The Real Reason Our Children Misbehave

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A few weeks ago my daughter had to go to the doctor to get a blood test. A receptionist came to hold her arm as the doctor took the blood. He kept telling my daughter how ‘good’ and ‘strong’ she was because she didn’t cry.

All the while I was looking at her face and seeing the fear, confusion and pain she was feeling. I knew that she wasn’t keeping quiet because she was ‘strong’ but because she was too scared to express herself. I also knew that those cries that we weren’t hearing in the doctor’s surgery were going to come out later.

A week or so passed and my daughter started randomly just coming up to me and pushing me. It happened a few times before I thought ”this is different.” She’s been through a few aggressive phases, which I’ve always been able to help her out of thanks to Hand in Hand Parenting. Where had this one come from?

Then one day we were playing doctor, and she started pinching me and telling me it wouldn’t hurt. Suddenly I realised where the pushing had come from. This was her way of telling me about the fear and upset she’d experienced in the doctor’s surgery.

In all the parenting information out there, we hear a lot about setting firm limits so our children learn right or wrong, about using time out, or teaching consequences. However as much as children need limits (set in a compassionate way) they also need us to look a little deeper at the real reasons behind their behaviour.

Thirty years ago Patty Wipfler, the founder of Hand in Hand parenting made a revolutionary discovery. Guess what? Our children are born, naturally good, loving and co-operative, they don’t want to hurt each other, fight or have trouble sharing. It’s just that sometimes their hurt feelings get in the way.

When children experience hurt or upset, they need to process the fear and helplessness they feel. They have a natural healing process for doing so. When children cry stress hormones are released through the tears. Laughter, and connection, also play an important part.

Nowadays Patty Wipfler’s discovery is supported by the latest brain science. When children get upset, or disconnected their limbic system – the emotional part of the brain senses an ’emotional emergency.’ In those moments the pre-frontal cortex – the part of the brain responsible for rational behaviour, and reasoning, just can’t function well.  In these emotional moments they lack the ability to control their behaviour. When children are upset they literally forget that it’s wrong to hit, or to snatch toys from another child.

This is the real reason behind children’s ‘misbehaviour.’ The hurt feelings that get in the way of their thinking. It’s why time out and giving consequences are ineffective because they don’t get to the root cause.

Toddler aggression, or sharing struggles are often thought of as being normal developmental phases that we can simply wait for our children to grow out of. However this actually does our children a great disservice. My daughter pushing me wasn’t simply ‘normal.’ It was part of her way of telling me, ”hey, I got hurt, and I’m not thinking well now. I need to tell you a story about what happened through play, and I need to laugh and cry with you to get it out of my system”

Think of all the times are children get persuaded or distracted out of their tears by well-meaning adults before they’ve finished crying. Think of all the little, and big moments in their lives where they got scared, or confused. Stress in pregnancy, a difficult birth, or just the everyday experiences of being in this world. For a baby even a stranger picking them up, or coming close while they are lying in pram can be frightening. All these experiences can gather up and manifest as behavioural difficulties.

So when we set limits with our children on their behaviour, lets do so gently and compassionately. We can be firm about keeping everyone safe so siblings or friends don’t get hurt. We can also understand the brain science of why our children can’t control their behaviour, but that we can do something to help them out of it. We can tell our children, ”I’m sorry you feel so bad. I can listen to you if you need to cry.”

Need more help with aggression? Check out Hand in Hand parenting’s online self study course No More Hitting.

Feeling and Thinking

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A few weeks ago my daughter R started at a German speaking forest playgroup. It’s a lovely group where they walk into the forest, build a fire, sing songs, and make crafts out of clay and natural materials. She looked happy setting off on the adventure for the first time without me, and returned happy and excited to see me again.

A few days later, my English friend told me she would be visiting the playgroup with her daughter K, (R’s best friend). They were thinking of starting in the next school year in August. A few days after that R said she didn’t want to go back to the playgroup. I wondered why as she’d seemed so happy with the whole experience. For a few days I talked about it with her from time to time, and she seemed adamant she didn’t want to go back, that she didn’t like the things they do there.

