When your child doesn’t want to do special time

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Special time; one of the five Hand in Hand Parenting tools, is a wonderful way to deepen your connection with your child, to build the safety they need to tell us their feelings. This 1-1 time following your child’s lead is something all children crave, and they will usually embrace the chance to do whatever they choose and soak up your loving attention.

So if you offer your child some special time and they say no it can leave you feeling confused and frustrated. Why on earth would a child choose not to do something they love with you?

Sometimes children feel particularly disconnected. Their feeling of hurt is so strong that it stands in the way of being with you. When my daughter say no to special time, it’s often because I’ve been unavailable for a while. And so she’ll tell me about the rejection she felt in the only way she knows how; by rejecting me.

Our children are hopeful, and forgiving so even if things have been tough, they won’t hold it against us for long. With a bit of fun and effort, they’ll soon open up, and want to be with us again.

If your young child is refusing special time; try this. Get a stuffed toy and beg them to do special time. You could have the toy say something funny like, ”I think you’re right not to do special time with your stinky mummy, lets run away and do special time by ourselves.”

Then have the toy run away with your toy and chase them saying, ”hey, that’s not fair. I want to do special time.” Playlistening games like this melt the ice and make it more likely your child will say yes next time.

If your child refuses to do special time, even with the stuffed toy, have the toy hide in a box, or pillow and then ‘sneak up’ on your child, to spend time with them, doing whatever they are doing. Follow where your mind takes you, and see how you can use play, and giggles, to reconnect.

Another tactic that also works well, particularly with older children is to try some ‘unannounced’ special time.

Life happens, our connection can get frayed, but with a few fun games at the ready, we can get back to joyful connection again.

For more ideas on how to reconnect after difficult times you might also want to check out my article Healing Broken Connections.

Why Santa Claus Could Be Making Your Parenting Harder

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At this time of year life can get a little crazy. With stockings to fill and Christmas cards to write the attention we give our children can start to waver. And as we look down at our to-do list in horror we may find ourselves resorting to desperate measures to try and keep our child’s behaviour on track.

‘’Be good, or Santa Claus won’t come,’’ it can be tempting to say as your 3 year old runs off with the Christmas tree decorations, or starts whining because they don’t want to go to the supermarket. It can be as much to keep ourselves sane for a moment, than to teach our children about good behaviour. And why wouldn’t you say such things, you might ask. After all isn’t December the month where we can enjoy this handy trick to demand good behaviour out of our children?

This may be a bombshell to some of you, but Santa Claus could actually be making your parenting harder. Those threats, the bribes, the elf on the shelf staring down and watching your child’s every act, are not the ticket to a peaceful Christmas. They may actually be contributing to more whining, more meltdowns, more sibling squabbles, and generally a sense of unease. Here’s why.

It comes down to how your child’s brain works. Your child’s limbic system (the emotional part of the brain) is like a radar constantly scanning her environment to see who she can connect to. When she feels well connected to an adult around her, then the pre-frontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for rational, reasonable behaviour) can function well. Then she can think well and behave well.

If your child feels disconnected, or if upset feelings are getting in the way of her feeling a warm connection with you even when you are right there with her, then her brain goes a bit haywire. The limbic system senses an emotional emergency, as it’s lost that deep sense of connection to another adult. Then the pre-frontal cortex can’t function well, so they can’t think through what is rational, reasonable behaviour for that moment.

This is when we start seeing misbehaviour. They may start whining or moaning, or doing all of the things they know deep down they shouldn’t do such as hitting a sibling, or refusing to do simple tasks like put on their shoes and coat.

This is when it can be tempting to use threats and bribes, and tell your child that Santa only comes to good children. It may appear to work in the short term as you child hurriedly dresses to go out the door with a terrified look on their face at the thought of not having Christmas presents.

But here’s what happens later. That sense of disconnection or those upset feelings your child was experiencing are still inside of them and will come out later. They’ll be a time when you child gets so overwhelmed by them that they won’t be able to hold them in any more no matter what you’ve threatened them with previously. Then will come a meltdown, or a full on sibling brawl that will be a combination all of the built up tension from each of the other little moments in which there have been threats or bribes.

Threats and bribes (of any kind, not just about Santa) are what I like to call the credit card system of parenting. Instant results. Instant success. But the downside is that overtime the cost you are paying is much higher. Your child is feeling bad for longer and as their emotional thermostat starts to rise it’s only going to be so long before a storm erupts.

