10 Ways That Laughter Can Transform Your Day

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In our lives with a young child there may be many challenging moments, that make us feel stressed out, serious and frustrated, getting locked in a power struggle with our kids. A lot of these occur when we want our child to do something that they don’t want to do. The more we try to force the issue the more our child resists.

Hand in Hand parenting, is all about redistributing the power balance, being flexible with our kids, and then seeing their own flexibility and natural co-operation shining through.

Playlistening is what we call it, when we put ourselves in the less powerful role, to get the giggles going. Laughter releases the tension our child feels and builds connection between ourselves and our child. After a bit of laughter our child is often much more likely to co-operate with us. It’s a powerful effective way to get out of a power struggle and on with the day.

Here are ten awkward moments where laughter can save the day. Repeat as necessary until the giggles (or you!) are exhausted.

  1. Getting Dressed – If you’re toddler’s refusing to get dressed it can leave you feeling irritated and impatient, but luckily there’s plenty of fuel for giggles in the dressing process. Try putting on a ‘serious,’ voice and say, ”come on now lets put these trousers on’ and end up putting them on their arms. Put their socks on their hands, or their pants on their head. Put their cardigan on back to front, or their feet in the arm holes. Children absolutely love it when we make mistakes. It helps to build their confidence when they can be the competent one, telling us that we are getting it all wrong. And then they’ll be sure to tell us the right way to put on their clothes, and maybe even co-operate!
  2. Brushing Hair – When my daughter refused to let me brush her hair she would instantly change her mind if a teddy or doll wanted to do it. Somehow the teddy was always much more gentle than me, and never accidentally pulled too hard. If a bit of laughter is needed try brushing your child’s hair with other household objects like a spoon or a sock, and then exclaim, ”Oh dear! That’s not a hairbrush, I keep getting it wrong.”
  3. Getting Out of The House – Grab a teddy or doll, and try to put your child’s coat and shoes on. Take them to do the door, and say ”come on (child’s name) it’s time to go,” then suddenly realise your mistake, and exclaim, ‘oh dear, that’s not the right person! Let me try again.”
  4. During Mealtimes – Toddler’s can be fussy, and often their fears and anxieties can be projected onto food. Put yourself in the less powerful role, by being playfully afraid of your food. Pick up a fork of food, scrunch up your nose and ”oooh I don’t know what this strange food is.” Or try picking food up with your fork, and keep dropping it by ‘mistake.’ Or try feeding your ears or nose, and then exclaim with mock frustration that you keep getting it wrong. After a few giggles your toddler may forget all about being cautious and get on with the meal.
  5. If your toddler is having trouble sharing – then grab an object and say invitingly, this is my car/doll/toy, and I don’t want anyone to take it off me. Let your child creep up to you, grab the object and run away. Chase them but always let them win, so they are the powerful role. Repeat with another object or the same one if they put it down. This and similar games help your child to release competitive feelings and be more generous with friends.
  6. When your toddler’s being clingy – Say, ”oh there’s a baby stuck to me, how did she get there? ” Try to unstick yourself but always let them win. As you shower them in playful affection, they can release their clingyness with giggles.
  7. If your toddler is aggressive – then turn the tables around, and let them fight you. Playfully catch their kicks, or punches, have a pillow fight, or try some roughousing which has been shown to reduce aggression in children. Giving children an outlet for their feelings in play with you, means they don’t need to bring them up with other children.
  8. When your toddler is whiny or moaning, or complaining abut being bored – Have a clothes fight! Grab some clothes, and divide family members into teams. Have one team on a bed trying to throw clothes onto the floor, and another team on the floor trying to throw the clothes onto the bed. This is a great mood shifter. Let the fun and giggles commence!
  9. Cleaning Teeth – Pretend to clean your kids ears, or nose, and keep exclaiming that you are getting it wrong. Or try to brush your kid’s teeth and end up with a flying toothbrush that keeps landing in surprising places like the bath, sink, or even another room instead of your child’s mouth.
  10. Bedtime – When there’s still time to play in the evening, put your child into their bed, and then say invitingly, ”I hope you don’t get out of bed ” and leave the door open, as you leave. Let them run out of the room and appear. Act all surprised and then say, ”oh dear, I better get you back to bed again.” Repeat until any excess energy or tension has disappeared, and your child is happy to go to sleep for real. Laughter induces melatonin the sleep hormone, so this is the perfect way to end the day.

I hope this list makes your day go more smoothly. Are there any other scenarios that you’d like a ‘laughter cure’ for? Leave me a comment, and I’ll try to think up some games!