Although I was loving the time to myself, I didn’t want to go against my daughter’s wishes, so I sent a message to cancel her place. She had tried one forest playgroup before, that she hadn’t liked. It had been very different and much longer, but I became resigned to the fact that she just didn’t like forest playgroups!

I didn’t want to cancel the place entirely, as it really is a lovely group. So I asked R if she wanted to start in August instead when her friend K was starting, and she said yes. I then sent a message to the playgroup leader.

An hour later my daughter was swinging on the swing in our garden. I was pushing her really high, and she was having fun. Suddenly she said, ‘’I do want to go to the forest playgroup on Thursday!’’ I told her that I’d cancelled the place, that I wasn’t sure if she still could. She started to cry.

I’m so glad to have discovered the Parenting by Connection approach, and to know that when she does get upset, it’s a natural healing process, that releases stress and upset, and that it helps so much just to listen rather than fixing things immediately. So I hugged her and allowed her to finish crying, and said I was sorry I cancelled the place, I just thought she didn’t want to go. I didn’t rush off to sort out the issue immediately. In that moment I just concentrated on listening to her, as I felt that would help release whatever feelings were tied up in her indecisiveness about the playgroup. My mind was focused on listening rather than ‘’fixing’’ so it took me a few minutes to think about the fact that since I’d only just sent the message I could probably ask for the place back and it wouldn’t be too late, and Ruby was happy with that.

She finished crying, and as we walked back inside, she said to me, ‘’I think I should listen really carefully to what M says.’’ M is a German speaking girl she knows well from her dance class, and another playgroup they go to together. They seem to like each other a lot even though they can’t communicate verbally.

It always amazes me just how the brain works. That when we can release our emotions, in the natural process of crying, then we can often come up with new solutions to the problems we face. This was a perfect example of this. That the root of my daughter’s indecisiveness, was her feelings about being in an environment where she didn’t speak the language. The disapointment about the playgroup was like a trigger which seemed to release some of those feelings, so she could think more clearly and come up with a new plan – to listen carefully to her German friend, and start learning German.

Our children are amazing! They can often figure things out for themselves and come up with their own solutions, provided we are there, to help them through their emotional upsets.

After that my daughter was completely sure that she definitely wanted to go back. She enjoyed her second week at forest playgroup, and I’m so glad to have these tools, to help her overcome her anxieties, and worries, so that she can build confidence and resilience as she explores the big wide world.

Telling Your Life Story

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How we can overcome our present parenting challenges by telling stories about our past 

In Parenting by the Inside Out, Dan Siegal explains how the single most important factor that determines how well are children are attached to us, is our ability to tell a coherent life story of our own childhood. He explains the important fact that history does not have to repeat itself. No matter what challenges we experienced as a child, if we have made sense of our past, then it no longer comes to influence and dominate our present.

A coherent life story is one that is beyond simply labelling our childhood as ‘happy’ or ‘difficult,’ it is one that includes events and emotions, with an understanding of how both the positive and negative aspects of our childhood have formed us as adults, such as in this example (from this article by Siegal and Bryson)

 “My mother was always angry.  She loved us, there was never any doubt about that.  But her parents had really done a number on her.   Her dad worked all the time, and her mother was a closet alcoholic.  Mom was the oldest of six kids, so she always felt like she had to be perfect.  So she bottled everything up, and her emotions just boiled over anytime something went wrong.  My sisters and I usually took the brunt of it, sometimes even physically.  I worry that sometimes I let my kids get away with too much, and I think part of that is because I don’t want them to feel that pressure to be perfect.”

The good news is that history isn’t destined to repeat itself. If we can take some time to build a coherent narrative of our own childhood, we won’t pass down our emotional baggage to our own children.

If we take a look at any present difficulty in our parenting, we can almost always trace it’s roots back to our past, just as Patty Wipfler did in this story of how she began to form the Parenting by Connection approach. One important aspect of Parenting by Connection is the listening partnership, where two parents take time to talk and listen about how parenting is going. Since starting my first listening partnership when my daughter was 9 months old, I’m not sure how I’d live without them now! As we all know as parents, the tank of patience and energy to give our children is not infinite, but I’m always amazed how a few minutes of listening time can refuel me again.

