20 Playful Ways To Help Picky Eaters

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When it comes to picky eating it can be hard to find a solution that is fun, connected and playful. On the one extreme we can simply let our child survive off yoghurt and spaghetti with tomato sauce, with underlying worries about their nutrition. On the other extreme we can try the ‘threat of starvation’ approach where we just put their dinner down in front of them and refuse to give any other options.

In desperation we may have tried either or both of these approaches, but never felt completely comfortable with them. Luckily there is is a third way that can help with the underlying root cause of picky eating.

Often when children are experiencing fears or anxiety, they may project it onto food. So when a child scrunches up their nose at broccoli, and seems fearful, it may not be the food that is the ultimate cause of their fear.

Children gather stress, and tension from the early experiences in their lives when they felt small and helpless. They use little everyday moments, to try and ‘tell’ us about these feelings through their behaviour.

When we learn to listen to our children’s feelings, we are doing the most compassionate thing possible, allowing them to express their upset so that they grow in confidence. That plate of peas won’t look so scary when it’s no longer clouded by a mind full of upset.

I remember one time listening to my daughter cry about separation anxiety. After that we had dinner, and she started eating potatoes and cheese, two foods she had never tried before!

It’s not just about the food. When we help our children with feelings in life in general we can help them be more adventurous with their food, and when we help our children with food we may see leaps and gains in their lives.

Where the laughter comes in. Laughter is one of the ways in which children (and adults!) release the stress, tension and fear that can get in the way of them enjoying food. We also want to give children a sense of freedom and choice in life. We don’t want to set limits every single dinnertime. which might quickly lead to powerlessness and resentment. We want to warm up the connection with our child through special time and playlistening so that dinner time is fun, and so they feel safe to tell us about the big feelings that can also get in the way of enjoying food.

Listening to big feelings can be challenging, and coming up with fun, playful ways to deal with it can be even more difficult!

So I asked my friends and fellow Hand in Hand instructors to contribute to this list of fun playlistening ideas to help children with their fears around food. These are a great starting point to follow your intuition, and see what makes your kids laugh while they are in the more powerful role. Your dinner might get a bit cold while you try these out, and if taken to extreme some of these can get a little wild.

But there’s a big advantage. When we invest the time to listen to feelings and fears, it means that in the long run, dinners go much more smoothly. Your child doesn’t need to have a gigantic play every dinner time, (thankfully because I wouldn’t have the energy!) but laughter sprinkled here and there helps a lot, and perhaps you can have a bit of extra fun at the weekends.

Sometimes as my daughter laughs and play games, she ‘forgets’ to be afraid of the food, and ends up eating it. We get closer to the food together in a connected, fun way that takes the pressure off. I wish you many joyful, laughter-filled dinnertimes!

