Special Time Solution For Screen Time

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Screen time is an ongoing dilemma in our family. How and when, and if to set limits. When to allow my daughter the freedom to explore and enjoy screens and everything they offer so that she feels that her own desires and choices are respected. How to manage my own fears and anxieties about screen time. (listening time helps with that!).

One thing I’ve realised is that I’m no expert when it comes to having a one-size fits all approach to how to deal with screens, I’m more likely decide moment by moment, how to handle the issue. It often depends on what my daughter’s done that day, if she seems disconnected, or has been acting off-track, then I usually try and offer some connection using one of the Hand in Hand parenting listening tools.

Today my daughter was watching her ipad, and I could feel myself getting into a kind of downward spiral in my mind. I felt upset that she was watching the screen, but after a late night watching the fireworks for new year, I didn’t feel like I had the energy to offer much in the way of connection.

Then I remembered the blog post I’d written the day before. 10 Ways To Use Special Time To Transform Your Day. It was time to take my own advice! I didn’t have much to offer in the way of energy, but I could spend 15 minutes of my time, knowing that the timer offered me an escape route so it didn’t seem too foreboding!

Often my daughter will turn off a screen if I offer special time, but not today. She was pretty tired as well. So I snuggled down next to her, and we watched her favourite you tube videos where a mum makes some Lego Friends sets.

As I watched the videos, talking about the sets with her, and seeing how they were built I realised the importance of not just using TV as an electronic babysitter, but also of going into our child’s world. The joy and interest they have in the programmes and videos they love is real. I think we create a disconnect when we try to always to get our kids off screens to do something else, they want to feel like we are their ally, on their side, and facilitating their interests. And as I stepped inside my daughter’s world, we could share connection, and I realised that perhaps the screens aren’t the real problem.

Perhaps the problem is that we were born into this world longing for a deep sense of connection that our parents weren’t always able to provide. Perhaps it’s that we are trying our hardest to parent, in busy, stressful times, when we have to juggle so much, paid work and housework, often without extended family near us. Perhaps it’s because it’s hard to meet our children’s deep, emotional needs, all of the time, because our needs weren’t always met when we were young.

We are doing our best to work it out, to heal our lives, and keep striving for connection with our children. We have some wonderful tools to help us to be the parents we want to be, even when times are hard.

So this New Year’s Day, give yourself a break and snuggle up in front of a screen, if that’s what’s going to work best for you and your family!

 

Remembering the language of children

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Yesterday morning we were due to leave the house and go to visit some friends. My daughter didn’t want to go and was quite adamant about it. I was surprised, as she normally loves visiting her friends, and enjoys going out. She’d had plenty of downtime at home this week, and I felt like we both needed to get out and be sociable. I was concerned that there were some upset feelings, making her feel like she didn’t want to leave the house. Should I listen to her, and just stay home like she appeared to want? I wasn’t sure I could face a long day at home without adult company!

I started explaining to her, explaining that we’d already said we would go, explaining that I didn’t want to let my friend down as she was cooking lunch for us, and explaining that needed to get out of the house. I started trying to persuade her to do the things she need to leave the house, like go to the toilet as she hadn’t gone all morning. No response.

Then I snapped out of lecture mode.  I held her hand and found myself leading her into the bedroom, saying in a mock serious voice, ‘we need to go to the toilet,” and then ”oh no that’s not the toilet!!’ She laughed. Then I would lead her to the sofa, and say the same thing, then to the balcony, a cupboard or outside. She laughed and laughed at my inability to find the toilet, and then when we went into the bathroom. she was happy to go. Five minutes later we were out of the house! She had a great time with her friends, with much laughter and giggling, as they all jumped on the beds together. By the end of the visit she was asking if she could stay there for a sleepover!

We adults can get serious sometimes. We have a lot of responsibility and weight on our shoulders. It can be hard to meet everyone’s needs at the same time. But when we can find the laughter, play, and connection, we can often find co-operation and a solution that works for everyone.

So if you find yourself slipping into lecture mode, just remember the language of children, and put on your clown hat instead!

Stop I need connection!

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My daughter has discovered the power of yelling ”stop!” whenever the grown-ups are talking. It started a few days ago, before we travelled back to the UK to spend time with family. Now there is a lot of grown-up conversation and sometimes it doesn’t involve her as much as she’d like.

