Listening time, one of the Hand in Hand Parenting tools is where two parents get together to take turns talking and listening about how parenting and their lives in general are going. It takes parenting to a whole new level, because, guess what? Our feelings are often what gets in the way of us being the parents we want to be.
Yesterday a letter came home from my daughter’s Kindergarten to say that her teacher would be leaving at the end of the year, so she would have a different teacher for her second year. My daughter burst into tears, and I felt like crying too. Her teacher had been lovely and my daughter had always felt completely safe and comfortable going to Kindergarten.
After crying briefly, I knew my daughter was still upset, but the feelings were stuck. When I talked about it again, she got angry with me and wanted me to stop. This was my signal to change tack. I made jokes about how her teacher must be going to planet Zog to teach aliens, or that I was going to be the new teacher. My husband joined in at dinner time, and asked if our daughter was going to be the new teacher. She laughed a lot at these silly suggestions, and I knew that this laughter, (what I call Giggle Parenting) would help her release some of her feelings, so that she could process what was going to happen.
This morning I had some listening time, and I found myself bursting into tears when I talked about the Kindergarten teacher leaving. Now as an adult, it may seem silly to cry about something as small as the teacher changing. It wasn’t even my teacher! But as I talked more I began to unravel that my feelings were not just about that. They were about my sadness about the Kindergarten years flying by. That soon my daughter would be starting school, something I have huge amounts of anxiety about. I like the Kindergarten with it’s free play and lack of reading and writing. But, having learnt about unschooling and how children can naturally learn to read and write without going to school, I find it hard to think about putting my daughter into the school system. Yet I also know my daughter is looking forward to school that I have to honour her choice too.
My upset is an example of what is known as the ‘broken cookie phenomenon.’ Psychologist Aletha Solter coined the term to refer to how children often get upset about something small when there’s a deeper reason behind the upset. As parents we may often learn tips about helping to teach children to ’emotionally regulate,’ but our children’s emotional responses to small and ‘petty’ things are actually completely normal, and are best ‘managed’ by allowing feelings as often as we can.
We become socialised into feeling embarrassed or ashamed of our feelings, so we squash them down and try to get on with things. But when we have the space and safety to express our feelings we tend to get upset about small things too. Listening time gives you the space to get upset about anything you want, no matter how silly or small. You can learn more about what triggered the upset and figure out the deeper reason behind it. This is how we make our own stories coherent, an important element in making sense of our own lives, so that we can think more clearly about supporting our children.
You can learn more about the Broken Cookie phenomenon, and how listening helps our parenting in my book Tears Heal.