  1. Special Time – Roma Norriss Hand in Hand instructor in Bristol, UK  recommends doing it before dinner. In the rush to prepare food we probably aren’t thinking about connecting with our kids. If you can keep the dinner warm and then spend 10-15 minutes doing special time then this can give children the close connection they need to feel safe to try new food. Roma says, ”My very fussy daughter has been known to tuck heartily into her food and even exclaim “Mmmn delicious Quinoa!” when she has had a good dose of Special Time.”
  2. Yuck – In this classic game we simply reverse roles and pretend that we are scared of the food. Bring our fork up to our mouth, and make a suspicious face. Try it and make exaggerated yucky sounds. Run away from it. We might even encourage our child to feed us this disgusting food by saying, ”I hope you don’t make me eat this horrible food.”
  3. Mmmmmm Take bites of your food while looking a bit sceptical that it’s going to be tasty. As you chew it say ”mmmmm.”Gradually ramp up your surprise and delight at how delicious the food is with a big long ”mmmmmm” sound. Make some animated movement to express how tasty it is. Perhaps you run around around the room in a crazy manner, and then come back and say, ”oh sorry, that food just sent me a bit crazy for a moment.”
  4. Escaping Food. Roma Norriss says, ”One day my daughter wouldn’t eat her food, so I put some on her spoon and then zigzagged it away from her plate saying ”Help! Some of our food had escaped from our shopping basket. It’s rolling down the hill and I’m afraid that little stray dog is going to eat it. Quick save the tomatoes.” She immediately took me up on the game and started woofing after the food and trying to eat it. Then I changed tack and said, “Oh she’s a nice doggy shall we just feed her, I don’t think she has any owners, we could take care of her.” Soon she had eaten up all her food.
  5. Seat Glue Hand in Hand instructor Sarah MacLaughlin has a fun suggestion for children who are finding it hard to sit still. Pretend to spread glue on the chair before they sit. When they get up; act confused as to why your glue is not working, “that is so strange! I guess I’ll put some more glue on here…. Hurry, see if you can eat a bite of food before that glue wears off.” Lots of laughs, smiles, and “phooey” and “oh darn it,” when they get up again and again. Add “stronger glue” each time.
  6. Run Away From Your Seat Katalin Hidvegi, says, ”My eldest son is constantly running away from the table with food in his hands. One day we were playing, and he shared some “cakes” with me from his toys. I pretended to eat my cake, and hubby came to ask us to go to the table. My son and I started running away from him together. We pretend to sit on the coach eating together as allies. Hubby played his part well, complaining and insisting that we move to the table, then taking our cakes away. We would obediently sit down at the table but then jump up and run to the couch again. It was hilarious. My son laughed heartily and I enjoyed it too. Great healing laughter and togetherness. Great autonomy(rebellion) experience for both of us too!
  7. Missing Your Mouth I have to thank my mother-in-law for this one! Try to put food in your mouth but instead, ‘feed’ your ears, your armpits, the top of your head, your foot. Keep saying, ”oh no! That’s not right, let me try again.”
  8. Mis-serving Food. If the food is in the middle of the table to serve out, try mis-serving it by nearly putting a spoonful into your water glass. Catch yourself, ”oh whoops! That’s not right.”
  9. Flying Food – The food gets on a spoon or a fork (with a little help from us) and says, ”This is my aeroplane and I’m flying to Australia/America/Europe, and I’m not coming back!” We mock panic, and say ”oh no,” and ‘chase’ after it.
  10. Food Stealing – From Hand in Hand instructor Muftiah Martin in Santa Rosa California, I’ll say, “Ooh, I love eggplant (or mushrooms or beans) so much. I hope no one takes my eggplant when I’m not looking.” And she snatches it up!
  11. Food Robbers – Jessica says, ”I tell my kids that a robber is coming to steal their food. Then we look away and then they quickly take a piece and eat it really quickly.”
  12. Secret Eating From Hand in Hand instructor Skye Monroe in Australia.  Put their plates down with food at the table and say “ok I don’t want ANYONE to eat ANY of this food .. Please do NOT eat this.. I just want you to look after it for me for a bit while I grab something from the bedroom.” Walk away for a bit and come back and see they have eaten and with mock horror exclaim “oh no it looks like someone has eaten this food ?! That can’t be right ?!”
  13. Doll Roleplay – Stephanie Parker, Hand in Hand instructor in Stroud UK.says, ”I pretend Innes’s dolls and animals don’t want to eat their dinner and then Innes steps into being the parent and setting the limit and encouraging them to eat. She loves this.”
  14. Food Race – From Muftiah Martin, ”We do “who’s going to get this bite of food first?” as I lean in toward my daughter and pass the spoon near both of our mouths. She is always faster!” .
  15. The Wrong Seat – If each family member sits down in a regular seat, then you can get a few giggles flowing by sitting down in the wrong one. Take a fork and start to eat a mouthful of dinner then stop saying, ”hang on, something’s not quite right here. This is not my dinner. I’m in daddy’s seat!”
  16. Random Objects Instead Of A Plate – Lay the table, and put everyone’s dinner out. But put a funny object in your place. Then when everyone’s come to dinner and you sit down, say ”hmmm, why have I got a magazine for my dinner?” Try to eat it, and then act all disappointed, ”hmmm that doesn’t seem very tasty! I better go and get my proper dinner.” Repeat with objects, the more outlandish the better. Putting some toothpaste on your placemate, or a (clean!) potty, is bound to get your child laughing hysterically. You can even ask them to join in the fun by saying, ”Would you mind getting me my proper dinner?” And then mutter to yourself, ”I hope they don’t bring me anything silly,” literally inviting them to join in.
  17. Funny things on my spoon – I started this game when I was eating Minestrone soup, and every spoonful  would have a different variation of food. So when I got a spoonful of green peas, I would say to my daughter, ”oh dear. What’s this on my spoon. This looks a bit strange,” and pretend to be afraid of it. Then I would eat the spoonful and it would have a funny effect on me, making me jump around, or swing back on my chair, or make my face go into a funny expression. Then I’d say ”oh sorry, that strange spoonful turned my face funny,” and straighten it out again.” My daughter kept encouraging me to keep taking spoonfuls saying excitedly, ”go on, see what’s on your spoon next!” I tried this the other day when I was eating curry, and there was a green bit of coriander on my fork. I looked at my fork and said, ”what’s that? A leaf? Why did daddy put a leaf in my curry?” She laughed a lot.
  18. Eat me. Eat me. Have the food say  ”eat me! eat me!” to your child says Hannah Gauri Ma From Loving Earth Mama. Then the food pretends to get all sad if it doesn’t get eaten. I have also tried with this one with food that wants to get eaten by me instead. If you have some small items, like nuts or raisins, or peas, then have them come near your mouth, and then you take them away and put them down again. Act all annoyed and frustrated in a playful way, telling them that you’re not hungry, or don’t want to eat them, and then have them try to be eaten all over again.
  19. Aeroplane Game – This is a variation of the traditional aeroplane game of feeding your child. Load up a fork with food and have it take off to your child’s or your own mouth, But instead of landing there it lands in your mouth instead, or it flies and lands on top of the fridge, in the fruit bowl, or the kitchen counter. Act all muddled and confused and say, ”oh no, that’s not where I meant to land,” and try again, failing every single time.
  20. Food that doesn’t want to be eaten – Serve out your food, and then have it say, ”I don’t want to be eaten, I’m going back in the saucepan/fridge, etc.” Have the plate or individual pieces of food jump off the table, and jump back into the saucepan. Say ”hey, that’s my/my child’s dinner, come back here, we need you,” and act all befuddled as you keep trying to serve it but it keeps running away.