Your child is good. Their inner nature is to be loving, and co-operative. They want to be good. It’s just that sometimes their hurt feelings get in the way. When we tell a child to ‘be good’ or shame them for their behaviour, we can add extra layers of hurt. We give children the wrong impression that our children are responsible for controlling their impulses and emotions. Actually brain science tell us that children can’t.

What we need to do as parents is actually to step in, and be there to help children with their behaviour and the emotions behind it. We need to reconnect with them. It can seem like a lot of work, compared to the quick fix of the Santa threats, but this is investment parenting, as opposed to the credit style kind. When we invest in connecting with our children, it’s us that get paid back in the future. We will have less meltdown, less sibling right, less non-co-operation when we start to think about investment rather than quick fixes.

So in the run up to Christmas here’s five simple things you can do when your child’s behaviour is going off-track and you’re feeling tempted to reach from some Christmas bribery.

1. Shift The Mood With Special Time – When your child is getting whiney and moany, add in some connection before the storm gets worse. Set a timer for 10 minutes and tell your child they can do anything they want together with you. As you play shower them with warm connection, lots of closeness and eye contact. As they soak up a warm sense of connection with you, they’ll be able to get their thinking back on track.

2. Try Some Giggles – When you are dealing with a child who is not co-operating try giggles. If you need to get out the door in the hurry, try dressing your toddler’s doll instead of them and then acting all confused by your mistake. Or try putting your child’s coat on instead of your own. This is what I call Giggle Parenting, a sure-fire way to laugh away disconnection. After a few giggles your child will feel better connected and more likely to co-operate with you. It’s scientifically proven!

3. Set Limits Quickly – When your child is acting off-track, and you sense they are getting whiney and moany, don’t wait for them to attack a sibling with a wooden block before you step in. Your children’s whines and moans are a sign that they need you to diffuse the situation. Stay close, and be ready to move in to set limits so that no-one gets hurt.

4. Stay With Your Child Through The Storms – At some point storms are going to happen. Your child is going to have a meltdown about something small and insignificant, just when you really need to have five minutes peace to wrap some presents. The most helpful thing you can do is be with your child. Stay close, offer warmth and empathy. And most importantly, don’t try to distract your child from their emotions, even if they seem about something small and petty. Crying is your child’s natural healing process, for letting go of all their upset feelings that have been getting in the way of feeling connected to you.

5. Get someone to listen to you – With Hand in Hand Parenting, we make sure parents get the emotional support they need to listen deeply to their children. As you make the shift away from threats and bribes you may find it brings up a lot of feelings in you, and that it’s hard to find the patience at first. That’s why we have a listening partnership scheme where parents can exchange time talking and listening so that they can de-stress and release tension too.

As your kids demand expensive presents, their behaviour is actually a call to you, calling for connection. This is what your child want more than anything this Christmas. Santa Claus, can’t compete with your ability to shower your children with love and connection. So lets make this Christmas about presence rather than presents.

These 5 tips are based on the 5 Hand in Hand Parenting tools. For more info about how to put these tools into practise check out my book Tears Heal: How to listen to our children

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Bedtime Special Time

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Have you had a hard day? Maybe you didn’t get the chance to connect with your kids as much as you’d like to. Perhaps you were busy with the school run, or work, and somehow connection took a back seat. I was having one of those days yesterday, and then I reminded myself that it’s never too late in the day to reconnect!

I set the timer for 10 minutes, and my daughter and I ended up surfing on pillows and imagining that the duvet was a house boat we were sailing on. That last minute dose of connection helped me to feel better about the way our day had gone, and more optimistic about the next day.

Our days aren’t always filled with connection, so if you’ve had one of those days try some special time at the end of it. Set a timer for 10-15 minutes and let your child decide what they want to do. Special time at the end of the day often has a different feel to doing it at other times, and it’s always nice to shake up the routine a bit and do things differently.

Children experience letting go into sleep as a separation, even if they are snuggled right beside us, so special time at the end of the day can be a wonderful way to increase our child’s sense of connection to help them sleep well.


 

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

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

5 Tips For Creating Emotional Safety

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Emotional safety helps children feel connected to us and feel safe to tell us how they’re feeling. This helps prevent their emotions coming out in ‘off-track’ behaviour. 

