When you want a break from parenting, this is what you might really need.

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Last week I was spending time in the UK with friends and family. In effect I was solo parenting as my husband was still working back in Switzerland. Except I wasn’t. I spent almost every waking minute in the company of other adults, and often children. There were people to play with my daughter while I took a shower, or brush her hair while I got dressed. There were other children to play with so that I could sit and have a chat without interruption.

Living abroad means our holidays are often spent like this, catching up with friends and family. And unlike day to day life it really is like having a village; having people to share cooking and childcare.

As I travelled from one house to another I reflected on how easy it was to parent with other people around. And how happy I felt to be spending concentrated time with my daughter, along with the support of others.

Since my daughter recently started Kindergarten I’ve enjoyed my free time so that I can be completely alone, and blog and write. But during this week with other people I felt a much deeper happiness that seemed to come from being constantly connected to my daughter and with other people. My drive to be ambitious and finish another blog post or the chapter of my next book faded into the background, as play and laughter and togetherness were all that mattered.

The way we live in modern times our sense of tribe may be temporary. We have a lovely girls night out and then return to our nuclear family, or we have holidays with extended family and then go back to parenting alone.

There are lots of childcare options for when we need a break, or time to ourselves and some of those may even be free. But as I heard one mum say, we don’t just need someone to take over the parenting responsibilities for us, we also need people to support us to be the parents.

What this week taught me is that I love being a parent. I want to be with my daughter as much as I can, and often what I’m missing is not extra time for myself but emotional and practical support to make my job easier.

With Hand in Hand Parenting, we can’t cook your dinner and put your kids to bed,  but we can offer you emotional support. Listening time can refill your cup when you feel like you need to run away from your family! I can remember in the early stages of parenting where I’d feel like I needed a long break. Then I’d have ten minutes of listening time, and feel completely renewed and ready to enjoy parenting again.

The foundation of Hand in Hand Parenting is listening to each other and building a village that supports parents just as much as children. As more and more parents discover this transformative way of parenting, we can rebuild the sense of having a village around us.

For more information about listening time check out my blog post here, or my book Tears Heal: How to listen to our children. Or join the Hand In Hand Parent support group on facebook to find a listening partner and build your village today! 

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The Art Of Reconnecting With Our Children And Ourselves

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A few weeks ago I had some devastating news; my sister was diagnosed with Leukemia. I rushed off to the UK to visit her, and came back to my slightly angry and disconnected daughter. Over the next two weeks, I did my best to try to reconnect in between the morning separation of Kindergarten. I was feeling sad about my sister a lot of the time and I wasn’t exactly at my most playful and energised despite lots of listening time.

I was due to go to a Hand in Hand Parenting retreat for instructors in Hungary. This is where instructors from all over Europe, the middle East and Africa come together to do listening time together and talk about the work we are doing with parents in our region. I wasn’t looking forward to being separated from my daughter again, but I knew deep down that it was important for my own wellbeing to go there.

At the retreat I got to cry, a lot, and be completely supported with love and attention. In between our group listening time sessions I got to talk and laugh with some of the people I feel closest to the world, as well as many wonderful instructors and trainees that I was just meeting for the first time.

When I arrived back home after the retreat I noticed that reconnecting with my daughter felt completely effortless. I was immediately much more playful with her. Doing special time together felt like pure joy. The thoughts I often have like, ‘’When is this going to end?’’ and ‘I wish I had some time to myself!’’ were much more muted.

My daughter sensed that I was more more emotionally available, and in the evening she started ‘acting up’ in a happy playful way. When I cleaned her teeth, she grabbed her plastic cup, and ran away spitting into it, instead of into the sink. It was much easier for me to respond completely playfully to this ‘misbehaviour,’ to help her get back on track, rather than becoming serious.

I’ve been on a few Hand in Hand Parenting retreats, and I always come back feeling amazing. It often feels to me that this heightened ability to connect is how we should all naturally feel as parents.

Except we don’t. Parenting is challenging and exhausting. We may have fleeting moments of joy with our children that all too often get buried beneath the stress of our to-do list. When we have present day difficulties, we feel our past hurts even stronger.

When we practise Hand in Hand Parenting we are trying to give our children what we didn’t receive as children. We want to give them unconditional attention, and listen to their feelings. It’s not easy giving what we never received ourselves.

But having real in-person listening time allows us to catch up on the listening we didn’t receive when we were young. I really like yoga and meditation, and lots of other nurturing activities, but I also think that listening time is so essential, because it gives us exactly what we are trying to give our children; a safe space to laugh and cry, and the deep sense of connection they need to thrive.

I know that the good feeling of the retreat is going to wear off, but I’m determined to hold onto it for as long as I can. I also I know I need extra support to be able to keep giving to my daughter while being there for my sister too.