I hope this list bring lots of laughter and joy to your dinner table. If you try them out feel free to leave a comment and let us know how you get on. If you come up with any games of your own, we’d love to hear them!

Diary of an imperfect mum

Staylistening With An Infant – A guest post by Brooke March

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My sweet amazing baby had a scary thing happen 2 days ago and she is still processing it. It can feel so odd and confusing with a small baby but now I know this work and understand how healing it is for our babes to cry hard while we listen to them. I know this is what they NEED to do in order for the healing to happen. It is so clear this time around, her diaper is dry, she has a full belly, I hear the difference in her cry between being tired and needing to get some things out. I saw her get scared today a couple of times, things startle her, how can they not? She is so new and working hard to figure out this new world.

What is fascinating to me is most times she looks me right in the eye as she cries and then….after some time…she is done. She looks at me, she smiles, her way of thanking me for giving her the gift of full expression, and she often drifts off. More times then not, it is at the end of the day, like right now that she needs a big cry before bed. She has been a pretty great sleeper since the beginning and on the day she fell, she woke up over and over and over all night needing to cry hard. I would listen for a few minutes and then nurse her and help her get back to sleep. I knew she was not “done” that the feelings were still in there, but I also knew we needed to get some sleep. Her feelings would continue to wake her up until they were all gone, I knew this too, but it is hard to do this work in the middle of the night and I didn’t want our son to be woken up. So I just followed her lead, she would wake, I would listen for a little while, then we would go back to sleep, over and over and over. Every time helping her to chip away a little bit more of the fear.

