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When Will My Son Grow Out Of Tantrums?

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Dear Kate,

My son is six years old and he still has huge tantrums, often over really minor things like losing at a board game, or when we’ve run out of his favourite breakfast cereal. I’ve been reading your blog for a while, and I know that crying is a healing process for children, and it’s important that we can all express our emotions in a healthy way, but I’m wondering if there is an age when they grow out of tantrums. I wasn’t expecting my son to be still having full-on meltdowns at the age of 6!

My husband is also putting pressure on me, to stop encouraging his behaviour, as he feels like it isn’t helping him to learn when and where to express his emotions in a way that society finds acceptable. I also admit I am feeling uncomfortable with this too as he recently had a huge tantrum in the supermarket recently when I didn’t buy a toy that he wanted.

Can you help?, From ‘T’

Dear T,

thanks for your question. It resonated with me a lot as my whole journey to being a Hand in Hand Parenting started when I was babysitting a five-year old boy, and I was wondering what to do about his tantrums. I can also remember feeling like this was too old to have tantrums and that he should have grown out of this phase by now.

As our children get older it becomes easier for children to regulate their emotions, and so they may tantrum less. But something else is going on here. The more years children spend on this planet, the more they begin to get the message loud and clear that emotions aren’t tolerated everywhere. They begin to absorb patterns of repressing their emotions, because they sense that the adults around them don’t want to listen. This happens frequently with school-age children, who ‘save-up’ their meltdowns for their nearest and dearest, while keeping it together at school.

Many children will grow out of tantrums, as they sense that the adults around them are increasingly unaccepting of their feelings, but if your child is still tantrumming freely that’s actually a good thing.

Emotions are a healthy release for children whatever the age. When children cry with a loving adult it can help them release the feelings that often come out in their behaviour, so it’s always good to listen, and allow feelings. This is my article 10 Reasons Why A Toddler’s Tantrum Is Good For Them and all the reasons actually apply for older children too.

When children cry about small things, it’s helpful to remember that there’s often a deeper reason under the surface, this can help us have more empathy and understanding for the tears. So if your son cries a lot about losing at board games, it could be that deeper feelings are being triggered about competition or being good enough. Perhaps he’s also processing grief about a new sibling coming along, or an experience at school where he lost at something, and didn’t have an understanding adult to listen to him. These are just examples. We don’t need to know the deeper reason. We just need to be there to listen to the tears.

When it comes to emotional regulation, we often think we need to teach our children to know when it’s appropriate to show their feelings, but they actually do have a radar for when to express themselves.

Feelings do sometimes spill out in public, but if we take time to listen to feelings at home, and allow our children to cry as long as they need to, then this can reduce the likelihood of this happening. You can read more tips in Five Ways To Prevent Public Meltdowns.

The other thing that’s really important with Hand in Hand Parenting, is to find support for yourself. Often when we start questioning whether our child expressing feelings is healthy it can be because our own feelings from our childhood are coming up. Because our tears weren’t always met with connection and empathy, it can often be hard to do this heavy, emotional work with our children.

Starting a listening partnership, and finding a way to share what you learn with your partner can all help listening to tears be a little easier.

Have you got a question that you’d like a Hand in Hand Parenting answer to? Leave me a comment or contact me via facebook and your challenge could be the subject of my next blog post! 

For more information about how to handle children’s big emotions, and off-track behaviour, check out my book Tears Heal: How to listen to our children.  

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Why I let my daughter cheat at cards

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I let my daughter cheat at cards. Now at first glance I expect you’re wondering why on earth I would do that. Do I want her to grow up unable to deal with the competitive world we are living in? Am I raising a spoilt brat who is unable to get along with others? How on earth will she get on in life if she expects to get everything handed to her on a plate?

Now I must admit, that at first the idea of cheating in games triggered me. I never cheated as a child, whereas my husband told me stories of his own angry strops and cheating. One day I was playing a game of snakes and ladders with my daughter and my husband and they launched into full on cheating tactics, ganging up on me, going up ladders whenever they wanted, and moving me onto snakes. I was shocked at what he’d been teaching her!