In times of personal crisis, it’s great to have as much listening time as we can. We don’t have to get lost in our grief, we can use the warm attention of a listener to help guide us safely through our feelings. We can rise above our grief, and exhaustion, so it doesn’t colour our relationship with our children.

Life can bring many events that threaten the deep sense of connection between us and our children. The first step to reconnecting with them is to reconnect with ourselves. We need to take time away from our children to grieve for our own hurts, so that we can grow as parents.

If we don’t have the kind of support that we need to be the parents we want to be, then we can find it, although this may seem challenging at first. When we needed support as children we instinctively tried to signal to our parents through off-track behaviour, or tears and tantrums. But we were rarely met with the warm attention we needed. We may have been ‘shhhed,’ told to stop, shouted at, or distracted from our pain. Nobody understood that our behaviour was really like a secret code for how we were feeling.

This happened so many times that most of us gave up reaching out. It can make it hard to do so as adults.

The sense of wellbeing I’ve got from this retreat makes me think what would be possible, if all of us really made it our intention to reach out to each other, to rebuild a tribe of parents, with togetherness and support. It could start as simply as sharing some Hand in Hand articles or books with a friend, or asking someone you know if they’d like to try listening time. If we all work together, we can help each other to be the parents we want to be.

If you can get yourself to an in-person class, do it! Part of the reason we struggle to be there to give our children the connection and attention they need is because we aren’t getting this for ourselves. We can connect with each other on facebook or skype but there is nothing better than real-life human connections for helping us to be there and present for our children.

If you’re in Switzerland I’ll be launching my book Tears Heal
in Basel. Come along to the launch party, invite a friend, and find out about my local workshops beginning in November.

If you want to reach out for support right now, you can join the Hand in Hand Parents support group on yahoo, or facebook, where you can find listening partners, and ask parenting questions, so you never ever have to feel like you are doing this alone. And you could even train to be a Hand in Hand Parenting instructor, so you can have this wonderful support for yourself and go onto support others.

How To Stop ‘Doing’ Parenting And Simply Be A Parent

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Last week my daughter started Kindergarten, and I had written out a 3 page to-do list. I had planned out my schedule of all the things I was going to do, from learning German, to cleaning my house, making dinner every day and writing 3 more books. However I was so nervous about this new beginning I hadn’t got very far on my list.

This morning after dropping my daughter off, I finally felt like I could relax. This was the 7th day she had gone to Kindergarten, happy and excited. I finally trusted that she was safe there, and enjoying herself. And I went onto my balcony and curled up with Listen, the book about Hand in Hand Parenting by Patty Wipfler and Tosha Schore.  And I wondered why I was feeling guilty.

My head was full of shoulds. I should tidy up the house before my daughter’s birthday party this weekend. I should prepare everything before we go out to the parent’s evening tonight. But instead I was reading this wonderful book, listening to the wind rustling in the trees, and looking at the sunshine. I felt guilty, but then I became aware of my body. I noticed how nervous and tense my muscles were. I remembered how last week, I’d relied on caffeine to get through the day and manage the strong emotions that I had about my daughter starting Kindergarten, even though it makes me feel even more nervous and edgy.

I thought of all the play I’d done every evening, all of the special times, and all of the tantrums my daughter’s had as she processes learning a new language, and being in a new environment every single day. I realised that being the parent of a school child is no less intense than being the parent of a child you are with all the time, because that child brings all their feelings home to you in concentrated form!

And I realised that the most important thing right then was to stop ‘doing’ parenting and simply ‘be’ a parent. I know that if I rush around the place that’s when I’m more likely to get stressed and shout. I knew that resting my body for an hour or so, would mean I’d be in much better shape to connect with my daughter when she got home. And so I took a guilt free rest, knowing it was the best thing I could do for my family.

In this world of doing, fuelled by the demands that our busy modern, capitalist society puts on us, we need to make a conscious choice to return to being, without guilt or apologies. You are doing a wonderful job, putting your heart and soul into caring for your little ones, and you deserve a rest!

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The Invisible River Of Feelings Underneath Our Lives

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Holy the mysterious rivers of tears under the streets! – Allen Ginsberg

Imagine the scene: your toddler throws their food onto the floor. You feel enraged, and want to shout. Or you might actually shout, particularly if you feel like they’re old enough to know better. What’s going on here? Parenting can be frustrating and exhausting, and when your child does things that almost seem to deliberately make your life harder it can leave you at breaking point.

The most important thing to know is that it’s not just about the food. Yes it’s a hassle to clean it up, and it’s a waste, and you might be worried about your toddlers’ eating habits, whether they’re getting enough vitamins, and if they are ever going to learn right from wrong. But it’s actually about much, much more.

When we are stressed the emotional part of the brain – the limbic system, senses a kind of emotional emergency, and the pre-frontal cortex- the part of the brain responsible for reasoning, and logical thinking can’t function as well. When this happens, implicit (unconscious) memories from our childhood get activated and often because we can’t think clearly we often tend to respond in automatic ways, often mirroring the way we were treated when we were children. That’s why we tend to lose our temper and act in ways we sometimes regret.

