When your child doesn’t want to do special time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cry It Out Debate Has Ended: Here’s Why

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This week I came across a debate on facebook about ‘cry it out’. Someone had posted this article,  in which one mum honestly describes her version of cry-it-out and why she did it. The mum also questions some of the research about cry-it-out, because they have an obviously anti-cry-it-out bias, and that articles presenting the science don’t talk about the studies’ limitations.

I’m not writing this post to assess the validity of the research. But I always feel a little sad and frustrated by the fact that we are still having a debate about whether cry-it-out is okay.

See, what the majority of parents don’t know is that the cry-it-out debate has ended. It actually ended over 30 years ago when psychologist Aletha Solter, and parent educator Patty Wipfler started sharing about the importance of listening to tears.

What they found, and what thousands of parents have since found is that babies cry for two reasons; one to get their needs met and also to release stress and upset. The stress hormone cortisol is released through tears. When a baby cries for a need we should of course meet that need as quickly as possible, but when they cry to heal and recover from stress and upset, we shouldn’t try to stop those tears. Dr. Deborah Macnamara says it best, ”crying is not the hurt, but the process of becoming unhurt.” If all our baby’s needs are met, and we are sure they are in good health, and not in pain, then we don’t need to do anything to ‘fix’ the crying, we can simply listen. When we go through this process of listening, holding our babies and staying close, then they  naturally sleep well.

This week a parent asked me if there was any science to show that babies who are listened to sleep better. There isn’t any direct science. And for good reason. Until recently the healing power of tears has been almost hidden in our society. When we were young there was almost no awareness of it at all. And so when we cried, our parents had no idea that there were times we simply needed to be listened to. We would have been rocked or ‘shhhed’ or bounced, or fed when we weren’t hungry, or pretty much anything our parents could think to do to stop the crying.

Our entire society is built upon not listening to feelings. The message to just stop the crying is deeply ingrained in every parent, and it takes a lot of self-awareness to begin to see it. That’s why scientists haven’t yet researched what happens when we listen to tears in babies. Until now the message has only been heard on the periphery of our society.

And this is why we are still stuck in a debate about cry-it-out. Society as a whole has been missing this vital piece of information that babies need to cry in the loving arms of a caregiver to sleep well. We have been trying to get our children to sleep by going against their nature to cry to heal. It’s no wonder that so many of us have struggled!

It’s testament to how distorted our society’s attitude to feelings is that leaving a baby alone to cry-it-out is considered a necessary option, because the idea of staying with a baby’s feelings, is not.

It was really hard for me to process this information when I first heard it. Was it really okay just to stay listen to my daughter cry without doing anything to stop the tears? It took me a long time to untangle my natural instinct to love and nurture my daughter from my ‘instinct’ to stop her from crying, when she didn’t have a need. Each step of the way I talked, and read and thought about what I was doing, so I was sure I was making the right choice.

The reason it’s hard to listen to tears is because it activates our own memories of hurt from our childhood. Memories, often unconscious of how our parents didn’t want to listen, they just wanted to stop us from expressing how we felt.

Through Hand in Hand Parenting, I’ve heard so many stories from parents who have helped their baby’s and children sleep better by listening to tears, play, connection, and giggles. Listening really does work.

We need to move on from the debate about ‘cry-it-out,’ and instead focus on listening. We need to tell our own childhood stories, and heal from them, so that we can then look honestly at our own reactions and impulses to stop tears. Not only will we as a society then have more sleep, we’ll be an emotionally healthier society too.

Further Resources

My story of how I helped my daughter sleep through the night

The Hand in Hand Parenting website has articles and anecdotes about helping with sleep.

Hand in Hand Parenting’s online self-study course, Helping Young Children Sleep.

My book Tears Heal How to listen to our children : has everything you need to know about listening to tears, and it includes a chapter on sleep.

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Giggle Parenting For Whining And Screaming

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Does the sound of your child’s whining and screaming drive you crazy? Here’s how Giggle Parenting can help.

The main guiding principle of Hand in Hand Parenting is that when our children behave in off-track ways it’s because they are feeling disconnected and have upset feelings. When children need to re-connect with us they tend to ask in all sorts of ‘crazy’ ways because when they don’t feel good the part of the brain responsible for rational, reasonable behaviour isn’t functioning well.

When a child is whining and screaming we are often more likely to want to run away and shove our head under a pillow than connect with them, but here’s a fun game that will have you running towards your child for playful closeness, and it will help diffuse the behaviour too.