At first I was thinking of all those nightmare scenarios I describe in my first paragraph, and then I suddenly realised something. Here was a prime opportunity for some Giggle Parenting; for my daughter to delight in watching me lose.

After all I didn’t need to get all sensible and tell her that we would only play if we played by the rules. I’m the adult. It doesn’t matter to me if I win and lose. I began to see that there was something going on that was much more important than playing the game. It was an opportunity to connect and an opportunity to heal.

All the laughter she has as she cheats is a great way to release stress and tension, and to bring us closer together. This is much more connecting, than having a serious, card game.

When my daughter cheats at cards, I do all sorts of things to get the giggles flowing. I exaggerate my shock and horror when she picks the best cards for her hand, or takes the best cards out of mine. I exclaim ”oh no!” as if I am completely powerless to stop her, when she doesn’t let me put down the card I need to win, or changes her mind about which card she wants to put down. I act completely surprised, in a playful way when I discover she’s been hiding cards, and I put up a pretend struggle when she tries to see my cards, but always let her see in the end.

Far from never teaching her about winning and losing, this gives her the chance to release tension about competitiveness. With a chance to be powerful and strong, a child feels more able to allow their natural co-operative nature to shine through. This actually means that next time your child plays with other children, they’ll be more relaxed about considering other children’s feelings and playing by the rules.

Far from teaching children to just grab what they want whenever they want to, letting them cheat at cards, shows that in this competitive world you are on their side, you are willing to make connection, and flexibility the first priority, rather than trying to ‘teach’ them. They will use this as a model, so they can go out into the world willing to consider others feelings, and be flexible too.

Children have a sense of justice and fairness. They can distinguish between having silly games with parents whose job is to help them with feelings. as opposed having sensible games with other children who also care deeply about winning.

Sometimes big feelings may still get in the way when a child is playing with other children. In this instance it’s good to set a limit about sticking to the rules. You can emphasise and offer hugs, if they feel sad and frustrated, while holding the limit, and staylistening to any feelings that come up. This process of letting a child to cry until they are ready to stop allows them to release the feelings that get in the way of play co-operatively, so that next time they’ll be more relaxed about winning and losing. For more information about staylistening, check out my article here, 10 Reasons Why Your Toddlers Tantrum is Good For Them

Then when you are alone with a single child, you can have a silly game. Or, if you’d like to try a silly game with multiple children, you can put them in a team together, so they get to gang up on you in a way that allows them to cheat without exacerbating sibling rivalry. I talk more about this idea in my 15 Playful Ways to Solve Sibling Rivalry.

Letting your child cheat at cards, with the accompanying giggles is actually a perfect way release stress and tension, and build closer connection between you, so relax the rules, and enjoy the fun!

For more Giggle Parenting solutions to your family challenges, check out my archives, or sign up to follow my blog in the top right hand corner of this page. And if you’ve got a parenting issue you’d like a solution too, send me a pm via my facebook page, and your challenge could be the subject of my next blog post! 

Sign Up For The Positive Parenting Conference!

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I was so excited and honoured to be invited to take part in A Fine Parent’s  online Positive Parenting Conference.  Myself and 15 other parenting experts will be giving talks to help you learn the tools you need to be a more gentle and connected parent.

As parents, especially when our children are young it’s often hard to even get out of the house, let alone attend a conference, so this free event allows you to take part from the comfort of your own home. And if your kids aren’t asleep in time for you to enjoy the talks you can catch up with free replays.

As Sumitha Bhandarker from A Fine Parent says; ”we’re doing the hardest job in the world – raising human beings – with little or no prior training, some hearsay knowledge and a lot of ‘gut feeling’! Can you imagine a doctor or plumber trying to do their job this way? No wonder most of us default so often to nagging and yelling all the time. And end up with so many power struggles. And feel so lost and adrift. And unsure in our own knowledge of what to do when faced with difficult situations.”

My own talk ‘How To Respond To Tears To Raise Strong Kids’ will be all about listening to tears, and how our reaction to our child’s emotions is key in helping them to grow up strong and resilient.

What each speaker has in common is that we’ve all published parenting books, so follow the link to sign up, check us all out and see which talks and books appeal to you!

