The Flip Side To Being Told Your Child Has ‘Good’ Behaviour

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A few days ago I was travelling on a train from Scotland to London. I ended up having to move to another seat away from my daughter and husband, as another woman came to claim her reserved seat. A few hours into the journey another woman who’d been sitting opposite us, came up to me, and started gushing, ”I just wanted to tell you that you have the most adorable daughter. I hope she doesn’t feel embarrassed because I just can’t stop looking at her. She’s just so well behaved. In fact she is the most well-behaved child I’ve ever seen!”

I felt incredibly proud. Like all parents I get tired, I have grumpy days, and I can’t always be the parent I want to be. So it was really nice that someone recognised that I am doing a good job.

And it was also interesting that I noticed the flip side of the comment. We were only half-way through the journey.  I suddenly felt like we had a reputation to live up to! As the train became an hour late due to ‘hot tracks’ (I haven’t missed the classic British late train excuses!) my daughter did start to get bored and bounce around the carriage, and I began to notice how self-conscious I became.

I wanted to write this blog post for a few reasons. One simply to show just how amazing these Hand in Hand Parenting tools are. When we listen to our children’s feelings, it is reflected in their behaviour. This is the secret formula for getting comments like that by strangers!

The second reason is this. We as parents can often feel like we are being judged when we go out in public. Our fellow passengers want a few hours of quiet to read a book, or use their Ipad. Our society is adult-centric, and it can feel like it’s our job to keep our children behaving well in public, so that other adults can retain their sense of peace.

Our society focuses on parenting approaches that control behaviour. Time out, consequences, rewards, and punishments, are all parenting methods that focus on fixing our child’s behaviour. A lot of these methods come with the implicit method that our child is to ‘blame’ for their misbehaviour, and must be punished, fixed or taught a lesson.

This ‘blame’ culture is also implicit in how parents are judged for their parenting skills and their child’s behaviour. We feel bad when our children behave ‘badly’ when in actual fact it’s rarely our fault, but more to do with difficult and challenging life experiences that our child has or is experiencing. In reality whether we are in moments where are children are behaving well, or not so well we are all doing the absolute best we can as parents, figuring things out as much as we can with the information we have available to us.

When an adult comments on your child behaving ‘well,’ or behaving ‘badly,’ what that actually means is that your child feels good, or feels bad. Children naturally regulate their emotions, and their behaviour, by expressing feelings, but our cultural attitudes towards crying, or other expressions of emotion, make it doubly hard to parent. Our society expects good behaviour from our children, while often judging us when our children have the big meltdowns or wild play they need to feel better! It’s no wonder parenting is so challenging!

Children do need the chance to get giggly and run wild, to be ‘naughty’ in a controlled environment and to release all the feelings that cause their ‘off-track’ behaviour. We can do a lot of this work in our own homes, so that when our children go out into the world, they feel well-connected and their behaviour is more likely to stay on track.

Want to learn more? Check Out

Five Ways To Prevent Public Tantrums And Meltdowns 

The Real Reason Our Children Misbehave 

Why This Isn’t Another Article About How To Stop Tantrums

Diary of an imperfect mum
A Mum Track Mind

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

Reader Question – What To Do About Explosive Anger

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Dear Kate, My 6 year is experiencing extreme impulsive anger and will hit himself or hit out usually over things that seem minor recently, usually it seems quite OCD like his socks aren’t on right etc I try to be calm, I.e blame the socks not him or comment on his behaviour not him, but it’s exhausting and rarely works,any suggestions? I’m worried he’s showing OCD tendencies as things have to be just right? From N

Dear N, It’s quite common for children to have strong emotional reactions to things that are small. In fact the psychologist Aletha Solter even coined a term, ‘the broken cookie phenomenon,’ to explain why children have big emotional outbursts about something as small as a broken cookie.

What happens is that when children experience a build up of stress,and upset, they will use a small moment as a trigger for letting those feelings out. If they were feeling, relaxed and happy, the position of their socks probably wouldn’t bother them that much. But when they are dealing with upset feelings, those feelings tend to get projected onto their everyday circumstances, and nothing seems right.

In her booklet ‘Reaching For Your Angry Child,’ the founder of Hand in Hand parenting, Patty Wipfler, explains how anger usually masks deeper feelings that a child is struggling to express like fear and sadness. It could be struggles in the present like challenges in school or with friendships. It can also be that experiences from infancy, when our child was most vulnerable. A difficult birth, or medical intervention can often leave a child feeling fearful.

It’s great that you are able to remain calm when your son gets angry. One thing you could also do is to set a limit, to stop your son from hitting himself or others. You could give him eye contact, take his hands, and gently tell him, ”I’m sorry I can’t let you hit yourself.” Sometimes this kind of intervention, will give the child the connection they need to access the feelings underneath. They might cry or tantrum, and then they can release whatever upset was behind wanting the socks on right.