When we are having a hard time in the present, it’s often because these implicit memories start bubbling up to the surface, often without us being consciously aware of what’s going on. Even if you don’t act on these memories, if you don’t shout or hit your child, then they are still there in the background, whispering away, and making it hard to stay calm and relaxed.

When you look at a toddler, you’ll probably notice how much they are in the moment, and full of joy at the simple things in life. And if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know all about the healing power of tears, and how we can listen to our children’s upsets, play and connect with them, so in difficult times they can keep returning to their natural state of joy.

But what happened to us? When we were growing up most parents had no idea that we need to express our emotions, to release our feelings to recover our sense of joy. And so we gathered a lot of hurts which we carry with us to this day. It’s as if as well as the present moment, we also have this invisible river of feelings that flows beneath our lives, that we may not even be aware of much of the time. This is one of the reasons why parenting feels so hard.

When life gets tricky. When we get angry, or anxious or depressed, it’s like this river is calling us home, reminding us of who we were as children, and how we got hurt.

It’s not too late to return to our own joy. Think of your child and how much connection, and attention they need, of how they need an infinite amount of love, and listening, to feel good. Hand in Hand Parenting is an approach about listening to our children, but it’s also about joining together as a community of parents, to listen to each other, so that we can heal from our own hurt and pain. We call this listening partnerships, and you can find out more about them here.

Imagine next time your toddler tries to throw food on the floor, and you can react with lighthearted playfulness instead of frustration and exhaustion. It is really possible, when we begin to listen to that invisible river of feelings beneath our life.

To find out more about how our past effects our present day parenting and what we can do about it check-out my book Tears Heal: How To Listen To Our Children

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Diary of an imperfect mum

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Why Setting Limits About Screentime Starts With You

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Ever since my daughter discovered screentime at two years old, I’ve been thinking about how to set limits around it, and although I discovered some good solutions, I have never felt completely comfortable with the way I was handling the screentime dillemma. No matter what I tried, I always remained feeling anxious that I wasn’t making the right choice.

I experimented with the unschooling approach to screens (allowing our children complete freedom) and learnt a lot about trusting children to self-regulate. I saw many times that my daughter did put her screen down to do something else, and I learnt a lot about how important it was for me to be in good emotional shape to have the energy to offer her alternatives and to be there to connect.

Her screentime wasn’t excessive. Screentime hadn’t destroyed her imagination, and there were still many things that she often preferred to do other than watch TV. But I still felt that she was using the screen for emotional reasons and for boredom. When she wasn’t sure what to do, she seemed to automatically gravitate towards the screen.

I did offer alternatives, but I didn’t want to be constantly entertaining her by having a long list of fun activities we could do together. I wanted her to be happy to play alone, sometimes, and to come up with her own ideas.

As time went on I became convinced that she did need limits about screentime, and I began to use the Hand in Hand Parenting approach to do so. Sometimes she’d get upset, have a big meltdown, and then her mind would clear and she’d think of something fun to do that was completely her own initiative. At other times she wouldn’t feel particularly upset about the limit, and for some reason I didn’t feel good about setting a limit.

I kept questioning whether I was right to set that particular limit, that I was depriving my daughter of a learning tool, something that she loved, something that actually did inspire her creative play. So I seesawed between allowing freedom and setting limits, and never felt completely comfortable either way. When I allowed her freedom I felt scared, and depressed. When I set limits, I felt uncertain.

Then something happened. Over the summer when my husband was off work, I started to get more relaxed, I started to get more of my own needs met, and feel more present. I bought a book that I couldn’t wait to read every morning when I woke up before everyone else (the rest of my family does not like early mornings!).

It had been my habit to grab my phone every morning, and scroll through my facebook feed before my eyes were even properly awake. I’d look at my messages and notifications throughout the day, often when I was feeling low and needing connection. But this book was so addictive I forgot about my phone.

When I finished the book, I was tempted to pick up my phone again when I woke in the morning, but I tried hard not to. I stocked up on some of my favourite magazines from the UK and read them instead. Or I just tidied up the kitchen, or did some Pilates.

And then I noticed something interesting. I began to feel more confident when to set a limit and when not to. And when I did set a limit it felt right. When it comes to screentime we don’t live our lives by the clock. My daughter doesn’t have a set period of time to watch each day, instead I go with my gut (not my fear) about when it feels right to set a limit.

As much as technology is useful, and has changed our lives in many positive ways, it is addictive, and that addiction is widespread. I realised I was in no position to help my daughter with her addiction, until I’d begun to figure my own. Of course how could I possible know when to set limits with her and how, if I couldn’t even set limits with myself!

Parenting really is a healing path that we walk with our children. When we have a difficulty with our child, often the first step is to look at our own behaviour and emotions, and why we find their actions particularly challenging. It is always just as much about us as them.