When your child starts complaining or screaming, or making any irritating sounds to express disconnection run towards them as quick as you can and give them what we call a vigorous snuggle, (you can read more about it here). Tell them in a playful, warm tone, exactly how you feel about the sound, ”Oh my you’re driving me crazy! I need to stop those scream with kisses,” etc. Nuzzle and snuggle your child, in a playful (not overpowering way) and soon all those whines and screams will be giggled away.

After that walk away. Your child will probably enjoy the game and repeat the behaviour. Or you can invite them to play again by saying as if thinking out loud, ”I’m so glad that screaming has stopped. Now I can have a peaceful time.” Then when they start up again you can exclaim, ”oh no! Not again!” And run back over and snuggle with them, again. The benefit is that you get to release your tension and frustration by expressing how you feel, but in a playful, warm way that actually increases connection between the two of you.

After playing this fun game your child gets to release the stress and tension that caused their behaviour so it’s less likely to happen in the future.

If screaming and whining are still making you stressed check out my article Screaming For Connection to learn how listening time can help, or read What’s The Cure For Children Whining? 

For more Giggle parenting solutions check out my archives here. Have you got a challenge you’d like a Giggle Parenting solution for? Leave me a comment or send me a message via facebook

The Art Of Listening Tip 2: Don’t Fix

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Imagine you are in conversation with a friend. She’s been telling you about how she’s had cold symptoms for a month, and can’t seem to shift them. Perhaps you tell her she should go to the doctor, and get some antibiotics. Or you mention a really amazing natural remedy of fresh ginger, turmeric and black pepper that will shift it within hours (I have tried it and it’s pretty good ;).

That is fixing. And we all do it. We want to help our friends and share what’s worked for us. And that’s fine. There’s a time and a place for sharing advice and good information in our regular everyday conversations.

But when we do listening time as part of our Hand in Hand Parenting practise, we refrain from trying to fix our partner’s situation. We keep our good advice to ourselves.

Here’s why. We don’t just try to fix because of good intentions. We also try to fix because of our unconscious urge to try and stop people from expressing emotions. We’ve all grown up in a culture where expression of emotion is not completely acceptable. When we were children our parents often tried to stop our tears by ‘fixing’ our problems, not understanding that listening to our tears was often part of the solution.

When we leap in with a solution to somebody’s problems it’s often because we are unconsciously repeating the way we were treated in our childhood. We want to stop the expression of feeling by offering our solutions, because we are uncomfortable with their emotions.

The trouble with fixing, is that often what makes a problem hard is a person’s emotional reaction to it. Say a parent can’t figure out how to get their son to sleep at night. It’s not just a matter of telling that parent what kind of routine worked for you. There may be deep-seated reasons why this particular parent is struggling with bedtime. Perhaps they were left frequently left alone to cry it out as a baby or toddler, and this emotional hurt is clouding their vision when it comes to helping their own child.

That parent needs much more than a practical solution. They need someone to listen to help them heal the hurt that is clouding their thinking . The science behind it is that when our own childhood feelings get triggered our limbic system  gets flooded and we experience an ’emotional emergency.’ When this happens our pre-frontal cortex can’t function well which makes logical thought, and decision making hard. If someone steps in and offers advice it can be hard to take it when we can’t think straight. And since everyone’s life is different. What works for one person may not work for another.

A far more effective approach is to simply listen to that person. To allow them to follow the natural flow of their own words and feelings, so that they can release their upset, and think clearly again. After that they’ll often be able to figure out what to do and fix the situation themselves. Or they’ll go searching for some useful information that might help. We are the best experts on our own lives.

So that’s why we don’t fix in listening time.  We can also employ the technique of simply listening in conversations too. Next time someone is chatting to you and mentions a problem, notice how quickly possible solutions jump into your head. How easy is it refrain from saying them? Like everyone else I do find myself with the strong urge to ‘fix’ my friend’s problems, but I also try to listen too. I had the idea the other day that it might be good to employ a 80/20 principle to our everyday conversations, listening for 80% of the time, and sharing good information 20% of the time. It’s not easy, but it has many benefits. Our friendships will deepen when we can stay present to people’s emotions.

Discover more about the art of listening in Hand in Hand parenting’s Building A Listening Partnership course. 


 

The Art Of Listening : Tip 1 – ‘oops!’

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This is the first of a new series of posts I’ll be sharing of tips on the art of listening. And this time it’s not about listening to our children, but listening to each other.

There’s one thing that makes Hand in Hand Parenting different to almost every other parenting approach out there, and it’s that we have a tool that is specifically designed to support parents, and it’s called listening time.

We use listening time because one of the reasons parenting is so hard is because of our own emotions. Listening time offers us a safe space to release our emotions so they don’t get in the way of us being the parent we want to be.