Imagine the scene. Your child has just come home from Kindergarten. The Kindergarten teacher has told you that they were ‘as good as gold’ all morning. But now they’re home they’re having multiple tantrums, hitting their younger sibling, and throwing their toys around.

Or you leave the kids with your partner for an afternoon, and they’re perfectly happy and content. Then as soon as you come in the door they’re moaning, whining, and starting to cry. What on earth is going on? Does your Kindergarten teacher, or partner have superior parenting skills to you?

Absolutely not! And it’s probably quite the opposite. What’s likely the case is that you’ve created emotional safety for your children. They sense that you are there to listen to their feelings, and so they show them, sometimes directly through crying, and sometimes indirectly through their behaviour. They may keep those feelings hidden for as long as they can, and then let them out with the person who they trust the most.

Our children need a sense of connection, and emotional safety to thrive. Their limbic system, – the socio emotional part of the brain, is like a radar that constantly scans the environment to see ‘’am I safe here?’’ ‘’Who is taking care of me?’’

As long as a child’s limbic system feels well connected to others, they can think well, and their behaviour stays on track. But sometimes they may feel disconnected or experience emotional upset, that causes the feeling of disconnection.

When this happens the limbic system senses an emotional emergency, and then the pre-frontal cortex – the part of the brain responsible for rational, reasonable thinking can’t function well. Your child may start behaving in crazy ‘unworkable’ ways, in order to try and restore connection. So they whine or moan at us, and do things they know deep down are wrong like hitting, or they start crying. They usually behave in these ways towards their closest family members, the ones that are most invested in loving, and listening to them.

One of the things most parents do at some point is to try and stop their child from crying or tantrumming. They distract, reason with, or trying to ‘fix’ the situation as quickly as possible. However crying is actually a healing process, and if we can simply be there and ride out the storm of their upsets, then children can release the feelings that are behind their challenging behaviour.

When we practise creating deep emotional safety for our children, they can move away from ‘acting’ out their upsets, towards simply expressing their feelings instead.

Here’s 5 tips for creating emotional safety

  1. Let Your Children Have Their Feelings – If your toddler throws a tantrum, don’t try to distract them, or fix things instantly. Instead be there and listen. As parenting educator Dr. Deborah Macnamara says, ‘crying is not the hurt, but the process of being unhurt.’ Most of us grew up with our emotions being ignored, or stopped, so it can be hard to have patience with our children’s upsets. I like to think of them as nature’s behaviour regulation system. If we can stay close, and try to be calm, then our child can get their upset out, feel better and then behave better.
  2. Have Special Time Doing What Your Child Loves – Set a timer for 15-20 minutes and then spend time doing whatever your child wants. Shower your child with your love and undivided attention. When you do this regularly it lets your child know that there is a safe place to go to have your full attention and listening.
  3. Play and laugh together – Children often use play to work through issues in their lives. So if your child wants to play schools with you, perhaps there’s something about school they need to figure out. Children often get hurt when they feel powerless. Perhaps they got frustrated about doing what the teacher said, or another kid was aggressive towards them. Turning the tables in play and letting your child be in the more powerful role can be very healing. So let your child boss you around or be the teacher, or make ‘mistakes’ to give your child the upper hand.
  4. Set limits on behaviour and listen to the feelings – When we set limits, we can say no with love, and listen to the feelings. This allows your child to release any upsets that were causing them to behave in ‘’off-track’’ ways. This way of setting limits actually builds closer connections rather than causing frustration and friction between parent and child.
  5. Get Emotional Support For Yourself –  This kind of peaceful parenting isn’t easy. We’re often nurturing our children on a much deeper level than we experienced as a child. Do things that help you relax and feel nurtured. Spend time with friends, who you can talk, laugh and cry with. The parenting approach I teach – Hand in Hand parenting, also has a free  listening partnership scheme where you can exchange time talking and listening with other parents. This provides us with the emotional safety we need so we can then be more fully present for our children.

For more information about using Hand in Hand Parenting to help children with their feelings check out my book Tears Heal: How to listen to our children

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5 Ways To Encourage Independent Play

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Independence is something we want to encourage in our children. We want them to grow and venture out into the world to make the most of their lives. And in the short term we would simply like 15 minutes (or even 5!) to finish our household tasks without interruption.