If you are struggling with screentime in your family, I can totally relate! It is scary, watching our children disappear into the screen world, and wonder how to balance their genuine desire and interest for screentime with it’s addictive quality.

If you can find ways to handle your own screen reliance then you may find that like me that your mind becomes much clearer and you can see how to help your children. Listening time (one of the Hand in Hand Parenting tools which you can read about here) can really help.

If you have a tendency to grab your phone first thing in the morning, or feel you must check your messages last thing at night, then why not phone a listening partner instead. Set a limit with yourself and talk about how desperately you want to check those messages. What feelings come up for you?

Screens do make our lives richer, but they also create disconnection. When we want to build a connected world between our hearts and minds rather than our wifi signal then we need to begin with ourselves.

Find out more about how to set limits in my book, Tears Heal: How to listen to our children 

You might also like to check out these articles about the Hand in Hand Parenting approach to screentime, Setting Limits Around Screentime, and Setting Limits On Screentime With The Help Of My Parent Rescue Squad 

 

 

A Healing Conversation With My Daughter About Birth

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This post was originally published in The Green Parent Magazine 

One evening just before bedtime my three year old daughter and I did some special time together. (Special time is one of the Hand in Hand parenting tools where we spend time 1-1 time with our child doing something that they love.)

We put all her babies to bed, and then my daughter started getting ready herself. As I was helping her, she asked me, ‘’how did I fit in your tummy with all the food in there?’’

I explained to her that she hadn’t actually been in my tummy but in a kind of sack called the womb. She asked to see a picture, so I found one on the internet and showed her. She then asked how babies came out so I explained a bit about this, and she asked to see a picture. I found a diagram (instead of a photo, which I wondered if it might be a bit graphic) and showed her that.

Then she asked ‘’how do babies get in the womb?’’ I wasn’t expecting to explain the facts of laugh to my daughter age three, but I found myself explaining a bit about sex, and how a sperm from the daddy joins an egg from the mummy.

She then began asking detailed questions about her birth. I told her how I had wanted her to be born at home, but she had been late. The doctor’s thought that it would be safest to help her to come out, so we went to a hospital. She kept asking what happened next, and then what happened next. So I explained about the drug they gave me, about contractions, and how it had taken a long time.

For each answer I gave there was another question from her. I described step by step what happened during the birth, in an age-appropriate way. I wanted to be honest, but I also didn’t want to flood her system with any information that would be overwhelming. The birth had been long and difficult and at one point her heart rate had dropped really low. I left that part out. I gave a short sentence or two of information for every question she asked, so that she felt in control of the conversation.

At one point, she looked upset, and I told her, ‘’did it feel scary to you? I’m really sorry it was scary.’’ She burst into tears and I hugged her. I explained that it wasn’t meant to feel scary, it was meant to feel safe. She cried for a while, and then asked some more questions.

I explained how when she was born they put her on my chest. She cried when I told her this and then asked what happened next. I explained the doctor’s needed to check her, so her dad had carried her to the other side of the room. She cried, and told her that her dad had been with her the whole time, that he’d been holding her hand, and talking to her. This made her cry even more. I explained how after that they gave her back to me, and she slept in the bed with me the whole night. She cried with relief. What happened next she asked. I explained how the next day she had woken up and smiled at me. She cried about that too.

In the back of my mind, I knew that this conversation was helping her to heal. Through Hand in Hand Parenting I have learnt, that crying isn’t always a sign that something is wrong in the present, but can often be a sign of healing from the past. Tears contain cortisol, the stress hormone, so when children or adults cry, they are literally releasing stress and tension from their bodies. Crying, in the arms of a loving adult, or laughter and play are part of our natural healing mechanism for recovering from difficult experiences.

Every time I offered reassurance to my daughter, every time I explained the safety of the situation, how their were doctor’s to look after her, and me and her dad were taking care of her too, she would let out another wave of crying. The more safety and reassurance I provided, the more she cried.

I knew it was important not to try and distract my daughter from this important conversation about birth even if it seemed to ‘upset’ her. I knew it was important to notice her feelings, and create the safety she needed to express them. I knew it wasn’t just answers she needed, but healing too.

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I hadn’t always felt comfortable telling my birth story, and I wouldn’t have always felt able to create a ‘child friendly’ version of it. I’d had my own strong emotions about how it turned out. I’d read so much about natural birth and how important it was for the baby’s well-being. I felt a lot of sadness that I’d ended up having an induction, and an epidural for medical reasons.

I talked a lot about the birth during ‘listening time.’ (Listening time is another one of the Hand in Hand parenting tools. It’s when two parents take turns talking and listening with each other about how parenting is going. The concept was developed by Patty Wipfler, the founder of Hand in Hand. She discovered that talking about how parenting was going with a caring listener could help her release the feelings that got in the way of her being the parent she wanted to be.)

