him to pause his moving of things. He immediately pushed back. I stood strong and held the force of his pushing body with mine, meeting his push. We did this back and forth for a while. He went to my bed and we wrestled there. He went to the couch and we wrestled there. He tried to go into the bathroom and shut the door but I followed close behind and kept the door open. My goal was to be close to him and limit his ability to channel his emotion into off-track behavior. I could see clearly that the disorder he was creating by moving furniture was an attempt to move the internal chaos he was feeling up and out of his body, and I wanted to offer a more constructive way out. I wanted to give him a safe container to feel it fully and release.

For a long time we went back and forth, wrestling, or me being close by while he lay on the bed or couch. Each time he was alone on the couch or bed he reached out with a leg or an arm to swipe at me or throw blankets and pillows at me, sure signs of disconnect. I was tired and not sure about this territory. My
13-year-old has rarely released feelings in this very physical way.

As we wrestled, I sometimes got my arms around him from behind and was able to hold him in a way that kept us both safe from his hitting and kicking. He tried to bite and scratch me. A couple of times he pulled my hair. If I felt hurt or that I was vulnerable to getting hurt, I pulled back and got out of his way. I knew it was my job to keep myself safe; that he was not functioning from a clear thinking place in his brain; that he was working on releasing something deep.

I tried to keep my own thinking to a minimum. I focused on my breathing, and being fully present, I imagined waves of calm flowing from me to him. My younger son was up and about playing with the kittens and a bouncy ball the whole time. After about an hour of this back and forth, holding and letting go and holding again he broke into tears and sobs and cried in my arms. It was after midnight. When he was finished crying, he crawled to his bed and lay down. I wasn’t sure he was completely done, so I stayed close to him, sitting in the chair by the bed until both boys fell asleep.

The next morning older son came to me first thing and gave me a big hug. I felt relief that he had obviously released enough the night before to be back to himself. However not only was he back to himself, he was back, bigger and brighter than ever. He launched into a story about a game and interactions with friends from the day before. He was reflective, expressing curiosity, amusement, cleverness. The rest of the day was fabulous. He was so connected to himself, to me, and to his brother. He was playful, helpful, engaged the entire day. We had a great time in the city picking up our bees. Getting the bees in the hive was an adventure both boys helped out with. He played computer games with his friends for a couple hours and then he came back home and engaged in Star Wars origami and “Jedi training” with his younger brother for the rest of the night. At one point, he made reference to our conversation about balance the day before and he said, “Hey, Mom, this is something I can do to be balanced–origami! It’s hard and frustrating, but I like it and want to do it.”

I’m grateful I was able to offer listening power for as long as it took. Seeing the good results of my son’s clearing work made the lack of sleep and energetic mustering so incredibly worth it. I’m also grateful that I had had listening partnership time that morning over the phone. I’m sure that helped me listen
from a place of emotional stability.

Karen Murphy, Certified Parenting by Connection Instructor

Join Karen in her Building Emotional Understanding course on Monday afternoons, starting May 13.

Karen Murphy is the mother of two sons, ages 13 and 8. Karen started using Hand in Hand listening tools with her children 8 years ago and it literally changed her world. Using the tools revolutionized Karen’s parenting in such inspiring ways that she studied to became a Hand in Hand Instructor in 2010. She is excited to share knowledge, tools, experience and support to anyone seeking to increase connection with children. Karen offers classes, listening partnerships and consultations in the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon & Washington. Connect with Karen via her website at http://www.mindfulparentingtools.com

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.

Using Playtime to Help My Son’s Speech Impediment

When my son was 4.5 years old, he needed to see a speech pathologist for a significant difficulty he had with his pronunciation.  At the end of the first session I felt light and hopeful that this might really help.  The Speech Pathologist sent us home with some exercises to do. And then came the challenge: getting my son to practise!

Well, I tried everything.  I tried making them fun but he hated it anyway, he just put his fingers in his ears and made silly noises.  I tried some Playlistening – getting his teddies to do it, pretending it was a really stupid idea, and putting them in the bin, etc.   I got a few laughs, but it didn’t help him want to do the exercises.  So I tried setting limits – first playfully “oh, yessy, yes, yes, we’re going to do our sounds practise,” and letting him run away and giggle as he hid from me, but that didn’t work.  Then seriously, “We’re going to do our sounds practise,” but all he would do is say silly words and throw our sheets of paper away.  I was beginning to lose my patience and my ability to think.