I recently read a post by someone who said that children don’t need to play with adults. Now Hand in Hand parenting is an approach that really values the connection between parent and child. It’s not just about cooking, and cleaning up after them, and reading bedtime stories at night. It’s also about getting down on the floor with them, having a glimpse into their world, and an understanding that the power of our attention can be deeply healing.

An adult can’t replace a child’s need to have friends, and playmates. But an adult can connect in a way that meets a child’s need to process, and recover from any stress and upset in their lives.

Using the Hand in Hand parenting listening tools, naturally fosters independence in our children. With a big dose of connection they can internalise us as a safe base to go off and explore the world, whether it’s across the room, or away on a play date or sleepover.

Here are 5 tips for using Hand in Hand parenting to encourage our children’s independence.

  1. Get Some Listening Time For Yourself – How do you feel about your child’s ability to play independently? Do you feel frustrated by their clingyness and constant demands to ‘play with me!’? The emotional part of our children’s brain contains mirror neurons that reflect and pick up on the moods of the people around them. If we’re getting frustrated at their clingyness or constant need for attention, they’ll sense something is wrong and might respond by becoming even more clingy! When we get listened to we can clear out our minds, of all the feelings that get in the way of thinking clearly about what to do. Then we’ll be in good emotional shape for the next steps.
  2. Give Your Child Some Attention – Larry Cohen the author of Playful Parenting
    says, I’m always amazed when adults say that children “just did that to get attention”. Naturally children who need attention will do all kinds of things to get it. Why not just give it to them? When we try to get our child to play independently by saying ‘go play,’ or telling them we’re busy this can be counterproductive. If their requests for play are constantly rebuffed they may start asking for attention in more challenging ways. They might then go and hit a sibling, or pull the cat’s tail. If we can respond by saying yes, when children ask to play their connection cup gets full so they’ll be more chance of them playing independently in the future. I found this Ted talk by Shonda Rimes incredibly moving. She talks about how for one year she said yes every time her children asked her to play. I actually don’t think we should say yes every single time (see my further tips!) but saying yes as much as we can is a good aim to have.
  3. Do Some Special Time – Make special time a regular part of your life. It could be that a fixed time each week works for you. It could be that you notice the moments when your child feels disconnected, and use special time to build a sense of connection again. Sometimes when special time is over they will continue to play contentedly as happened in my story here. Special time helps our children internalise our presence so they feel safe to explore by themselves.
  4. Listen To Big Upsets – So you just did special time and found that your child did not happily continue playing with their Lego as per step 3!  Instead they started lying on the floor and tantrumming because you told them you had to go and tidy up the kitchen. Contrary to popular belief, crying is not necessarily a sign that your parenting methods aren’t working. Sometimes it’s actually a sign that they are working. As you’ll know if you’re a regular reader of my blog, crying is a healing process. If you have played and given your child attention then they sense that you are available to listen to their bigger feelings. They use your limit as a trigger to release these feelings. Holding the limit while listening and staying close lets your child release feelings that get in the way of them feeling safe enough to play independently. Whenever upsets come up, it’s always good to stay in the moment and listen, rather than trying to distract or fix. Releasing big feelings in your presence allows children to connect deeply to you, and with that connection internalised they feel safer to play independently.
  5. Use Giggle Parenting You might find that you finish special time and your child doesn’t happily continue playing by themselves, nor do they throw a big tantrum. Instead they whine and moan, and follow you around. In this case, they may need to build their sense of connection with giggle parenting. If you’re going to tidy up, you might like to invite them to be ‘untidy’ to get the laughter flowing, as I did in this blog post here. Or you might want to put items away in the wrong places and then start exclaiming, ”oh no! That’s not right! Where does that go again?” get confused at your mistakes. Soon enough they’ll either be happily helping or you, or decide they’d rather play by themselves.

I hope these tips help your process the feelings that can get in the way of them playing independently. Do let me know how you get on in the comments below!

Further Resources 

A Little Special Time In The Morning – How Starting the day off right encourages independent play.

Giggle Parenting Inspiration for a clingy, ‘shy’ Toddler  – How a little laughter can encourage independent play.

10 Ways To Use Special Time To Transform Your Day – Adding little moments of special time throughout your day can encourage independent play.

15 Tips For Getting Out Of The House With Kids

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Thanks to Crappy Pictures for this image.

One of the biggest shocks to me as a parent was just how getting out of the house suddenly turned into mission impossible. Speaking to other parents I know I’m not alone in this!