Listening time allowed me to have a good cry to release the regret that I hadn’t had the kind of birth I wanted. It was a space to talk through my decision to go with the medical advice to have the induction, even though it hadn’t felt completely ‘right’ to me. I came to some level of acceptance that the birth couldn’t of been any other way.

After that I could focus more on the positive aspects, that I had trusted my medical team to keep us safe, that my daughter had been born healthy.

Processing the birth meant that when my daughter asked me about it, I didn’t feel too triggered and emotional myself. I had a coherent story in my head about what had happened and why. I could tell her that the doctors were nice, and had done everything they could to keep her safe. Because I was no longer overwhelmed by my own emotions I could provide the sense of safety she needed to release her feelings.

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Healing is important, because the way we come into the world leaves a powerful imprint on us. In The Secret Life Of The Unborn Child he explains how birth is a profound experience that shapes our character. Through his research with adult patients he concluded that ‘if we are happier, or sadder, angrier, or more depressed than other people, it is at least in part, as a result of the way we were born.’’

Through work with his patients he found that although they didn’t remember their birth consciously, they could recall what happened when under hypnosis. This suggests that they did carry the unconscious memories of their pre-natal and birth life. They carried the emotional content with them and this effected their lives.

I don’t think anything about our child’s destiny is as fixed as Dr Verny’s research suggests. Bonding, and connecting with our children is the foundation for processing and overcoming challenging experiences.

When ‘The Secret Life of the Unborn Child’ was published in the 1980’s, it was not widely understood that crying is healing. Even now, although awareness is growing, it still remains parenting’s best kept ‘secret.’

When our babies cry we tend to think of it as a negative behaviour that we must stop as quickly as possible. We try to meet the needs of our babies, and when we can’t identify a particular need we tend to rock them, use a pacfiyer, ‘’shhh’’ them, or ‘’bounce them. We feel like a wonderful parents when our babies are smiley and at ease, or terrible parents when they cry for no reason and we just can’t get them to stop.

When my daughter was born I knew a bit about the healing power of tears. I was aware that she would need to cry to recover from her birth, but I didn’t understand that I would be trying to stop her from crying without even being consciously aware of it. I found myself bouncing her on the train just to keep her ‘quiet’ or feeding her when she was tired rather than hungry.

When we become parents, we come with our own history of how we were treated as children. Our parents probably didn’t know much, if anything about the healing power of tears. We may have been ‘shhhed’ or rocked when we cried. As we got older we may have been ignored, hurt, or told ‘’don’t cry or I’ll give you something to cry about.’’ We internalise these experiences and see crying as a negative behaviour that we must get to stop, even if we decide to choose more gentle ways than our parents.

Through learning more about the healing power of tears, I was able to bring my awareness to moments in which I was stopping my daughter from crying without even being consciously aware of it. I learnt that if she cried about having her nappy changed, or having a top pulled over her head, she might be using these everyday situations as a trigger to release bigger upsets.

I learnt to explain gently what I needed to do, listen to her feelings and wait till she was ready and had stopped crying. It was wonderful to discover we could do something together, when she happy and at ease with the situation, rather than rushing through and forcing her to do something she felt uncomfortable with or distracting her from her feelings with a toy. I also learnt to understand when she was hungry, or when she was asking to feed for comfort- which in actual fact was a sign she had feelings to release.

My daughter grew into a happy, well-adjusted, child – at least most of the time! I noticed she could be much more flexible than I ever expected a toddler to be. As Patty Wipfler explains our children are naturally, good, loving and co-operative. It’s upset feelings that cause them to ‘misbehave.’ When our children are free of feelings they can be their natural, good, loving, co-operative selves.

Despite all this the path of healing is ongoing and never perfect. There were opportunities that I may have missed because I didn’t fully understand how to allow her to cry, or the times when I didn’t have the energy, or patience to listen.

When she started a playgroup at age three, the separation seemed to trigger some deep feelings about her birth. She wanted to play in a physical way that related to being born. She would constantly climb over my shoulder, and tell me ‘’it’s your new baby coming through,’’ then she would land on my lap and make ‘’goo goo’’ noises. One time she made my legs into a diamond shape and told me ‘’this is the house where babies live and there are no grown-ups, and then they come out and see their mummies.’’

The play suggested that she remembered life in the womb, and her birth, perhaps not completely consciously, but in way that she could channel into play. Here was a context in which she felt safe to explore what happened.

My daughter has had a fear of doctors which seemed to be another sign that she hadn’t fully processed what happened to her. Since her birth we have only visited the doctor for minor reasons, but on one occasion, we had to visit a different doctor at the last minute. She became agitated and started crying, and refused to walk when I told her it was a man doctor. Also, she loves Peppa Pig, and whenever an episode came on that involved a doctor or a hospital she would ask me to skip to the next one.