 

How Listening Helps You Discover Your True Feelings (and heal from them)

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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.

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Giggle Parenting: For Food Fears

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Giggle Parenting is all about reversing the roles, and giving your child the power, so they get to build their confidence, feel good, and better connected.

When your child is afraid of trying new foods, or refuses food they used to like a simple role reversal can help.

Take the food they are afraid of and pretend that it’s afraid of them! Have it shriek, before hiding back in the fridge, or jumping into the cupboard. Talk to the food, and try to persuade it that it’s safe to come out, that it’s really okay to be eaten. As you slowly bring the food out have it jump and hide away in another place.

Have the food jump into really silly places that it really doesn’t belong like the cutlery drawer, or dishwasher. For extreme giggles, you could have it try to run into the bathroom or out the front door. Act all exasperated and keep telling the food, ”no that’s not right, you don’t belong there!” Repeat as long as the giggles flow.

This Giggle game may not result in your child instantly eating up the food, but it will help them feel closer connected and more confident about trying new things. For more tips on picky eating check out my article, How Connection Helps Picky Eaters. And for more fun suggestions to laugh away picky eating check out 20 Playful Ways To Help Picky Eaters.

Giggle Parenting: For Getting Your Children To Pick Their Stuff Of The Floor!

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Do you ever feel frustrated when you ask your child to pick something off the floor and they just flat out refuse? When children feel disconnected or are dealing with upset feelings, they often can’t think clearly to process our requests, let alone actually do as we tell them! Asking indirectly through connection is often much more effective.

When my daughter leaves stuff on the floor, or when I’m tidying up and I’d like her to help. I do something called  ‘the Trip Test.’  I say in a playful way as if I’m totally unsure, ”hmm, I wonder if that should be on the floor, let me do a test and see.” Then I walk towards it and do an exaggerated trip, and conclude that it has failed the Trip Test.

These kind of mini ‘giggle parenting’ moments may not always result in instant co-operation, but each shared moment of laughter and connection is all part of building co-operation between us.

So have a look around your home, and try out the Trip Test. I’d love to hear how it goes!

For more information about how to use connection to help your kids tidy up check out How To Spring Clean With Kids, 25 Fun Ways To Get Your Children To Tidy Up, or this podcast episode about listening for co-operation

Giggle Parenting For When Your Child Is Bored

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You may have heard it many times that it’s good for children to be bored, that we should all let our children be bored during the summer holidays etc. so they can learn and maintain the skills of independence and creativity.

It’s true that we don’t do our children any favours when we over-schedule or over-entertain them in order to protect them from boredom. However we’re also not doing them any favours to in leaving them completely alone with their feelings of boredom. When children feel well-connected to us, and don’t have upset feelings clouding their thinking they can usually think well about what they want to do, play independently, and come up with new creative ways to spend the time.

Complains of ”I’m bored” often come because a child is feeling disconnected, and is dealing with upset feelings that get in the way of them enjoying life, and figuring out what they love to do.

Giggle Parenting can often work as a simple quick-fix for boredom. When my daughter complains that she’s bored, I use a pretend phone to phone up the ”to-do hotline.” I talk to someone on the line and explain that I’ve got a very bored girl at home and that I need some ideas of what to do. The person on the phone tells me that I should just let my daughter watch screen. I act all playfully shocked and exclaim, ”no, no! Not screen. I don’t want her to watch screen, give me a good suggestion of what to do.” This really makes my daughter laugh, as often her go-to for feelings of boredom is to watch screen, and I know in these moments it’s more helpful for me to help her back to independent play.

Then I’ll have the to-do hotline tell me that she should do all kinds of ridiculous things like throw all of mummy’s socks out of her sock drawer, or make a mess of her bedroom. After a few giggles my daughter is often ready to play independently again.

So when your child is complaining of boredom, try phoning the to-do hotline and see what they suggest. It could be wild and crazy things, like take a rocket and go to the moon, or leave the house right now, or have a bath with your clothes on. You can act all playfully angry and annoyed that the hotline is not suggesting anything sensible and your child can laugh and laugh Just see where your mind and the giggles lead you.