This kind of behaviour can be really triggering for us, particularly when we’re in company. Our lovely, charming children, are suddenly being irritating, and we can begin to wonder what people will think of us, our children and our parenting!! It doesn’t help to use rational or reasoning, saying ”mummy will finish talking in a minute,” or ”I just need to finish explaining to Daddy this important thing blah blah blah”. When a child starts behaving in an off-track way, they are really signalling that they can’t think. That their pre-frontal cortex has gone off line, and they need us to engage with their ‘feeling’ limbic brain. They need to feel our love, and our warmth again.

We could try just telling them to stop themselves, that their behaviour is ”not acceptable” but this doesn’t work to deal with the feelings that cause the behaviour in the first place. Over time if we do this our children wind up feeling more disconnected, and behaving in a variety of more off-track ways, or their behaviour goes underground, they stop showing us or telling us how they feel, and they grow up distanced from us. If we can offer connection even when our child’s behaviour is challenging, then we maintain closeness with them.

Because of the way we were parented, we get irritated when our children ask for connection in these kinds of ways. After all, what would our parents have done if we started yelling ”stop!” in a public place like a restaurant? It takes a big leap to be able to give our children connection at all times, even when their behaviour really pushes our buttons.

Listening partnerships really help the most, or having a trusted friend that we can chat to about how embarrassed we were when our child started acting out in public. Having someone who can help us release tension so we don’t feel so irritated. It can also help to say some of the things we feel like saying at the moment to our child, but try not to! And to reflect back and tell the story of our childhood. What would have had happened to us, when we acted out in public? Telling our story to someone we trust allows us no longer be ‘living’ our story in the present, reducing our compulsion to act it out and repeat what happened to us with our own children.

Anyway, back to the dinner table. As my daughter was yelling stop. I had the idea to get under the table, and then to pop up either side of her and surprise her by making her laugh. It worked, she started giggling, and we got to have our conversation again. But I was a little more mindful now to include her, reminding myself that when our children behave in off-track ways, they’re not being ‘bad’ or ‘unreasonable.’ They are only asking for the connection they need to grow and thrive. And if we offer that connection as much as we can, even when it feels challenging, if we can let go of the voices in our head that might be telling us that our child just shouldn’t be behaving in this way, then they don’t need to challenge us with their behaviour.

Since this ”stop!!’ game has been happening a lot these past few days. I know I need to take make some effort, have a mini holiday ”connection plan”. As we visit relatives who give her attention, I’m also using the time to go and catch up on some work. But it’s a reminder that my daughter still needs connection with me. So starting today, I’ve decided to start the day with 5 minutes of special time. This is a great thing to do when we are travelling, because it can happen before we get busy doing activities and outings with the family. I love this anecdote written by a working mum about how just a short dose of special time can make a big difference. I’ll also try to do a longer special time later in the day, and have lots of playlistening as well. And most importantly I’ll make some time for some listening for myself! When I can clear our my old feelings of tiredness and irritation, I discover the spark of creativity that I need to enjoy play.

Listening Heals Connection to Dad, By Stephanie Parker

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Thanks to Stephanie Parker, Parenting by Connection Instructor in the UK for this guest post, about how the way we set limits with our children can be a wonderful way to heal connections.

When Innes was four she was going through a period of not connecting so well with her Dad. In the past they’d had a brilliant relationship but for a number of reasons it had not been that way for a while.

Innes enjoyed putting our cutlery on the table at breakfast time. However she always pulled out the camping spoon for Jim to eat his breakfast with. It wasn’t a particularly nice spoon but she was adamant that was the spoon Daddy was going to have. We always seemed to be in a rush in the morning so there was no time to set a limit and listen to her feelings.

After a few days I realised that I needed to do something about this as I could see how much tension Innes was carrying about it.

The next morning I made sure there was plenty of time to set a limit around it as we had breakfast slightly earlier. As usual Innes went to get the camping spoon out of the draw to give to daddy. I moved right in close to her and prevented her from picking this spoon up. I said ‘today we’re going to give daddy a different spoon, not this one’. ‘No’ she shouted ‘this is daddy’s spoon’. I continued to set the limit and repeat what I’d already said. It’s best to keep things simple here and not go into a big explanation as to why I wasn’t letting her give daddy this spoon.

Innes started to cry very loudly, she was also angry that I wouldn’t let her give daddy that spoon and kept running away from me into another room. I followed her as I want her to know I am there for her when she’s having strong feelings, I don’t want her to be on her own with them. I gently asked her to come and eat her breakfast but for a while she wouldn’t and kept crying and screaming at me.