With our son, we did everything we could to STOP the crying- we were “the happiest baby on the block” parents- opps!! The crying will stop once the hurt is healed and it gets healed through crying, crying releases a stress hormone in the body and helps it return to it’s natural healthy state. No baby cries for no reason, there is much to cry about for some. It is a delicate dance for infants and we always want to lean on the side of nurturance, but we also need to listen and tune in rather then offering the breast right away. Our loving arms, ears and presence is often what they are really needing and with our help, everything can heal. I am so happy to have these tools from day one this time around, the difference is profound and it has only been 3.5 months.

Further Resources

Sleeping Through The NIght  – Blog post on babies, sleep and emotional healing.

Helping Your Child Sleep – online self study course from Hand in Hand parenting

* Staylistening is the process of listening to our child’s emotional upsets, allowing them to cry freely until they feel better. You can read more stories about the healing power of staylistening here

Brooke March is a Parenting by Connection instructor based in Santa Cruz. Follow her on Facebook here where she shares wonderful anecdotes about life as a mother of two, all about staylistening with an infant, and how she helped her son adapt to having a sibling. 

 

Listening to Our Children’s Pretexts

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Having an intellectual understanding of the healing power of tears, didn’t help me that much when it came to listening to a real live baby! Well it did, but it took me a long time to untangle my natural instincts as a parent, from my drive to stop my daughter from crying, even when she had no particular need.

As a new mum it was such a steep learning curve to figure out what my daughter wanted, that for most of the time, I seemed to forget what I had read about how some times babies cry for what seems like no apparent reason, simply to heal.

I think this is such an important distinction to make. Our strong urge to stop our children from crying when they don’t have a need, isn’t actually our natural instinct, even though it sometimes feels that way. It’s the history of our own childhood talking, when our parents couldn’t always tolerate our tears. We might have been told, ‘there’s no use crying over spilt milk’ or ‘don’t cry or I’ll give you something to cry about,’ and so this compulsion to stop our children from crying happens automatically, unless we have paid some attention to it, and become aware of what we were doing.

I’m not sure I could have managed that big job of untangling my childhood history, and discovered the inner awareness I needed to really listen to my daughter, if it wasn’t for Hand in Hand parenting. The articles I read, and the support I got from my Building Emotional Understanding Course, helped me dissolve the confusion in my head, about what she was trying to say without words. I finally had the confidence to trust my intuition. And I also got some really useful information, that helped me see things in a completely different light.

One sentence from an article by Patty Wipfler jumped out on me, ‘Children pick lots of pretexts to help them release pent-up feelings. They will cry about a shirt being pulled over their heads, about having a shampoo, about you moving six steps away to do the dishes….”

My daughter always hated me putting a top over her head. I would rush through the process to get it over as quickly as possible, and then get in a panic when it got stuck and the ordeal would last longer. I always felt guilty that it was as if I was doing something without her permission, something I had to do, but that she hated. I started to dread the moment when I’d have to get her dressed, and these moments became full of feeling for both of us.

The sentence about pretexts drew my attention to something I’d never considered before. That this was a small moment that had a lot of feelings for her, and if I could help her release her feelings, she wouldn’t be so bothered about it anymore. So next time, I decided to listen. I didn’t rush to put the top on, I showed her the top and told her what we were going to do. She cried for a while, much longer than that split second cry, before I yanked the top over her head and interrupted her feelings. This time, when she stopped crying, I would gently show her the top again, and tell her I needed to put it on. She’d start crying again.  Now I was fully giving her the chance to express whatever fear or upset was being triggered by the top, and when she’d completely finished crying, I put the top over her head, slowly and she was completely relaxed and at ease.