Listening Time for me!  I vented to my Listening Partner on my frustration and let my feelings of overwhelm and confusion flow.  How on earth was I going to get him to practise?  This was just too hard…

For the first time in 4 years of using Parenting by Connection ideas, I was thinking I would just have to resort to the rewards approach the speech pathologist had suggested.  I really couldn’t see any other way.  We had to practise or the therapy was a waste of time; maybe just this once I had to let go of my beliefs and do whatever it took to get the practise done.  And just as my mind was starting to think about what kind of rewards system to set up, another idea flashed through my head and I found myself saying to my son, “Okay today we’re going to have a Special Time Sandwich.”  This wasn’t pre-planned, it just popped out my mouth.  “After breakfast, we’ll have 10 minutes of Special Time, then sounds practise, and then 20 minutes of Special Time.”  He looked interested.

Well, much to my amazement, when it got to sounds practise he was fully engaged.  He tried really hard to do the exercises.  I could hardly believe it.  So we tried the Special Time Sandwich the next day and the same thing happened.  He was fully part of it and even had ideas like “can you hide the sound cards around the room and I’ll find them and say the word.”   The next day he brought his teddy and made it do the practise and get everything wrong .  I started to hear him practising the sounds by himself during the day.  He would ask me questions about words like “is it skittle or stittle?”  After about five days of this he came up to me at the end of the day saying, “could we do some more sounds practise today , I really enjoy it.”  He wasn’t asking for special time, just the sounds practice!

And, interestingly, he became increasingly frustrated when he wasn’t understood.  He started to get quite angry and start crying when I couldn’t make out his words.  This was loud anger that I found quite hard to listen to and my heart ached for the frustration he was feeling.  But I did manage to listen and the anger would turn to tears.

He made fantastic progress.  The speech pathologist was impressed – and so was I!  His speech came along in leaps and bounds.

I think what happened was that he could feel all the effort I put into helping him try and practise.  He kept letting me know he couldn’t do it the ways I was suggesting.  I have a hunch that if I’d have dived straight in with the Special Time Sandwich it might not have worked. I think he needed to feel that I was on his side, that I was partnering with him.

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

Keiko Sato-PerryJoin Rachel in her upcoming Building Emotional Understanding online class starting June 1.  Learn more >

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.

Unstoppable Learners

At the end of the last school year, our sons’ report cards surprised me and my husband. My older son, ending third grade, scored in the 99th percentile nationally in reading, having scored in average range the previous year. Our Kindergartener leapt from knowing almost no Kindergarten facts to showing advanced skills.

The report cards were surprising considering that my focus was almost the opposite of pushing my sons to excel in school. During his third-grade year, I had nearly pulled my older son out of school because he had been overwhelmed by the homework and was struggling to keep up. Instead, I had worked hard—and succeeded—at making the case to the school to reduce the homework load. This meant that I could spend more time playing with my sons and connecting with them. I also focused on listening to my sons when they were having upsets. I believe that along with efforts by the teachers and my partner to foster the boys’ academic skills, my listening to my kids has had a lot to do with their learning achievements.

When my younger son didn’t want to go to Kindergarten the first two weeks, I Staylistened. He cried for hours, while I held his socks in front of him saying, “It’s time to change,” or cradled him on my lap saying, “I am sure you can have fun at school.” Because I took time for his feelings, he was late a few mornings. That was a worthwhile time investment, as he started going to school with joy and confidence after he was done offloading his feelings. Once he finished working on our separation and his transition to a new environment, he was an unstoppable learner, reciting and writing the alphabet and practicing his numbers at home.

When my older son came home from a day of school in a nasty mood, making harsh remarks and unwilling to do his homework, I moved in close and listened to him cry and rage. When he let go of his tensions through showing them to me, he gradually came back to his sweet, sparkly, easy-to-laugh self again. Sometimes, my son really needed a good cry before he could do any homework. Also, a long Special Time with him over the weekend would help him feel safe to show me his negative feelings, offload them through crying and upset, and regain some of his enthusiasm and delight in learning and school.