A good way to start a new listening partnership is to tell your life story, following your mind’s stream of consciousness to talk about whatever emotions and events seem significant, stopping whenever you feel like laughing or crying, those places where we need some emotional healing.

I’ve recently started to tell my life story again, with a new listening partner, and it got me thinking, that our work of healing from the past is never over, that we can tell and retell our stories, using our present difficulties as keys, to unlock and release our past troubles. And each time we do we become a little bit lighter, a little more patient and present with our children.

Try taking turns to tell your life story with a friend, or find a listening partner through Hand in Hand parenting. Even better, Hand in Hand, have a new listening partnerships course, which explains all the nuts and bolts of how to make the most out of your listening partnership.

What’s behind the ‘I wants’

 

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Yesterday we went on a beautiful overnight trip to a lake here in Switzerland. As soon as we got there my two year old daughter was saying, ”I want be carried,” ”I want food,” ”I want a drink.” There seemed to be no end to her ‘wants,’, and they all seemed to come in a rush. How could she be hungry, I thought, we’d just had a big lunch. And as soon as she’d claimed she was hungry, she was onto the next want, her need for food seemingly forgotten. ”I want to go home” she demanded, which was impossible, as home was three train rides away, and it seemed a shame not to enjoy the beautiful sunny day.

Recently when we’ve been out and about she’s been asking to go home a lot. It started when we tried out a new playgroup, and although the experience was exciting for her. it seemed to leave her feeling overstimulated, and needing down time. I wondered if it was a feeling of disconnection that was causing this barrage of ‘wants,’ and that what she really needed was to process some of her emotions.

”I want to ride” my daughter said pointing at a carousel we passed by the lake side. I thought about it for a moment, remembering how much she loved the carousel at the autumn fair in Basel, and how she’d spent weeks in imaginative play afterwards at home, making rides for her dolls and teddys. I also knew that sometimes when we want to help our children with their feelings, especially at times of disconnection, that it’s good to say yes for a while. So I bought some tokens for the ride, and we had a great time together. After the first go she didn’t want to come off, and I knew that a tantrum was coming. But the ride was quite short, and I didn’t want to interrupt her fun so quickly so I let her stay on for another two rides. Then I realised that it was actually quite expensive, and it was really time to stop!

As I told her it was time to go, she was clinging tightly to the car she was sitting in. She started crying. I didn’t want to seem like I was angry, and dragging her away, and usually I would wait till she felt better before we moved, but I did need to prise her hands away in a hurry, as we had to jump off before the carousel started going again. She was crying, as I went to sit on a wall by the lake. She kept crying, as I gently explained why we had left. I gave her time to finish crying, to get all of her upset out. I knew that although she loved the ride and wanted to stay on, it was about more than that. She’s often very flexible, and can understand and accept when we need to go, or when we can’t do something. But this time it was also about the upset feelings she’d been carrying with her all week, that were making her feel like she desperately ‘wanted,’ and ‘needed’ something, when in actual fact what she really needed was some warmth and connection to release her feelings. After crying, her kind of desperate ‘I want’ attitude had completely disappeared. We spent a lovely time, paddling in a pool by the lakeside.

So if you find your patience being tried by constant demands, perhaps see if your child actually needs a bit of extra connection. Special time, or doing something our child loves together is a great way to rebuild our connection with our children when they’re upset, or have experienced a separation from us. And what often happens is that afterwards our children may start to cry. Patty Wipfler refers to this as the ‘spoiled outing’ phenomenon, that amidst all the love and connection, and togetherness our children might have a meltdown. It may seem like our children are ungrateful or greedy or just spoiling everything by letting their feelings spill out over a day that was meant to be fun. But we can look at in a different way, that they’re soaking up our love and attention, and they feel safe to tell us how they’re feeling. They may not tell us in words. They may tell us by crying when we say no to an ice cream or tell them it’s time to go home. But I hope you’ll remember the message of this blog, that crying is a healing process, that our children shed upsets, and stress from the not so special times through tears. If we can wait till the end of the tears, without distracting or interrupting our children, but instead giving them lots of closeness, and connection, then we may find that the day, far from being spoiled, is even brighter than before.