After that she never felt upset when I dressed her, and most importantly getting dressed was no longer something I forced her to do, but something we could do together. It was amazing to see, that suddenly beneath all these feelings, she was completely happy to co-operate with me when upset wasn’t clouding her view.

t never found out what was it that bothered her about having something pulled over her head, though I suspected it had something to do with trauma from her birth. When she’d first been born her head was incredibly sensitive after being born by vacuum extraction.  She hated wearing hats, or having her head touched. I’d felt guilty that I hadn’t had a natural birth, but I learnt an important lesson in acceptance, that there may be many aspects of our children’s lives that we can’t control but we can always help them to heal.

After this incident, I realised that there were all sorts of little pretexts, moments when my daughter got upset, that I could help her heal from. I didn’t have to force her to clean her teeth, or change her nappy. That these moments didn’t have to be unpleasant experiences. That if I listened long enough, she could tell me about whatever big feelings got stuck onto these small everyday events. She could get comfortable in her own skin, experience the sensations of being in the world, and we could take our time together. Investing this time is absolutely priceless, because then feelings don’t come every single time, over lots of little pretexts. There are less little edgy moments in the day for both you and your child. There isn’t so much to be fearful of in the world when feelings have been released. Are there areas of your child’s life where they have big feelings about a small pretext? They can be good places to start listening.

Sleeping Through the Night

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When my 6 month old daughter didn’t sleep through the night, I wasn’t really looking for a solution, I didn’t like the concept of sleep training. We co-slept so when she woke it was easy simply to just feed her and then fall back to sleep. I was still getting my full eight hours with a few short interruptions. I assumed that she would sleep through the night eventually.

But after eight months, nothing was changing. I started to wonder why she was waking more than she did as a newborn. When I fed her she didn’t seem that hungry, and just sucked for a minute or two before falling asleep again. I read about sleep cycles, and how a baby needed a way to soothe herself back to sleep. It made sense that other babies were self-soothing back to sleep with their thumbs or a dummy, whereas I was my daughter’s comfort mechanism. But I thought that this couldn’t be the full story. My daughter had on occasion slept in four hour stretches. She also always woke half an hour after falling asleep; I knew that had nothing to do with being hungry, or transitioning through sleep cycles.

Before my daughter was born, I’d read a book called The Aware Baby. The author Aletha Solter explains that in the first three months of life, all babies spend some time each day crying ‘for no apparent reason.’ She explains that this kind of crying has a healing function. In a study conducted by Dr. William Frey, he compared real ‘emotional’ tears with those caused by chopping onions. He found that emotional tears contained stress hormones such as cortisol and other toxins. Crying is a way that we can literally release stress and tension out of the body.

All babies inevitably experience stressful events, such as a difficult birth, medical interventions, or just the daily stress of getting to know their new stimulating world. The understanding that crying was healing made sense to me. I’d gone through a difficult period in my life in my mid-twenties, when I’d felt depressed and physically exhausted. I’d written for therapy, done yoga, meditation, and also deep tissue massage. I often found that these modalities took me deeper into my sadness, and I would release my feelings through crying. I always felt much better afterwards, and eventually my depression lifted, and I felt a renewed sense of self and happiness.

Knowing about the healing function of crying helped me through the early colicy days of my daughter’s life. There were times when I didn’t bounce my daughter, pace the room or feed her. There were times, when nothing much worked but to listen. And what I found were those were the times when I’d had the deepest connection with her. By witnessing this pain that she felt, I felt connected to her deepest self. It was heartbreaking that she needed to cry so much, that she had so much suffering inside of her. But it also felt wonderful that she had this way to heal. Her birth had been difficult, but now I was able to cuddle her close to me, and tell her she was safe now as she expressed these strong feelings.