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A couple of days after the conversation with my daughter about birth we were watching Peppa Pig together. The episode where Pedro breaks his leg and goes to hospital came on. My daughter recognised it instantly, but instead of asking me to skip it. She said tentatively, ‘’I’m going to watch this to see what it’s like.’’ She watched it all the way through with a smile on her face. Since then she’s watched all of the Peppa Pig episodes involving the doctor or hospital. She’s also had a lot of questions about doctor’s and nurses, and she’s continued to work through her feelings through doctor play. Her inquisitive discovery of the world continues.

I knew then that our conversation about her birth had been deeply healing. It’s as if that night I gave her the language to make sense of all of those unconscious memories she had been carrying.

The conversation didn’t start with words, but with me just being there, doing special time with her, and playing with her dolls, letting her know that I was available to listen.

Healing doesn’t always happen the night we bring our babies home from the hospital. It can happen months and years later. It’s never too late. Our children might want to laugh, play, talk, or cry. We listen and let them be their own guide. With our love and attention, they can lead themselves to healing.

For more information about our children’s ability to heal and recover from the stressful events in our lives check out my blog archives, or pre-order my book Tears Heal: How to listen to our children

The Five Step Plan For Preventing Early Wakings

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Early waking is common in children . In the summer months we might blame it on the light outside, or noises that your child hears that disturb their sleep. It might be that your child is unwell, or teething, or any of the other myriad reasons children have for waking. Or we might just put it down to being an inevitable part of raising little ones.

However all these things are usually just the trigger for you child to wake, the root cause often goes a little deeper. If your child is regularly waking up tired without having enough sleep, then one of the most common reasons is their sense of connection.

Children often wake in the night, or wake early, when they are feeling disconnected. Sometimes children just need their connection cups to be filled a little more. At other times they may be experiencing hurt feelings or stress that get in the way of feeling our warm presence and attention. This can cause them to seek out connection with us a little earlier than usual.

This week I’ve been hearing a lot of success stories from parents who are trying out Giggle Parenting at bedtime, with amazing results. Kids are sleeping through the night. Nightmares and morning grumpiness are reduced. Laughter when kids are in the more powerful role (or playlistening as we call it at Hand in Hand) is a powerful way to strengthen our connection with our child.

But simply adding laughter to your bedtime routine may not be enough to completely cure sleep issues. The Hand in Hand parenting approach consists of 5 tools to listen to our children’s feelings and build connection with them. Whenever we are struggling with our parenting we can use all five of these tools for the most effective results.

So here are your five tools to help prevent kids from waking early.

  1. Get Some Listening Time For Yourself – First get yourself a listening partnership, and read more about them in Hand in Hand parenting’s Listening Partnerships For Parents Booklet. The Hand in Hand parenting tools are a way of listening to our children that takes a lot of patience and energy. With your listening partner you can vent about how tired you are in a safe space. Talking and being listened to by a warm listener is a powerful way to prepare yourself to do the same for your child. Read more about listening partnerships here.
  2. Do Some Special Time In The Daytime – Next schedule some time to do daily special time with your child. This may not always be possible, but while you’re dealing with sleep troubles it’s great to attempt it most days. Even five minutes can make a difference. Let your child do something they love, and shower them with attention. With special time it’s really about the quality of the time rather than the quantity. Your child can internalise a deep sense of connection with you, that can help them relax and sleep well. Read more about special time here.
  3. Staylisten To Morning Grumpiness – When our children wake early in the morning in a bad mood, we often tend to assume it’s because they haven’t had enough sleep. However it’s most likely that the grumpiness is what caused the early rising rather than the early rising causing the grumpiness. If your child gets upset about something that seems small and inconsequential, then stay and listen to the feelings until they have finished crying. Tears contain cortisol, the stress hormone, and other mood balancing hormones. When children get to cry with a loving adult they can release all the feelings that get in the way of feeling closely connected to you. Without these upset clouding their thinking their sleep will be much more peaceful. You can read more about staylistening here, and if this is challenging for you, don’t forget step 1 😉
  4. Set Limits and Listen To Feelings – When your child wakes grumpy you may find yourself walking on eggshells trying to avoid an upset. A child’s early waking can effect the mood of the whole day, but it doesn’t have to be that way. When a child behaves in ‘off-track’ ways, it’s like they are waving a red flag to saying, ‘’Help! I’m not feeling good, and so I can’t think well.’’ Setting a limit on their unworkable behaviour is actually a gift to them. As we stop them from throwing toys, or hitting a sibling, in a warm and loving but firm way we can listen to the emotional upset behind their behaviour, and also heal their sleep. You can get a free Hand in Hand parenting guide to setting limits here.
  5. Giggles At Bedtime – This tried and tested method is scientifically proven. Add giggles to your bedtime routine. Anything that gets laughter flowing with your child in the more powerful role. Chase games, roughhousing and any silliness that puts you in the less powerful role is a guaranteed sleep inducer. Read more about giggles at bedtime in my friend Tara’s fantastic article here.