She finally sat up at the table but tried to pull her chair right up to me and away from her Dad. I set another limit by stopping her from moving her chair and I gently said ‘we are going to leave your chair where it is’. She started to cry again and I listened and told her I loved her and daddy loves her and that she’s safe. After a few minutes of tears she ate her breakfast and then we had to leave for kindy.

When she got home from kindy she was in a very happy mood, much happier than she’d been in a while and she stayed like this for the next few days. She was also much more connected to her dad and they were back to their close and loving relationship. She didn’t try and give her dad the camping spoon again but happily gave him the same spoon as me.

Connect with Stephanie, on Facebook, or at on through her Hand in Hand Parenting.

Mine, Mine Mine! Fun Games to Encourage Sharing

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When my daughter Ruby was 22 months old, she learnt the word “mine” along with the concept that certain possessions belonged to different people. My husband and I found it quite amusing that she was suddenly exclaiming “mine!!” whenever we picked up something of hers. But then a friend with a daughter of a similar age came to visit. Previously Ruby had been happy to share her space and toys with others. But this visit was punctuated by her saying “mine mine!” whenever her little friend picked up one of her toys.

I’d always been so proud that Ruby had been able to share so well. What had changed? I wondered if it was my fault. I wasn’t sharing all my possessions with her. My mobile phone and computer were off limits. She had already broken my computer mouse, so I did need to set some limits to protect my possessions! But if I wasn’t being flexible with my ‘rules’ then how could I expect Ruby to share her most treasured possessions? I started to relax my rule about my mobile phone. I would let her play with it for a few short ‘special times.’ It turned out to be a lovely connected time, where I got to share her excitement, and surprise as she pressed the buttons and made things happen. We talked together about what the phone, smiling, and making lots of eye contact, so it wasn’t just about the phone, but about spending time together too. It’s not something I’d do every day, but I wanted to occasionally relax the rigid idea, that “this is mine, and that is yours.”

We also played a fun Playlistening game, where I would say in an inviting tone, “I’m just going to send a message on my phone,” and have the phone within grabbing reach of her. She would take it and I’d act all surprised, exclaiming “oh my phone!” She laughed a lot, really enjoying playing the powerful role of taking my possessions.

One evening I picked up one of Ruby’s teddy bears, and she immediately launched into “mine, mine!” “Whoops! Sorry,’’ I said, ‘’I thought it was mine.’’ She giggled as I handed the teddy bear back. We had started Playlistening again. I would take a teddy bear or doll, cradle it, and say ‘’oh my lovely baby.’’ She would exclaim ‘’mine!’’ I would apologise, as if I’d done it accidentally, and hand it back. She giggled and giggled and kept saying ‘da da’ which is her word for ‘again.’’ Once Playlistening gets initiated she often asks me to repeat the same things that make her laugh.

After dinner Ruby, her daddy and I would go to the local park to play on the grass. We love to do Playlistening outside, where we can freely avoid our household chores, and concentrate on having fun and connecting together! I would throw a cuddly toy in the air and we would all race off to get it. The finish was close, and Ruby would giggle a lot as she always managed to get the toy just in time.

All this laughter while playing the powerful role was helping her to release the tensions and fears that were coming up around sharing. She was having all this wonderful playtime, always getting the toys. I wondered if it would help her feel comfortable to share again.

The next day two of her little friends came round. Almost immediately one of the girls took Ruby’s buggy, Ruby erupted with “mine!’’ Oh no, I thought, the girl who loved to share is gone.

Of course the buggy was Ruby’s. I wanted to hear her feelings, but she hadn’t been playing with it at the time, so it seemed fair to let Julia continue playing with it. I gently told Ruby, ‘’Yes, it’s yours, but I think Julia would like to play with it for a bit.’’ Ruby seemed to understand that Julia was just borrowing it. And it turned out that Julia only wanted the buggy so Ruby took the baby out and played with it instead.

After that the three toddlers played happily all afternoon, sharing toys, and working things out for themselves so us mums were free to chat! Ruby was feeding the other girls cherries, and bringing them their water bottles. I was so happy to see her kind generous nature shining through again.