One of the things we often do as parents is try to stop crying, and help our child by fixing the situation and making things better as quickly as possible. But if it’s a ‘broken cookie’ scenario, this means those upset feelings tend to get stored up for a later date.

Instead if we allow our child to cry freely, without us trying to fix the situation, but simply being there to offer warmth and connection, they can naturally restore their emotional equilibrium. Tears contain stress hormones, and mood-balancing hormones, so it is nature’s way of restoring emotional wellbeing. This is the Hand in Hand parenting tool of staylistening, which literally means simply staying and listening to our child when they are upset.

When your son gets upset about these small incidences, you could try setting a limit, and listening to the feelings of upset, rather than trying to make everything right. Often what happens is that after a big cry or tantrum a child can be much more flexible and are able to deal with life’s imperfections.

Hand in Hand parenting consists of 4 other tools, (special time, playlistening, setting limits, and listening time) Each of these tools can help build the safety a child needs to release their feelings through crying. As they do so angry outbursts are reduced because a child can access their deeper feelings. One of the simplest to start with is to do regular special time with your child (1-1 time spent with them doing whatever they choose).

You can read more about the Hand in Hand parenting tools in Patty Wipfler’s Listening To Children Booklets.

I hope this helps,

Kate

Would you like a solution to your family challenge? Leave me a comment or send me a message via facebook, and you could be the subject of my next blog post.

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

How Crying Builds Your Child’s Confidence

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Did you know that crying is one of the ways your child builds their confidence? Often parenting advice centres around avoiding our children’s feelings, and stopping tantrums. With Hand in Hand parenting we teach parents how to listen to their children, so that they can grow and shine, and be their natural, confident selves. 

On Friday’s my daughter goes to a playgroup. As we live in Switzerland, the group is in Swiss German, although my daughter does have an English speaking friend there.

Recently she’s begun saying that she doesn’t want to go, even though she’s been happy there for over a year. I feel reluctant to force her to do something she doesn’t want to do. However when I ask if she wants to give up the playgroup completely she always says no, so I was pretty sure that the reluctance is more about fears and separation anxiety, than actually disliking it. I know she’s thinking a lot about starting Kindergarten in August which has increased her separation anxiety lately.

Yesterday her English speaking friend wasn’t able to go. As we walked up the hill to the playgroup she started complaining about how she didn’t want to go, and how tired she was I sensed that it wasn’t really she was tired, but that feelings were coming up about not having her friend there. So I set a limit, and told her that I was sure she could find the energy to scooter there.

She began crying, I kept walking, turning behind her and assuring her that she had the strength to catch me up. She cried for a while, and then was happy to keep scootering along.

When we got the playgroup, and it was the moment to separate from me, she started clinging to my leg. I unstuck myself, got down on her level, and told her that I was going to go. She started crying. We walked away from the other children and teachers for a while, and I listened to her. We went back and tried again. Still she was just staying stuck to me.

I knew she needed to have a big cry, to release whatever fears and anxieties were in the way of her enjoying the playgroup. But I wasn’t sure how to help her release those feelings. I also didn’t want to disturb the group.

In the end I could see no way out of the situation, so I decided that we would just go home. As we walked away my daughter started crying, and crying about how she did want to go! I listened to her until she had stopped crying. Then we went back over, and she chose one of the teacher’s to hold hands with. I left her happy and willing to give it a go.

When I came back later she was holding the hands of one of the other children. She had a big smile on her face. She told me she enjoyed it even more than when her friend was there! I think she actually liked the opportunity to connect with some of the Swiss kids as well, without her friend being there.

This is how listening can turn things around. If I’d have quickly left her, and rushed off while she was upset, she might have stopped crying, but she wouldn’t have got to release her feelings. She might not have been able to enjoy the playgroup with confidence if she was still feeling upset deep down. It was so much better to listen to those fears, and anxieties so that she could choose to go, without me forcing her, and have a good time.

When our children are faced with new situations they may feel stressed or nervous, particularly if it involves separation from us. Crying, and tantrumming are all part of our child’s natural stress-release mechanism for dealing with their feelings. When we listen without trying to stop or avoid their feelings, we can help our children to embrace life and live it to the full.

I like to give my daughter as much choice as I can in her life. I like to respect her thoughts, and ideas. When she initially told me she didn’t want to, we could of just turned around and go home. But I sensed that this wasn’t her deepest desire, or need. What she actually needed was for me to set a limit, to give her a chance to try.

When I’m due to give a workshop, , I often get incredibly nervous beforehand. All sorts of thoughts and feelings flood through my head. One time I sat on a train going to another city to give a workshop, and felt like I wanted nothing more than to get off at the next station, and head home! But actually, once I begin a workshop, and meet all the lovely parents, I end up having a great time and feel so fulfilled after sharing the amazing Hand in Hand parenting tools. I leave on a high, and immediately arrange another workshop, then as the time grows near the fears rise again! It has got easier with time though.