During the first few months of my daughter’s life, I fed her whenever she cried. As I didn’t use a dummy or, put her to sleep by herself, it seemed natural that eating and sleeping became intertwined. I fed her to sleep, but after a couple of months, that stopped working easily, so I would pace the room until she was more sleepy, and then try to feed her to sleep again. It took me a while to realise that these were what Aletha Solter, calls ‘control patterns;’ things to stop the crying that become habits that the baby comes to rely upon. I had thought I was helping her to sleep, but then I began to think, maybe what I was actually doing was repressing the feelings that she wanted to let out before she slept.

So next time my daughter needed to take a nap, I sat on the bed, and held her. She made some slow tired cries, and I watched her face look visibly more and more relaxed.

She looked so peaceful, as if she had been doing some baby yoga or meditation! She fell asleep much more easily than if I was pacing the room. I did this a few times, but I still felt some confusion about whether it was really okay just to let her cry. Sometimes she would ask to breastfeed, and then I would feed her. It wasn’t long before the habit of feeding to sleep had crept back. Yet occasionally I thought to myself, that she probably wasn’t hungry, and was just asking out of habit, because if we were out, then she would just fall asleep in her buggy without needing milk.

When my daughter was eight months old, I realised she was hardly crying at all. I still believed in the idea that crying was healing. And I missed that deep connection that I had with her when she cried. I noticed that when I fed her to sleep at night, she seemed to wriggle around a lot and have a lot of tension in her body. Feeding her to sleep wasn’t helping her relax. I reread The Aware Baby and realised that I’d forgotten most of its contents since my daughter had been born! My daughter was feeding every two hours, which I had always been puzzled by. All of the other babies I knew went 3 or 4 hours between feeds. Aletha Solter, explains that breastfeeding every two hours can be a sign that it has become a ‘control pattern.’ Other babies might have been using pacifiers or movement as their control patterns, but for us it was breastfeeding. I also realised that because breastfeeding was a control pattern, then she would ask for the breast out of habit even when she wasn’t hungry.

Aletha Solter also says that all healthy babies over six months of age are able to sleep through the night. She explains that babies above this age wake because of emotional tension. Just like adults, babies who have stress and tension, have trouble with sleep. I decided to try again, and let my daughter fall asleep without breastfeeding. This time the cries were powerful. I sometimes doubted whether I was doing the right thing, but then I’d look at her face, when she’d just fallen asleep after a big cry. She would smile and even giggle sometimes as she fell into dreams. It was clear that she’d cried away her upset and felt peaceful again.

I felt more certain that listening to her cry was the most loving thing I could do, and started looking for more resources to support me. The idea seemed so different to what I read and heard everywhere that I needed to know there were other parent educators and thinkers out there who understood the healing nature of crying. I returned to a website I’d looked at before called Hand in Hand parenting. I read some articles, and was relieved to hear Patty Wipfler’s compassionate advice, that it’s natural that in the close breastfeeding relationship children often come to depend on the breast for comfort. I downloaded a podcast from Hand in Hand, called ‘Helping your child sleep.’ These ideas, along with Aletha Solter’s, helped me to figure out what I needed to do to help my daughter sleep.

I started with the first time she woke up, at 9pm. Instead of feeding her I held her instead. She cried for just a few minutes and then fell back to sleep. I fed her as normal for the rest of the night. The next night, she slept right through the time of her first waking the night before, and didn’t wake up till 11pm. When she woke I repeated the process of holding her instead of feeding her. The next night she slept right the way through till 1am!

Sometimes when she woke, I could just hug her, and that would be enough for her to fall asleep. Other times she would have a big cry. Within a couple weeks she was sleeping through the night, and she now sleeps through the night, all of the time, apart from the occasional illness or emotional upset. She has become more relaxed and confident, as a result of being able to release her feelings through crying. And I feel so much closer to her, now that I’ve learnt how to listen to her more closely, rather than simply trying to stop her from crying.