Our children just aren’t born for our busy, modern society. They like to take their time, and get deeply involved in play. It must come as a complete shock to them when we start hurrying them out of the door, and lecturing them about being ‘on time.’

I’d love to live in a world where my daughter could take her time,  where I could just open the back door and she could run out and play with other children all day.

Unfortunately our world is not that simple. Most of us out of necessity have to, at least some of the time, get our children out of the house. And we a have a time limit.

Luckily Hand in Hand parenting has some amazing tools to help us complete this challenge. Follow these steps to get your children out of the house. There are lots of playful tips here so if you use them all you might be in for a very long getting ready process! Incorporate them here and there whenever it seems necessary to add fun and connection into your daily routine.

1. Don’t underestimate the scale of this challenge! – It seems like the simplest thing in the world. Putting on clothes and shoes, opening the door and leaving the house – before having children. Afterwards life will never be the same again. Be easy on yourself, and forgive yourself for the times you’ve snapped and lost your patience. Children’s brain’s aren’t really wired to be rushed about from place to place. But because of our lifestyle’s it’s often a necessity. So, if it gets hard, don’t think of it as some sort of ‘failing’ in you as a parent. Caring for children and their emotional lives is one of the most challenging jobs in the world.

2. Instead, seek support. Get some listening time. When we have a parenting difficulty that recurs day after day we’ll often find that as time goes on more and more feelings build up inside of us. The first step towards change is to have somewhere to take these feelings. Having another adult who can listen as we talk, moan and express how we feel means that these feelings will come up less and less in our life. So have a laugh and a cry about how hard it is to get out of the house. Then notice how your perspective shifts after being listened to. When we clear out our mind of upset we can think more clearly and can often come up with playful and creative ways to deal with the situation.

3. Have lots of connection the day before – Connection helps our children to co-operate with us. If your child feels disconnected you can bet they will tell you about it by refusing to put on clothes, clean teeth etc. Any time we connect with our children it is an investment of time that will make things go more smoothly the next day. Do some special time the day before, and plan for regular roughhousing before bed. Bedtime is the ideal time to add in extra giggles to not only make your child sleep easier, but also give children the connection they need to co-operate the next day.

4. Have a bed party – While your child is sleeping, arrange every single fluffy toy they own on their bed. As your child slowly wakes, make up a silly song like ‘welcome to the bed party,’ and have the toys throw and catch balloons. Do silly thing that make your child laugh.  Perhaps they start trying to lift your child’s pillow up instead of a balloon, or all the toys decide to leave the party by hiding under the pillow. This is the perfect alarm clock for our little ones. You can read more about this idea here.

5. Have a puppet or fluffy toy do the getting ready tasks – After hosting the bed party, have your child choose a toy to get them ready. Have the toy say silly things like, ”now I’m going to take you to the pee-pee otorium,” and ”welcome to the restaurant now I’m going to show you the breakfast choices.” Everything goes a little more smoothly when a friendly toy is the one doing the talking instead of a nagging parent!

6. Have a getting ready song. We like Hit The Road Jack By Ray Charles. If you want to add in some playfulness, you could try pretending the song is making you put on your coat and shoes, but have the song get it all wrong, for example by making you pile ten jumpers on top of you, or put on your child’s shoes.

7. Beat The Clock. Hand in Hand instructor Marilupe De La Calle says, ”We pretend that the clock is an actual person who’s trying to beat us. I say, playfully: “Oh, no! the clock is already eating his breakfast”… and my girls rush to the table. Then I keep going…”He’s putting his shoes on!! quick, put yours on!”…”Oh, he is already in his car!!!”..My girls love to “get him.” We win if we get to our destination on time.

8. Beat The Song From Marilupe De La Calle. Another trick we use is to play a song on the music player and we try to get ready (get dressed, hair done, shoes on) before it’s over. My girls get to choose the song, and this is especially funny when they pick a silly one, like a Christmas song in March.

9. The Confusion Game  Hand in Hand instructor Skye Munroe of Nurturing Connections says,  ”I like to pretend to be confused about the process – things like “ok ok I know we need to get somewhere right now , I just can’t remember what to do … Hmm ok maybe I have to open this big silver thing ( fridge) and it will be able to help me ?”
My gems will then be giggling and saying things like “no no we have to put our shoes and coats on and go out the door” and then I may open a cupboard door or similair – just goofing around so that the kids help ME ( us) get out.”