Before utilising these tips you’ll need to learn the basics of how listening time works, if you don’t know already. You can read my intro here, and if the idea appeals to you can learn more by reading Listen: By Patty Wipfler and Tosha Schore, or my book Tears Heal. Hand in Hand Parenting also has a online self study course Building A Listening Partnership so you can really dive deep into all the skills you need to listen. You can also join the Hand in Hand Parent support group on facebook to find a listening partner.

Once you’ve got a regular listening partnership going you’ll be ready for some tips to hone your skills.

Here’s my first tip. I call it ‘oops!’ 

Say your partner is talking about something they feel embarrassed or ashamed about. Perhaps they shouted at their child, or said something to a friend that was misconstrued as being rude or insensitive. You’ll notice as they talk that they feel stuck in those uncomfortable feelings, and as the listener you can shine a light on their inner goodness and offer them a way out.  You know that they are doing their best as a friend/parent, and that they didn’t mean to hurt or offend anyone.

One way to do this, is to give them the direction to make light of their mistake. You can model for them a light, playful tone as you say ”oops! I just shouted at my child again,” and encourage them to repeat the sentence. Often even just the thought of saying those words may have them laughing away their shame and embarrassment.

Often that sense of shame and guilt that they have done something wrong comes from early childhood experiences. When we made mistakes as children parents would often punish us, and lecture us, and make us feel ashamed or guilty. There was little understanding that we made mistakes, when we were disconnected or were experiencing upset feelings. We carry this parental voice inside our minds so when we make mistakes as adults we end up beating ourselves up about them, instead of compassionately forgiving ourselves.

As a listener you can offer the compassion your partner needs to remember that they are good and release any feelings they have to the contrary. You can use the ‘oops’ direction as long as the laughter flows. You might also want to ask your partner if they’d like to talk about earlier experiences when they felt a similar kind of shame or embarrassment.

As you try out this direction, and the others I’ll be sharing in future posts, it’s important to remember not to use them automatically like a reflex, but to try to use your intuition, about what works and doesn’t work for your listening partner. You might find that for one person saying ‘oops’ will help them laugh away their troubles in fits of hysterics, but another person may be more on the edge of tears and not in the mood for laughter. Try it and if it doesn’t help your partner release their feelings, just keep listening, and allowing them to let their own natural healing process unfold.

I hope this post helps you develop your listening skills. And if you’d like to read more in this series just sign up to follow my blog at the top right hand corner of my blog. You might also like to check out my article, 10 Tips For Being A Good Listener. And if you’ve got any questions or comments about listening feel free to leave them below!

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

Giggle Parenting For Thumb Sucking

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Thumb sucking or using a dummy (pacifier) is a common aspect of child behaviour, and it can seem completely natural for a child to stick their thumb in their mouth, or use a dummy for a substitute. However thumb sucking is usually a sign that your child has some stored feelings that they haven’t expressed, so a listening approach can be really effective.

In Patty Wipfler’s article, ‘no more thumb, no more pacifier‘ she says, With knots of uncomfortable feelings rankling on the inside, their eyes glaze over, and they stop exploring their world… With their thumb or pacifier engaged, they mark time, waiting passively for something to change. A child’s mind is on idle while she sucks her thumb or pacifier. Doctors become concerned about thumb sucking because it can alter the structure of the child’s mouth over time. And pacifiers have been linked to ear infections by some studies. But I think the best reason to decide to help a child with a habit of thumb sucking or pacifier use is to help her regain her enthusiasm for life.

Here’s a giggle parenting game to help.

My daughter initiates lots of games where we roleplay with baby hands and mummy hands. So one day when she was sucking her thumb, I exclaimed in the voice of one of the mummy hands, ”Baby handy! Baby handy! A giant is eating your thumb, quick let me rescue you.”

Then one of the mummy hands would gently pull the baby hand out of her mouth. The mummy hand would say, ”phew! I saved you!” I would repeat this game, making a big deal out of saving the baby hand from the giant. Sometimes one of the mummy hands would very gently tug at her nose or chin. Then the other mummy hand would say, ”hang on mummy handy, that’s not the right, that’s not baby handy!” One time the mummy handy pulled off one of my daughter’s socks instead of pulling the baby hand out of her mouth. My daughter laughed and laughed at these mistakes, and pretty soon voluntarily took her thumb out of her mouth.

So if you’re concerned about thumb sucking, check out Patty Wipfler’s article, and try some giggle parenting. No lectures about teeth or dentists required!

Find our more about Giggle Parenting in my introductory post here

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 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.