For more information on boredom check out Patty Wipfler’s article What to do when your child is bored. For regular giggle parenting ideas, sign up to my blog at the top right hand corner of this post. 

 

How To Listen To Babies

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When parents first discover Hand in Hand Parenting, and the principle of staylistening,  they often feel that they cannot apply it to young babies. It can seem too complicated or even dangerous, to try and figure out the times when a baby just needs to have his or her feelings listened to.

This is understandable;  babies use crying as a way to communicated their needs, and since they can’t use words, there’s often a lot of trial and error involved, especially for first time parents. All of us tried our best, and had moments of confusion, or worry that we weren’t getting it right.

Most parents of infants, (and I did this too many times!), can fall into the trap of thinking that our babies only cry when they need something. So when a baby cries and we can’t figure out the need is, we start getting into the mindset that if there doesn’t seem to be a need we can identify then we just need to stop the crying. We may bounce them or pat them, or shhh them. We may try just about anything if it works to gets the crying to stop.

This is where it’s really important to distinguish between ‘needs’ crying, and ‘feelings’ crying, as psychotherapist Matthew Appleton refers to the two different ways babies use crying to communicate.

Babies are born with the emotional part of their brain fully developed at birth. This means that they need to express feelings, and have a good cry, for optimum health and wellbeing just like any other age human being does.

They may also be born with big feelings that they may need to process. This could be due to a mother having stress during pregnancy, or because of a difficult birth. In the first few weeks and months of their life, they will also need to cry to process coming into the world, or to calm down after overstimulation.

When a baby cries and we know all their needs are met, when we know they are fed, and physically comfortable, and aren’t unwell, then we don’t actually have to try to get the crying to stop. In fact it’s kinder not to stop the crying. We can hold our baby in our arms, look into the eyes, and just listen.

This is not about cry it out. Science tells us that when babies are left alone to cry, their system gets overwhelmed with high levels of stress hormones. This has led many parents to believe that the crying is harmful. But it is healing for babies, just as it would be for an older child and adult. In a study where babies were left alone to cry it out, they actually stopped crying, (but remained in a highly stressed state). This shows how it is the stress of being left alone that is the problem, rather than the crying.

When a baby cries in our warm loving presence, with us there to just hold them, give them warm loving eye contact, they sense that crying is okay. There are mirror neurons in our brain that reflect and recreate the moods of those around us, so when we are anxious and pacing, trying to stop the crying, our baby picks up on our mood and mirrors our emotional state.

Instead if we can be calm with crying, and understand when babies simply need to express feelings, they can attune to our calm relaxed brain, and know that all is well. Crying is actually vital to healthy brain development and for promoting secure attachments. A baby whose given the space to cry in the first few months of his life, knows that his feelings are welcome.

Figuring out when a baby just needs to express feelings, isn’t always easy. It’s always good to err on the side of caution, to trust our instincts, and to seek medical advice if you have any concerns. A listening partner is a vital part of this process. Often our reactions to our baby’s crying are so entwined with our unconscious memories of hurt from our infancy, that we need to process these before beginning the process of listening to our own baby.

For more information about how we can listen to babies feelings, check out Patty Wiplers’  new parent podcasts or my book Tears Heal: How to listen to our children which is focused on applying the Hand in Hand Parenting approach from birth to age 5.

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A Giggle Parenting Cure For Grumpy Mornings

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This morning my daughter woke up thinking it was Saturday and was most disappointed to find out it wasn’t! Uhoh I thought, finding myself going into an inner dialogue of whether school was really the right choice, and wishing it was still the holidays.

Then a thought sprung into my mind. My daughter was wrapped in a rug on the sofa, and I started telling her, ”if you don’t get dressed soon, I’ll have to take you in this rug, and then the teacher will ask, is this a flying carpet, because no flying carpets are allowed in school, and then you’ll say abracradabra, and the rug will start flying in the sky with all your friends on it. And the teacher will say, come on down, it’s time to sit in the circle, no flying carpets are allowed in school!”

She was laughing a lot at this scenario and after that happily went to get dressed.