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.

Healing Aggression Through Laughter and Tears

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It was a shock when my one year old daughter learnt to bite me. She seemed to find it so amusing. I tried saying ‘ow’! loudly, or ignoring it, but that didn’t stop her. She’d often bite me when I was busy, and distracted, if I was holding her while trying to write an email, or in a rush trying to get ready to go out.

I knew through my understanding of Parenting by Connection, that biting is really a sign of fear. There was nothing intrinsically fearful about me paying attention to something else for a short moment, but somehow this small disconnection was triggering a bigger fear.

All children experience fear, from everyday situations such as falling over, or being separated from a parent for a short time. Then there are bigger more stressful events such as medical intervention, or a traumatic birth. Our children can recover from these stress or upsets, by crying, but they don’t always tell us about their fears in a straightforward way! When something stressful has happened they often need an extra big dose of connection with us, before they can release their feelings.

The biting wasn’t so bad, as usually I could deflect her teeth from chomping down on me. However one morning when I was busy getting ready she bit down on my arm and wouldn’t let go of me. We stared at each other like wild animals for about thirty seconds. I couldn’t do anything to make her let go!  For the first time I felt intense anger. I knew then that I needed to do something. So far it was only me that she bit, but I didn’t want her to start doing it to other children.

I decided to give my daughter some Special Time. This is when we listen to what our child wants to do, and follow their lead for a timed period. I had to ignore the thoughts in my head, that my daughter didn’t ‘deserve’ special time, and remember that was just me being triggered. I had to remember that the biting is a sign of fear. She didn’t mean to hurt me, she was trying to tell me how she was feeling in the only way she knew how. As I got down on the floor and began to play ball with her, I reflected upon what must have scared her. My pregnancy had been easy and straightforward. We had relatively stress free, happy lives. However her birth had been difficult. A long induction that ended in a vacuum extraction. I thought of the book, Birth without Violence, by Michel Odent, and felt so sad that she had experienced violence as such a tiny baby. I no longer felt angry, and began to cry suddenly feeling such empathy for her.

Later I experimented with using some playlistening to help her release some of the fear. When she tried to bite me, I would scream and try to crawl away. We had a few giggles as she chased me around the bed. I also gave her a pillow to bite which she enjoyed attacking! We had fun playing this game. My daughter seemed to enjoy the chance to play in a way we hadn’t before. To be given permission to express her power in play. It reminded me of the way kittens play, biting and scratching gently not wanting to cause pain, but just playing for fun. I began to understand that if I gave her opportunities to play in this way, then perhaps she wouldn’t feel the need to bite at other times.

My daughter would also scratch my face, particularly when she was tired. One afternoon when I was cradling her in my arms before sleep, she started scratching me. I moved her hands away and then began to initiate a game. I would say in a playful tone,

‘’you are my lovely sweet baby, so sweet and gentle,’’ and I would look into her eyes, and gently stroke her face or her foot. Then she would attack me with her arms grabbing or her legs kicking. I would respond by moving in close and giving her a hug to ‘protect’ myself. This elicited a lot of giggles. She really got into this game, and understood that my words and gentle stroking where a signal for her to attack! She was laughing much more than with our earlier playlistening games, and I could see her becoming more and more relaxed as we continued. She was peaceful and joyful. We were making a lot of eye contact. I felt like I had finally found the right game to help her release tension. It was a beautiful moment of connection where she could bring her up her aggressive feelings, and I could respond with affection and love. We finished the game and she fell asleep within seconds. That is a rarity!

The next day when we were getting ready to go out, my daughter bit me. I did not have time to play games, so without thinking I gently set a limit. I picked her up and told her ‘’please don’t bite me.’’ She started to cry, very suddenly and powerfully. I sat on the floor, as I cradled her in my arms. After that day my daughter stopped biting completely! I also began to see other signs, that she was discovering her natural confidence. Whereas before she would often be clingy and wanting to be picked up all the time, she now plays independently, at least some of the time. And I feel more at ease and accepting of what’s happened. Her birth may have not been what I wanted, but she can recover from this early trauma, using the natural healing process of laughter and tears. I’m letting go of my regrets about her birth because that was a time when I didn’t have many choices. As she grows up, I can make the choice of how I parent her, ensuring that she will grow up without violence, only love.