In all the debate about baby’s sleep the experts divide into two factions. On the one side, there are those that think we should leave a baby to cry it out, so that they learn to sleep on their own. On the other side are the ones that think we should do whatever we need to do to stop our children from crying. But there is a third way that involves a deeper understanding about the nature of crying. That we don’t have to leave our children alone when they cry, that we can hold them and support them, and help them heal, so that they naturally sleep better.

We as parents often seem compelled to stop our children from crying. We think of this as parental instinct. But what feels like an instinct is actually a learnt behaviour that comes from our own childhoods. As psychiatrist Dan Siegal says, ‘we learn to parent, when we ourselves are being parented.’ Very few of us were listened to fully when we had upsets. Our parents might have thought it kindest to just stop the crying as quickly as possible. They may have told us to stop crying, ignored us, or said things such as ‘don’t cry, or I’ll give you something to cry about.’

When we take the time to listen to our own children it can trigger the strong feelings of not being listened to as children. This and the common cultural idea that crying is a negative behaviour we must stop as quickly as possible makes it hard for us to listen to our children cry.

Now when my daughter cries, I don’t actually think of it as a ‘bad’ thing. Of course I’d rather she was happy and smiling, but when she cries, I know she’s doing the most intelligent thing she can, healing from her hurts and upsets. When we listen to our children when they have upset feelings, they can heal from the stress and tension that cause off-track behaviour such as aggression. Our children use ‘misbehaviour’ as a red flag to tell us they’re not feeling good. Listening allows our children to express their feelings through crying so they don’t have to resort to more indirect ways to tell us how they’re feeling.

Listening to our children cry is not easy, particularly if we weren’t listened to as children. In order to listen to our children well, we need to be listened to ourselves. Hand in Hand parenting has a wonderful (and completely free!) listening partnership scheme where parents can get together and exchange listening time with each other. This helps us to work through some of our difficulties, and to find our sense of well-being again. I’m always amazed at how spending ten minutes talking about my feelings after an exhausting day with my daughter, gives me such a sense of renewed energy that I can delight in being with her again.

Adults do not cry as easily as children, and this is partly because our feelings were suppressed when we were young. Through my listening partnerships I’m rediscovering my ability to cry easily, and learning first hand about just how healing crying can be. What I’ve learnt is that it’s never too late to find ways to heal, and change and develop as a person. Throughout my life I’ve met many people like me, looking for ways to shed that baggage they have carried throughout their lives. What a wonderful gift it is to give our children, to help them heal while they are still young, before the baggage gets too heavy. They can grow up retaining the lightness they have as children.

Are sleep struggles with your child leaving you exhausted? Hand in Hand Parenting offers an online self study course. Click here for more details. 

This article was previously published in Juno Magazine, issue 34.

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It’ll all end in tears

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You know the old saying, ‘it’ll all end in tears,’ the warning our parents gave us when our play got giggly, wild and ‘out of control’? I gained a different perspective on this old saying when I discovered the Parenting by Connection approach from Hand In Hand Parenting.

Laughter is one of the ways that we release stress and tension from our bodies. For instance when we feel embarrassed it’s natural to giggle nervously, and we can probably all remember times as children when we tried to suppress are giggles when we got told off by a grown up.

Laughter also builds connection with our children, as they run, chase, and have fun with us, safety builds so they are able to tell us how they are feeling. After they release some ‘lighter’ tensions through giggling, this may mean that deep hurts rise to the surface. It might be that our child falls down, and has a big cry over what looks like a small hurt, because the are actually not just crying about the present moment, but releasing some feelings from past upsets that they didn’t cry about at the time.

I’ve sensed that my daughter has been feeling a bit ‘off-track’ recently. Three months ago, my grandmother died, and I felt devastated and exhausted. While I was grieving it was hard to give my daughter the deep sense of connection, that she craves. As we all know our children seem to need an almost infinite amount of attention! I took care of her basic needs, but there wasn’t much fun and laughter in our house for a while. I took every opportunity I could to let her dad take over so I could rest.