10. Squeeze in some special time. Even five minute can make a difference as this story from Hand in Hand instructor trainee Isabela Budusan shows. Starting the day with special time can be really effective. If you start the day with a bed party, you’ll already have started the day with a dose of connection, so you might want to move onto doing all the getting ready tasks, and then have special time right before leaving the house.

11. Music Montage from Ariadne Brill of Positive Parenting Connection. One of our favourite ways to get ready without struggles is to do a music montage (just like those fun scenes in movie). We choose one or two favourite songs to get shoes, coats, bags in order and dance and get ready at the same time. When the song is over we meet by the door.

12 The checking game From Ariadne Brill. Something we did when my boys were 2 and 4 years old was an airplane pilot check list. “One shoe on? Check! Another shoe on? Check! Coats? Check! A toy to bring along? Check! Everyone ready? check! Everyone buckled? Check! the children loved this game, especially if we built in silly moments like jump three times to get to the door? Check!!” feel free to edit as you need!

13. Lets leave the house – Put on a playfully serious voice and tell your child it’s time to leave the house. Take them by the hand, and lead them to the door the bathroom, and say, ”oh whoops! That’s not the way out of the house.” Repeat with other doors for different rooms, or wardrobe doors, cupboards etc.

14. Pack a silly bag – Pack a silly bag the night before full of random objects. Start talking about how you need to take this bag for you and how you need to check the objects. Pull out a swimming costume although you’re going to the park, a winter hat and gloves in summer, or some rocks from the garden. Act all surprised and confused as your child laughs and laughs.

15. Make Time For Big Feelings – If your child has a big meltdown at any time during this process it’s counter-productive to try and distract them or stop the tears. There’s a lot of articles out there about how to stop a tantrum, but this is why I recommend going with the flow and allowing feelings. Even if we do end up being late, our child will be in much better emotional shape to enjoy their day when they’ve release those feelings.

I hope these tips help the getting ready process become a joy for you and your children. If you try them out I’d love to hear about how you get on. You can let me know in the comments section below. And if you come up with any fun and playful games of your own I’d love to hear from you too!

A good morning starts with a good night’s sleep! If you need some help in this area check out my 5 Sleep Secrets For Peaceful Nights and Hand in Hand parenting’s online self study course Helping Young Children Sleep

The Secret Diary of Agent Spitback

The Power Of Saying Yes

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This week I was wondering why my daughter and I were feeling disconnected from each other. We’d been busy, and so much of my time was spent figuring out how to get us out the door, how to use giggles to get her to co-operate etc.

Suddenly I was realising that I was focusing so much on what to do to ‘make’ my daughter laugh, that I was forgetting about the other Hand in Hand parenting tools!

After my daughter came back from her playgroup I decided that the rest of the day would be a ‘yes’ day – a simply and powerful concept I read about on the Abundant Mama’s blog.

I felt like I’d been in a battle all week to control screentime, so the first thing I decided to do was let my daughter watch the screen for as long as she wanted. I realised that I actually do want her to get to know the feeling of having ‘too much screen,’ so that instead of me telling her why it’s important to get off the screen she can actually feel the effects for herself, and judge for herself.

After two hours my daughter came to me and asked for special time. I decided we would do a longer hour special time. We played Lego and made pretend birthday parties for each other, by wrapping up her toys.

There was not a single power struggle, simply because I’d let go of my need to control, and in it’s place came connection. We simply enjoyed each other’s company.

I think there are important times when we should set limits, that Hand in Hand covers in their free setting limits e-book. But children need us to say yes a lot of the time. When we learn how to listen, our children can release the feelings that get in the way of their thinking. Then they can actually have good judgement. We can help build, happy, confident children when we trust their thinking, and respect their choices.

Yesterday was a ‘yes’ day, and I’m thinking how I can incorporate more and more ‘yes’s’ in our lives. It’s not always easy,  life puts many constraints on us, so that we are sometimes forced to say no. But living lives with more freedom, joy and ‘yes’s’ is my aim!

The tools from Hand in Hand parenting really do work, and often what’s happening when they aren’t working is that we’re neglecting one or more of the tools. So if you’re having a challenging day, or week, you can ask yourself, which tool aren’t I using? Which one would help now?

If you’re new to Hand in Hand, you can read all about the parenting tools here

Want to know more about how and when to say no to children? Check out Hand in Hand parenting’s online self study course on setting limits