Tried all this and your child is still not sleeping? For more indepth help applying these tools check out Hand in Hand parenting’s online sleep course Helping Young Children Sleep. Or for personalised advice contact me for a free 30 min initial sleep consultation.

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

The Pramshed

How To Listen Your Way To A Tidy House

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This story was shared with me by a friend who practises Hand in Hand parenting. It really illustrates how being there to set a limit, and listen to the emotional aftermath can be a gift to our children, that can transform their lives and ours. 

My 13 year old daughter came home from a camp and dumped all her camping stuff on the hallway floor. I’d been becoming increasingly irritated with her inability to tidy up after herself, and I told her that she couldn’t go to school until she had cleaned it up.

She became enraged and refused to do it. Even worse, she went to my bedroom and began pulling my clothes out of the wardrobe. She then stormed off to school leaving the whole place in chaos.

While she was gone I got some listening time. I got to moan and complain about how frustrated I was with my daughter’s untidiness. I got to vent all those feelings in a safe space without taking them out on my daughter.

This really freed up my mind so that I could think how to respond compassionately to my daughter. I know the Hand in Hand parenting philosophy that co-operation is our child’s natural state. I guessed my daughter must have been feeling disconnected after a week away from me, and that’s why she was struggling to co-operate with me.

I put all my clothes back in my wardrobe but left my daughter’s stuff where it was. When she came in I asked if I could hug her. I hugged her for a long time. It might have been 30 minutes or more. I said nothing, except to tell her from time to time that I loved her. She started crying, and I just stayed there with her.

After the hug she went to pick up her stuff from the hallway. Even better than that, she went and tidied her room without being asked. And it wasn’t just a regular clean. She began sorting through old stuff, and did a complete Konmari (a decluttering technique based on the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up ).By 9 o’clock she was exhausted and I had to persuade her to go to bed.

In the days that followed I set an intention to be there to give her little bits of connection whenever I can. (Hand in Hand parenting calls this unannounced special time.)

That day was a complete transformation. Ever since then my daughter has been tidy. The only downside is that now she often complains that the rest of us are messy!

And it wasn’t just her living space that got cleaned-up but her mind as well. She had been struggling at school, and after that her teacher mentioned that she began to remember everything, and was very present and alert, with her homework always completed.

The power of being there to listen, without advice or lectures, amazes me every time. Through Hand in Hand parenting I’ve learnt that we don’t need consequences or punishment, we simply need to be there, to fill our children’s connection cup when it gets a little low.

Further Reading 

For more info on listening partnerships: How Telling Your Life Story Transforms Your Parenting 

For more info on special time:  How Special Time Works With Teens 

For fun solutions for tidying up with younger kids: 25 Tips For Having Fun Tidying Up With Your Kids  

Cracking The Parenting Code

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Before becoming a parent I had many questions. How could I bring up my child to be happy and well-adjusted when at least 1-4 adults will have a mental health problem in their life? How could I ensure that she wouldn’t have to spend her adulthood trying to recover from her childhood?

After becoming a mum my list got much longer. Why is my child crying when I have met all her needs? Why is she not sleeping through the night? Why is every parenting book telling me something different? If I want to be a peaceful parent how on earth can I get my daughter to ‘behave’ if I’m just nice to her all the time?

Then I discovered Hand in Hand parenting. I must admit that since then my capacity for reading parenting books and articles is seriously diminished. I don’t spend all night scouring the web trying to find solutions to my problems.

Instead now I have internalised a simple universal code that I can apply to almost any situation. Here it is:

  • Children are born naturally, joyful, loving and co-operative. They don’t want to try our patience with challenging behaviour.
  • Children will be their naturally loving selves, when they feel well-connected to the adults around them.
  • When children experience stress and upset they often feel disconnected from us even when we are right there with them. Cue lots of off-track behaviour to try and reconnect with us (so-called ‘attention seeking’).
  • We can help our children release their upset feelings with laughter and play. Laughter causes a reduction in stress hormones in the body, and promotes endorphin release. When children feel better they will behave ‘better.’ (Giggle Parenting)
  • We can listen to our children’s emotional upsets. Tears have stress hormones in, so we shouldn’t try to stop them. They are nature’s way of healing and restoring emotional equilibrium. (Staylistening)
  • We can set limits on behaviour that allow room to empathise and listen to our child’s tears, or laughter.
  • Special time, (1-1 time spent with our child doing something they love is a powerful way for children to soak up a deep sense of connection to us and prevent ‘misbehaviour.’

Okay, so that’s the code you need for bringing up happy kids!

However, there is one thing that makes applying this code a little challenging and that’s our own feelings. Few of us were brought up by parents who listened to us and understand that there were emotional reasons behind our behaviour. Every day, I still struggle at times to apply this simple code.