For more info about the Hand in Hand approach to aggression check out their online self-study course, Help Your Child With Aggression

Diary of an imperfect mum

10 Ways To Use Special Time To Transform Your Day

 

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Special time is a simple yet powerful tool that can transform family life. Simply tell your child they have 10-15 minutes to do whatever they like with you there to shower them with warmth love and attention.

Set a timer so you and your child has a clear idea of how long it will last. Don’t skip this step! There’s something magical that happens when we put the timer on, and set the intention to really give our child our complete  attention. No mobile phone checking or dinner preparing allowed!

Here are ten ways that you can use short bursts of special time to transform your day, and make things go more smoothly. Even 5-10 minutes can make a difference.

  1. First thing in the morning – If we have to rush out of the house to go to daycare and school then our focus can be on results rather than connection. But before trying to persuade our child to get dressed, brush hair and clean teeth, it can be really powerful to start the day on their terms instead. Connection builds co-operation with our children. It’s been scientifically proven. So if we spend 5-10 minutes doing special time, we’ll often find that it’s an investment of time that makes our kids more likely to co-operate when we tell them to get dressed etc. I love this story of how just 5 minutes can make a difference.
  2. Before doing household chores – When we do special time with our children something magical happens. They begin to internalise that close connection with us, so that after special time is finished they’ll be more likely to be happy to continue to play independently while we get on with a bit of cooking and tidying up. You can read more in  this story. This isn’t 100% guaranteed to happen all of the time. Sometimes our kids might be upset that special time has finished. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After soaking up our warm attention often children’s feelings of upset bubble up to the surface, and crying can be a healing process to let them go so they feel better connected to us. Staylistening through the upset can help us stay calm until we get to the other side.
  3. Coming home at the end of the day After a busy day out of the house, whether or not that involves being separated from us, our children may hunger for some warm 1-1 time with us. Special time can act as a bridge between the outside world and home life, helping our child to relax, and get connected to us again.
  4. When your child is whiney, moany or acting off-track – The brain science behind children’s ‘misbehaviour’ points to the fact that they don’t want to act in ways that drive us crazy. It’s just that when children feel disconnected from us, they literally can’t think. The emotional part of their brain, the limbic system senses a kind of ’emotional emergency’ so the pre-frontal cortex – the part of the brain responsible for rationalising and reasoning can’t function well. When children act off-track it’s like they’re sending a red flag saying, ”hey I can’t think I need some connection!” Giving special time during these moments is the ultimate unconditional connection, so our children know we will be there for them no matter how off-track they are. They can soak up our connection, and that along with the other Hand in Hand parenting listening tools is how their behaviour gets back on track.
  5. When you are feeling slightly off-track If you are not having a good day, and are feeling a bit low yourself, but still have a bit of attention to give, then special time can help the parent too! Just like our children long for deep, quality attention with us, we also of course long for those deep, connections with our children. It’s just that sometimes our own responsibilities, and stress can make it hard to give. If we take a leap, and offer a short 1o minute special time, then we get to soak up that warm sense of connection too. If even a short special time feels like too much, then we have a tool that can help!
  6. Before a playdate or when company are coming over Does your child have trouble sharing when their friends come over? Or do they struggle to let you have an adult conversation when extended family or your friends are round? Special time can help to give your child the warm sense of connection they need to be able to share you with others. Also when children are well-connected they can think well, they’ll be more likely to be able to share their toys naturally without us having to persuade them to do so.
  7. Before bed – Children experience sleep as a separation, and often it’s late at night that feelings bubble up that they need our help to deal with. Adding 5 or 10 minutes of special time to our evening routine can be really helpful for children who take a long time to fall asleep, or wake in the night. They internalise a close connection with us, so don’t wake in the night feeling disconnected and needing us.
  8. When you need your child to do something and they aren’t co-operating – If you need to leave the house, or brush your child’s hair and they just aren’t co-operating then special time can help you both take a breather from a frustrating power struggle. After a short special time, they may be feeling more connected and be more able to co-operate with you.
  9. If your child has been watching TV or using electronics – Sometimes the lure of a screen can make our children feel disconnected from us. They don’t seem to ask or need our connection as much while they’re having screen time, but later they may need an extra dose of connection with us. If I’m worried my daughter’s been glued to the screen a lot. I’ll offer her special time, and she often prefers this to TV! I just need enough energy myself to be able to give attention rather than rely on an ‘electronic babysitter.’ Listening time is essential!
  10. If you need to go out – So if you’re lucky enough to have the time and energy for a date night, or night out with friends, then special time can be the perfect way to say goodbye. A 5-10 minute dose of quality attention, can help your child to internalise that deep sense of connection with you, so even if you’re away for an evening or a night, they feel safe and secure.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of ways to make special time a part of your daily life.  Feel free to comment if you have any stories or questions. I’d love to hear how you get on with this wonderful tool!

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

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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