Sometimes, my children could not get down to doing their homework because they fought with each other. I listened to both my children when that happened. They fought not because they didn’t like each other, or because that is what siblings would do, but because things were hard in their lives. When there was tension between them, I would say, “Let’s wrestle!” and we’d go to the bedroom. Sometimes, we’d throw pillows. Other times, we would chase each other around or they would climb on me while I tried to shake them off. They are in their element when they play like this, laughing a lot. Sometimes they cry as they get too rough or they get hurt. Laughter and tears seem to melt the dividing wall between them, and then they are good with each other again.

Once their emotions are listened to and released, my sons are able to engage with their school projects. This year, in the first and fourth grades, they love learning and learn because they want to, rather than because it’s required of them. What a shift!

It was often hard to listen to my sons when they were mad at me. Seven years ago when I first came to Hand in Hand for help with all sorts of parenting issues, I soon realized that I first needed to help myself, by working on my own feelings. That often felt like a detour, but as it turned out, it was probably a shortcut to help my kids. I experienced how releasing my emotional heat through a Listening Partnership enables me to think well again, and that showed me how things work with my kids: They bring their hard feelings to me, I offer support, they shed their feelings, and then they recover. Listening Partnerships were a big part of how I helped my children with their challenges in school.

The result: Unstoppable learners.

—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.

Saying Good-Bye to Our Old House

It was mid-October and we had been in the new house for about 8 weeks. My daughter LOVED the new house. She had her own room with a bunk bed, a tree house, a hot tub… and a big yard to play in every day. Except for the evening when we moved, most of her attention over these weeks had been on how fun and exciting it was to live in our new house.

But on this particular evening, 8 weeks in to living at the new house, my daughter uncovered feelings of loss about leaving the old house. When I was tucking her in, we were praying (part of our usual routine), and she asked if we could pray a blessing for our new house. As I was praying for the new house, my daughter let out a sob and turned and threw her arms around me. “I miss the old house SO much!” she said. The tears came readily, and she quickly had big fat tears streaming down her cheeks, and sobs coming from deep in her belly.

The light had been out, so I turned it on dimly so she could see my face as I listened to her, propped up on my elbow. At first I just made little noises of compassion, occasionally adding, “You really miss the old house!” or repeating other phrases she had said.

Then she started talking about the particulars of the old house, like “There were four steps leading up into the house and it was perfect for my sli-i-i-nky! (sob, sob) And this house doesn’t have enough steps for my slinky to go down!” She would cry for a minute or two and then remember something else she loved about living in the old house, like “Remember how you would pull that cutting board out of the kitchen counter and pull my high chair right up to it, and then I could eat breakfast right next to where you were doing the dishes! (sob, sob) Now I never get to stick so close to you while you do the dishes!” Or, “I miss that couch with the big cushy cushions—we made the BEST forts with that couch! (sob, sob).” With each thing she mentioned, as she started to slow down with her sobbing, I would quietly add, ““Good-bye steps!” or “Good-bye favorite-spot-at-the-counter!” or “Good-bye cushiony couch!” at which point her sobs would deepen again. When the sobs lessened, I would repeat the good-bye, until it ran out of steam, and then she’d move on to a new “favorite thing” to say good-bye to.

It was sweet to hear the long list of things that mattered to her so much about our life together in our old place—details that made up her experience of “home” there. The old house was actually a tiny little cottage that was right next door to the new house. After she’d been crying heartily for about 30 minutes I suggested that we go look out her bedroom window from where we could see the cottage. We sat at her window, her on my lap, for another 15-20 minutes, with her looking longingly at the little cottage, saying, “I loved that home SO much!“ and sobbing deeply, with big fat tears, remembering more and more about what she loved there. At one point she said, “I feel like if I never see inside that cottage again my heart will break into eleven pieces!! (sob, sob).”

Eventually her sobs settled down, she wiped her face and said, “I’m ready to go to sleep now, Mommy.” I tucked her in and she slept deeply for twelve hours. The next day there was no sign of the upset of the previous night, and she was back to enjoying her life in our new house. I imagined how different my life would have been if with every move I had had the chance to say good-bye—with attention and in detail—to each and every tiny thing I loved about the previous house. I took this to my next listening session, and had a good hearty cry myself. Once again, following my daughter’s lead, I got to clear out a little section of my own old hurts that had previously gone untouched.

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.