We often think it’s our job as parents to encourage sharing, to time turns, or give a toy to another child to stop a tantrum. This can be an exhausting task! There have been times when I’ve watched my daughter always want the toy that another child has, and if I constantly try to meet this need, it doesn’t seem to satisfy her. Often it’s not about the toy, it’s about the feelings that come up for a child when they see a kid having fun with a toy they don’t have. Maybe they think, ‘’if I had that toy I would feel better.’’

Our time and energy as parents is better spent listening. We can listen to the upset feelings, the tears and tantrums as another child plays with a toy. We can listen to the laughter, playing games to release the tension and fears that come up around sharing.

All our children love to share. When they are free of upset feelings they naturally want to get on well with others, and share the joy of their most treasured possessions. Taking the time to listen, connect, and play, helps to restore this natural state of co-operation and generosity.

What’s laughter got to do with it?

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I started this blog to share the message that listening to tears helps our children to fully express their feelings, so that they are free of the upsets that cause all those off-track kinds of behaviour, such as aggression, whining and all the other challenging behaviours we have to deal with as parents! But I should also mention laughter. Laughter is also part of the way we naturally release stress and tension from our bodies, and there are many physical and emotional health benefits too.

When my daughter was 16 months old, we had a busy time travelling back to the UK for Christmas. We ended up all being ill and the travel combined with the illness meant I didn’t spend much time connecting with her.

When we arrived back home she started fighting me over everything; getting dressed, nappy changing, and going in her buggy. I assumed it was because she was getting older, and I was nervous about how things would become more difficult and challenging as we neared the ‘terrible two’s.’

But I’d also learnt through Hand in Hand parenting, that ‘off-track’ behaviour is a sign that a child is feeling disconnected from us. it is their way of telling us, ‘’I need connection!’’ From this perspective our children are  naturally, good, loving and co-operative, it’s just that sometimes upset feelings, can get in the way of their feeling our warmth and love.

I knew that reconnecting with my daughter would help improve things, but I was still feeling exhausted and recovering from being ill. The first thing I did was call my listening partner. A listening partnership is a scheme where two parents exchange listening time with each other, without offering advice, telling their own stories, or trying to fix things. The idea is, that when someone truly listens to us in a warm and supportive way, without interrupting to ‘help,’ then we can release our negative feelings. Anger, stress, and exhaustion all evaporate when we can really talk to someone about how we are feeling. I’m always amazed that often just five or ten minutes of listening can restore my energy, enthusiasm, and patience for being with my daughter.

Now I was all set to try some playlistening. This is play where we take on a less powerful role, and try to get our children laughing (not the involuntary laughter of tickling). Laughter releases some of the stress, tension and frustration that can accumulate when children feel powerless. It’s ideal for dissolving toddler power struggles. Children often laugh when we try and fail to do the things they’re trying to learn, or when we make ‘mistakes.’

That morning while I was putting on my sock, I pretended to struggle with it, and then ‘pinged’ it across the room and acted surprised. My daughter laughed a lot at this so I repeated it. I kept struggling to put on various items of clothing and she kept laughing. Then I started to walk and fell over again and again over. My daughter found this hilarious. I tried to hang some washing up, and kept saying ‘’oh no!’’ as it repeatedly fell down. Then we were playing on my bed, and my daughter would laugh gleefully, as she threw some clothes off the bed, and I would keep trying to retrieve them, only to have her throw them off again. At naptime, I chased her around the house, and she kept laughing as she managed to ‘escape’ me!

Understanding what makes our children laugh is a hit and miss thing, and sometimes my attempts would fall flat, but I kept trying, using my intuition, to see what would work. We had a really laughter packed morning, as if we were making up for all the playlistening missed while we were on holiday. When she took her nap, she fell asleep much more easily than normal. I was also feeling much more relaxed.

After this morning my connection with my daughter was much better. She stopped fighting me about everyday things. She happily went in her buggy, and let me change her nappy without a fuss. This is something that’s happened many times, that what I think is her getting older, more difficult and ‘toddler-like’ is actually just a period of disconnection that we can overcome by using the Hand in Hand parenting tools. And I’m happy to say that the ‘terrible twos’ never did arrive! Instead thanks to Hand in Hand parenting, they are actually quite terrific!

Check out my Giggle Parenting Archives for laughter based solutions for all your family challenges. And if your struggling with something that’s not on the list, leave me a comment, or send me a message via this contact form and your challenge can be the subject of my next blog post!  

Are you looking for more playlistening inspiration? Playful Parenting By Dr. Lawrence Cohen, is packed full of playlistening ideas.