About a month ago, as I started to get more energy, my daughter’s behaviour started getting more challenging. It was as if she could sense that I was more emotionally available than I had been, and she started ‘telling’ me how she had felt when I didn’t have attention for her, by saying no to lots of things. Getting her dressed, or brushing her hair, were like invitations for her to run away. We didn’t always have time or I didn’t have the energy to chase her for half an hour, to get these things done! She also became really clingy, saying, ”I want my mummy’ all the time in a very screechy voice, that really pushed my buttons. And I noticed her showing fear of things that she had done confidentially before like going down a slide in the park. I had been trying to encourage her by waiting at the bottom of the slide, and telling her I would catch her.

Yesterday evening, I had some great listening time with my partners. I was able to talk about how disconnected my daughter and I were from each other and how I needed to reconnect but wasn’t sure how. I was able to vent all of my frustration about her constantly demanding my attention.

After that I felt full of energy, and all of the irritation I’d felt had vanished. I went to clean her teeth, and then she started running away from me, I chased her around the house, grabbing hold of her clothes, but always letting her get away, so she could feel powerful, and have fun. After laughing for a bit she happily cleaned her teeth, and then found more fun things to do, such as opening the bedroom door and run away giggling with delight, when she escaped me again. She laughed and laughed, and got to release all her excess energy from the day. We ended up ‘wrestling’ on our bed, with me pretending to sleep and her jumping on me saying ”ride ride donkey,” a game we play where I say that I am not a donkey but a mummy and I need to sleep. She laughed for a good hour before going to sleep.

Now I’ve practised Parenting by Connection long enough to learn that after so much laughter, tears will come. It might not be immediately, but in the next hour or day. It’s like a weather pattern, that after laughter, there will be tears.

This morning she woke up crying really suddenly, a bit earlier than usual. She sounded scared as if she’d had a bad dream. I went into the bedroom and held her. She cried for a few mins, and I was careful just to hold her, not say too much, and just be there. Then she said ”mummy dropped me.”

I realised that she was recounting something that happened a few days ago at the swimming pool. She had jumped into the pool and I was ready to catch her, but for a split second she had slipped through my hands, and went under the water, before I did catch her.  I recounted the story to her, saying I had dropped her for a second, but she was safe now, and I would always keep her safe. She cried even harder as I said I would keep her safe. When her crying died down again I sensed she was still upset so I told her the story again to reassure her, and each time I got to the part where I said I would always keep her safe she cried.

After crying for a while she was back to laughter again. We lay in bed, and did her favourite thing of the moment, where she makes up funny words like, ”poka and ”tanny” and then I repeat them exclaiming with surprise, and she laughs.

After that she was in a great mood. She happily got dressed and let me brush her hair with no need for any chasing! Then we went to the park. She played a game, where I pushed one of her babies down the slide, and she caught them. And then she left a baby at the bottom of the slide to catch her, and she went down herself!

With connection, laughter and tears, she could overcome the upset, that had happened when I couldn’t be completely there for her. If I had tried to distract or cheer her up, if I’d had said, you’re okay, said it’s just a bad dream and rushed to get on with the day, I might not have heard the story of why she was upset, or helped hwith her sense of disconnection and fears.

When our children get our connection, and can laugh with us, it might all end in tears, but that is natural. When our children can fully shed their sadness and fear, they get to that deeper happiness, that greater confidence beyond. And when that happens they don’t need to tell us anymore, through challenging behaviour just how bad they felt. All is well again. So don’t hold back on the laughter, because you’re getting nervous that tears might follow, just remember it’s all part of the natural cycle of human emotions. Just be sure to get some support for the challenging work we all do as parents, riding the storm of our children’s feelings!