That’s why we also need to apply this code to ourselves. To know that when we aren’t the parent we want to be, it’s because we have upset feelings clouding our thinking. To get support so we have somewhere to take our thoughts and feelings, to get them out, so we can get back to ‘behaving well’ with our child. Listening time is a tool to support us to be the parents we want to be.

You can learn more about how to apply this code by checking out the archives on my blog. Hand in Hand’s online Parenting By Connection Starter Class also helps as you can learn and connect with other parents to get the listening you need.

Have you got a parenting challenge you’d like to crack with this parenting code? Leave me a comment or contact me via facebook, and your challenge could be the subject of my next blog post! 

Cuddle Fairy
Two Tiny Hands

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Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Giggle Parenting To Help Your Child Fall Asleep In Their Own Bed

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I think that as parents we should find the sleeping arrangement that works best for our family. There’s no right or wrong, and whether you co-sleep or have your child in their own room, (or make any other parenting choice for that matter!) you can do Hand in Hand parenting in the way that works for your family.

We have been a co-sleeping family and also had phases when my daughter slept in her own room because she chose to. Now she sleeps in a bed next to ours in our room. It just seemed to work out that way. She’s been sleeping in her own bed since she was 18 months old. She actually embraced having her own bed and was happy falling asleep in there until February this year.

One night before she had to go to the doctor for a blood test she got really clingy and wanted to fall asleep in my bed. Ever since then she’s fallen asleep in my bed. I’d be totally happy with her falling asleep cuddled up next to me, except for the fact that I know it’s because she’s still got some feelings (perhaps about the blood test, perhaps about earlier hurts from being a baby that got triggered when she went to the doctor etc.)

So a few weeks ago I wrote this blog post about how I staylistened to my daughter’s feelings to help her through the fears, and get comfortable falling asleep alone. But, she was still falling asleep in my bed! I still hadn’t got her comfortable to fall asleep in her own bed.

The funny thing is my daughter will fall asleep in her own bed, but only if my husband puts her to bed. This kind of inconsistency, is a sure sign that she is trying to ‘tell’ me about these feelings, because I am the parent that uses the Hand in Hand parenting tools the most to build emotional safety (as I talked about in this post here.)

One of my issues is that my daughter is a night owl, and likes to go to bed around 9.30 ish. This has been her natural rhythm for her entire life so far, and my attempts to shift her sleep pattern never worked. I also like to go to bed at this time, and I’m often pretty exhausted by then, so it’s been a struggle to work on this emotional project consistently.

A few nights ago I got some listening time, and I ended up actually asking my listening partner for advice! This is not really what we usually do in listening time, but as my listening partner is also a Hand in Hand parenting instructor I was looking for a fresh perspective. Even though I’m a Hand in Hand instructor, it’s often my own parenting issues that are the most challenging, because my own emotions exhaustion, tiredness etc, often get in the way.

My listening partner suggested that I get into bed with my daughter, and then slowly leave her there, or that I could set a limit, and gentle move her into her own bed while staylistening if necessary. Well it kind of turned out that way!

When I finished my listening time my daughter was in her own bed, just about to fall asleep, but when she was me she immediately wanted to come into her own bed. I was feeling energised from my listening time, and it had also helped to talk with my partner and get new ideas.

So I immediately moved towards the gap between our beds and said, ‘’I’m the door of the bed, and I’m staying shut!’’ Then she started trying to get by either side of me, and wrestled to climb over me.

I let her jump into my bed, and then acted all playfully exasperated that she had climbed over. Then I told her ‘’I’m the door, and I’m coming to put you back.’’ Being playful meant it didn’t seem so ‘forceful’ to physically move her into her own bed. I playfully picked her up and put her in her bed, and then I ‘shut’ the door again. We repeated this a few times as she wrestled and laughed. At one point she ran around the beds instead to avoid the door, which really made her laugh.

Then she said she was tired, and I asked if she could get into her own bed, and I’d cuddle her for a bit. She agreed straight away and fell asleep quickly and easily. The next day she woke up in a great mood even though she’d fallen asleep later than usual.

Now, for some parents, myself included, we can often feel a little strange, about enforcing a separation from our child. We can worry that this may give our child the wrong message, that we are not available for closeness.

But it’s actually the opposite. By noticing those moments when our child is clingy, we can actually become closer together by playing with the idea of distance. I felt a lot more closely connected to my daughter, when we wrestling and laughing together, than I do when she’s clinging to me, taking ages to fall asleep because she’s still tense because there are feelings she hasn’t released that get in the way of her being able to let go and fall asleep.

So if your child is taking a long time to fall asleep at night, or is showing signs of being tense or disconnected, then try having some fun getting them to sleep in their own bed.

 Are you struggling with parenting and looking for a fresh perspective? I have a Parenting By Connection Starter Class beginning next Wednesday at 8pm Central European TIme, (7pm UK Time, 11am Pacific time).