Need more help with aggression? Check out my 20 Fun Playlistening Games for Healing Aggression. Hand in Hand parenting also have an online self study course, No More Hitting.

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.

A Little Special Time in the Morning

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“She’s so clingy,” I found myself complaining about my one-year-old daughter. “I can’t get anything done!”

Almost all the mothers with babies of a similar age agree with me. We spend our days socializing in baby groups, or at other people’s houses, trying to avoid going back to our own homes. My baby seems fine when we are out and about, but turns into a koala whenever it’s just the two of us.

When I talk to parents of toddlers, and older children, I get worried that it’s not going to get any easier. Children of all ages need attention, and lots of it. It seems that no matter how much we give our children, they always want more. Their need for attention seems infinite!

From my Building Emotional Understanding Course, I learned that the clingy,
attention-seeking nature of our children is actually hard-wired into their brains. It makes biological sense that children evolved to make sure they were under an adults’ radar at all times, to protect them from wolves and other dangers in the wild. There may not be any wolves in our houses these days, but children’s brains are still the same.

According to Patty Wipfler, when children feel connected to their parents, they can be their naturally good selves, happy, relaxed, and eager to co-operate with us. However, their sense of connection is fragile, and is easily broken by something as simple as a parent giving attention to another sibling or getting distracted by a phone call. When children behave in “off track” ways, it’s a signal to us that they need some connection.

But giving children constant attention is impossible. Many of us work all day, and it’s not much easier for stay-at-home parents, who struggle to balance doing the cooking and housework with giving their children one-on-one attention.

Mornings were the worst time for me. I’d be struggling to get breakfast sorted, clean up the kitchen and get out of the house. As I rushed about, my daughter would start screaming for my attention, which stressed me out. As the screams escalated, I would feel more and more stressed, and she would get more and more frustrated. We were reacting to each other, so that by the time we left the house our sense of connection had been lost, and everything I tried to do just seemed to make her whine and complain.

After reading Julianne Idleman’s article ”Start School Days With Special Time” I decided to implement ten minutes of Special Time with my daughter every morning. I loved Julianne’s advice to, “Make sure everyone in the house knows they are loved and cared for, and welcomed into this new day, before any of the many mundane chores gobble up your attention.”

During Special Time I would get down the floor, and follow my daughter as she crawled about exploring. It seemed almost silly to be doing this, to just follow her, doing nothing but simply watching what she was doing. She barely looked at me, as if I wasn’t even there! But then I reminded myself that if I wasn’t with her, she’d be wanting to be picked up. She did feel my presence even if she wasn’t directly interacting with me. She enjoyed this time of exploration, safe in the knowledge that I was close by and giving her my complete attention.

What I noticed is that when Special Time was finished, she was often happy to continue playing even after I stopped to get on with other things. Because I’d invested time with her, she continued to feel a sense of connection, even when that time ended.

Now, whenever my daughter is in a particularly clingy mood, I give her some Special Time, and it often helps her to enjoy playing independently. Daniel Siegel, the co- author of Parenting From The Inside Out says that humans have oscillating needs for connection and solitude. When I have met my daughters need for connection she can confidently go off to explore her world, learning, in self-directed play. The practice of Special Time, together with the other Parenting by Connection listening tools, have helped me to help my daughter discover her independence. It is a joy to watch, and it’s great to get some time to clear up the house too!

Daniel Siegel says that our brains develop during interactions with others. We feel connected, and internalize a sense of the loved ones in our lives so that they are with us even when we separate from them. When we devote time to our children, it helps them to internalize a sense of having a loving safe base that makes them feel confident and secure even in our absence. This could be when we just need five minutes to go to the toilet, or so that children can cope with separations such as daycare or school. Ultimately, our children internalize the sense of feeling safe and connected to us, which means that when our children are grown and fly the nest, they will still feel us with them. I love this idea that when we connect and interact with our children, we are interweaving ourselves together so that we will never really be apart.

You can read more about how we can build secure attachments with our children in Parenting From The Inside Out 

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.

It’ll all end in tears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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