If I avoided giving workshops, because of my feelings, I wouldn’t get the chance t face my fears, and grow as a person. I know I need to do the same for my daughter.

It can be hard to give kids the push they need to embrace something that seems scary at first, but Hand in Hand parenting has taught me how to do it with love.

If you’d like to learn more about our approach to separation anxiety, check out my article 20 Playful Ways To Heal Separation Anxiety, or Hand in Hand parenting’s online Healing Separation Anxiety Course

Why Tantrums Are Not A ‘Behavioural Issue’

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This week my daughter and I have been home suffering with a bad cold, so I haven’t felt like writing much. In the meantime I’ve been really enjoying getting into the world of blogging, and reading blogs from other parents and joining in link-ups that I’ve been discovering via twitter.

On the #BloggersClubUK link-up I came across this post Made To Feel Like A Failing Mother which really shocked me.

A mother took her son to a local singing group at a children’s centre. He ended up having a massive tantrum, and she left. Later on she was called up by a staff member from the children centre recommending they talk to another woman who worked there to discuss her son’s ‘behavioural issues.’

This is just wrong on so many levels. Tantrums are a completely natural, normal part of healthy child development. Tantrums are not a form of ‘bad behaviour,’ they’re a way of expressing emotion. When they happen in public it can be extremely embarrassing, and we all do our best to deal with them while worrying about what people will think of us!

This mum absolutely did the right thing, she took her son out of the singing class, and stayed with him till he was in a better mood.

Sometimes toddlers can tantrum for a long time, and all we can do is ride out the storm until they pass. This is actually the best thing we can do. To let our children get through their moment of upset, and out the other side. They’ll be in a better mood because we’ve given them the space to have their feelings.

In my post here, I share how listening to children’s crying, and tantrums is actually key to keeping their behaviour on-track.

Sadly, there isn’t a great deal of understanding about the importance of allowing children to express their feelings. Sadly there are people out there who will look at a tantrumming child and think that the parent is doing something ‘wrong.’ Sadly a lot of parenting advice focuses on stopping tantrums, and inadvertently teaching children that expressing emotions is wrong.  I’d steer clear of any parenting advice that focuses on tantrums being a ‘behavioural issue.’

Next time you see a parent dealing with a tantrumming toddler, just remember this, that they are a good parent, doing their best. Instead of rushing in with judgmental looks or ‘advice,’ give them an understanding smile, some warmth, and support. We all have hard days, and we don’t need to make parenting any harder for each other!

You might also like, Why This Isn’t Another Article About How To Stop Tantrums, and What To Do When Children Have Tantrums In Public

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Why You Shouldn’t ‘Calm Down’ A Tantrumming Child

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When my daughter was 6 weeks old, I was going out into town to a friends house for dinner. I had just fed her and put her into her pram (I wanted to carry her in a sling but I hadn’t managed to learn how to tie it yet. Then she started crying. I started feeling edgy and nervous about going out into the world with a crying baby.

Then there were voices in the hallway, and suddenly my daughter immediately stopped crying. It amazed me, that already at this age she could have an awareness of when it felt safe to cry.

Of course it wasn’t always like this. Sometimes she’d be so full of emotions that she’d cry and tantrum wherever and whenever, regardless of who was around.

It sometimes seems that it’s the job of parents to teach our children to ‘calm down,’ to self-regulate and to learn to control their emotions. But that observation of my six week old daughter made me realise that no child actually wants to have fits and tantrums in public. Just like adults they’d much rather keep their emotions for private moments.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog you’ll be familiar with the concept of staylistening, of how crying is a healing process which allows children to release stress and tension, providing there is an adult that stays close to listen to them. (If you’re new to the concept, I have some links to learn more at the end of the article)

If our toddler throws a tantrum we may have a strong urge to make it stop, to distract our child. We may be tempted to offer our child a toy to shift their attention, to turn on the TV or to ignore their tantrum so it stops as quickly as possible.

There’s lots of advice out there about how to get children to ‘calm down’ during tantrums. A lot of this advice is gentle but it actually sends the wrong message. It gives our child the message that expressing emotions is unacceptable.

It also interrupts their natural healing process so that they don’t get to release the stress and tension that has built-up. These unreleased feelings are one of the main reasons children ‘misbehave.‘ Tantrums are challenging, and can try our patience, but when we interrupt them, we are actually making parenting much harder than it needs to be.

With staylistening, we stay and listen to the upsets, without trying to stop them or distract our child from our feelings. Instead we stay present, riding out the storm together.

If we can create a safe space for our children to have their feelings at home they’ll be less likely to have their feelings spilling out in random moments like the supermarket queue or on the bus. And as they are less full of feelings, their behaviour will be easy to manage too!

You might also like this free e-book The Secret To Transforming Tantrums, and  5 Ways To Prevent Public Meltdowns

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.