It’s so easy for us to get triggered by our child’s grumpiness, to go off into our own grumpy, despairing thoughts. Our own thoughts make our child’s mood much bigger than it needs to be.

Even after five years of using this laughter tool I’m still amazed at how quickly it transforms things. One of the things I like about telling stories, is just how limitless our imagination is, how we can use it to conjure up stories and outlandish situations to make our children laugh, and diffuse the tension.

Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, you can use the power of words to get laughter going with your kids.

Here’s a few suggestions for inventing silly stories.

  1. Have the children in the more powerful role. In my story the children have the power. They’re flying on a carpet while the teacher is frustrated and helpless, trying to get them to come back down. It’s so different to the norm where children often have their days dictated by adults feel that it helps to diffuse tension.
  2. Include adults doing silly things that are quite out of character. Children love it when adults start doing ridiculous things. So perhaps you make up a story where dad goes to the supermarket and ends up the moon instead, or mum starts building an aeroplane to take the kids to school. Or a doctor ends up baking a cake instead of checking the patients, and then gives everyone cupcakes instead of medicine.
  3. Tie the stories to the challenges you’re facing in the moment – So if your child won’t clean their teeth, maybe you sit and tell them a story about a giant toothpaste tube, that got delivered and when you squeezed it the whole living room filled up with toothpaste, or if they are finding it hard to wind down to sleep, so you create stories about beds, that won’t stay still and keep trying to fly out of the window on adventures, while you – the frustrated parent try to make everything go smoothly again.
  4. Take time to relax and laugh yourself – If you’re struggling to come up with ideas, then take some time to nurture yourself and have a good giggle, whether it’s with a friend, listening partner, or watching a comedy show. This helps us tap in and exercise our humour muscle so the jokes start flowing.

For more ideas about giggles can transform your family life check out the archives on my blog, or sign up in the top right-hand corner, for regular inspiration.

Giggle Parenting: Long Distance

 

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Photo Credit: DvvortyGirl

Have you ever been away from your child and wished that you had a way to deeply connect long distance? This has been at the forefront of my mind over the last few months when I’ve had quite a few trips away from my daughter.

A while back I read this story from Hand in Hand Parenting instructor Ceci Hyoun which is a great example of how it is possible to use the tool of playlistening ( what I call Giggle Parenting) long distance.

One of our favourite games evolved when I was away, and my daughter had a lot of big feelings, which were coming up in her not wanting to talk to me. She hung up the phone on me! So I rang back, acting all playfully surprised and ‘upset’ and let her hang up the phone on me again and again. This really made her laugh, and after laughing away some of hurt feelings we were better connected again and could have a conversation.

On a recent trip away from my daughter I skyped each day to keep in touch and we played this game a lot. I also found a few other ways to get the giggles flowing. One time, I rang up and she was eating crisps, so I started trying to reach out my hand to get the crisps, and saying, ”hey! Don’t eat them all, save some for when I get back!” Or I would come up close to the camera and say, ”I just need to take a look what’s going on”, and start trying to look at what was happening at home. Or as my husband always forgets to brush my daughter’s hair while I’m away, I started telling her I was going to use my skype hairbrush to brush it, and acting all confused when I tried it and it didn’t work.

If you need to take a trip without your children and are worried about staying connected, why not bring a bit of Giggle Parenting into your conversations. Just focus on any kind of silly, playful conversation that puts you in the less powerful role, and gives your child the power. Any thing that gets your child laughing, especially if it plays around with the distance between you, can help them deal with separation anxiety.

Here are a few examples:

-If you ring and your child’s still in their pyjamas, then why not try to get them dressed. Search around for their clothes and act all surprised when you pick up your own clothes and wonder where their ones are.

-Eat a snack while on the phone to them, and then try to send them some, and then act all confused when they don’t receive it.

-Or if they seem a bit grumpy and off-track, you could even invite them to hang up the phone on you by saying in a playful tone; ”I really hope you don’t hang up the phone on me…”

Giggle Parenting long distance has really helped my daughter and I stay emotionally present when I’m far away, which really helps the reconnection process when I return.

To read more about Giggle Parenting check out my introductory post here, or the laughter chapter of my book Tears Heal: How to listen to our children