How Crying Builds Your Child’s Confidence


Did you know that crying is one of the ways your child builds their confidence? Often parenting advice centres around avoiding our children’s feelings, and stopping tantrums. With Hand in Hand parenting we teach parents how to listen to their children, so that they can grow and shine, and be their natural, confident selves. 

On Friday’s my daughter goes to a playgroup. As we live in Switzerland, the group is in Swiss German, although my daughter does have an English speaking friend there.

Recently she’s begun saying that she doesn’t want to go, even though she’s been happy there for over a year. I feel reluctant to force her to do something she doesn’t want to do. However when I ask if she wants to give up the playgroup completely she always says no, so I was pretty sure that the reluctance is more about fears and separation anxiety, than actually disliking it. I know she’s thinking a lot about starting Kindergarten in August which has increased her separation anxiety lately.

Yesterday her English speaking friend wasn’t able to go. As we walked up the hill to the playgroup she started complaining about how she didn’t want to go, and how tired she was I sensed that it wasn’t really she was tired, but that feelings were coming up about not having her friend there. So I set a limit, and told her that I was sure she could find the energy to scooter there.

She began crying, I kept walking, turning behind her and assuring her that she had the strength to catch me up. She cried for a while, and then was happy to keep scootering along.

When we got the playgroup, and it was the moment to separate from me, she started clinging to my leg. I unstuck myself, got down on her level, and told her that I was going to go. She started crying. We walked away from the other children and teachers for a while, and I listened to her. We went back and tried again. Still she was just staying stuck to me.

I knew she needed to have a big cry, to release whatever fears and anxieties were in the way of her enjoying the playgroup. But I wasn’t sure how to help her release those feelings. I also didn’t want to disturb the group.

In the end I could see no way out of the situation, so I decided that we would just go home. As we walked away my daughter started crying, and crying about how she did want to go! I listened to her until she had stopped crying. Then we went back over, and she chose one of the teacher’s to hold hands with. I left her happy and willing to give it a go.

When I came back later she was holding the hands of one of the other children. She had a big smile on her face. She told me she enjoyed it even more than when her friend was there! I think she actually liked the opportunity to connect with some of the Swiss kids as well, without her friend being there.

This is how listening can turn things around. If I’d have quickly left her, and rushed off while she was upset, she might have stopped crying, but she wouldn’t have got to release her feelings. She might not have been able to enjoy the playgroup with confidence if she was still feeling upset deep down. It was so much better to listen to those fears, and anxieties so that she could choose to go, without me forcing her, and have a good time.

When our children are faced with new situations they may feel stressed or nervous, particularly if it involves separation from us. Crying, and tantrumming are all part of our child’s natural stress-release mechanism for dealing with their feelings. When we listen without trying to stop or avoid their feelings, we can help our children to embrace life and live it to the full.

I like to give my daughter as much choice as I can in her life. I like to respect her thoughts, and ideas. When she initially told me she didn’t want to, we could of just turned around and go home. But I sensed that this wasn’t her deepest desire, or need. What she actually needed was for me to set a limit, to give her a chance to try.

When I’m due to give a workshop, , I often get incredibly nervous beforehand. All sorts of thoughts and feelings flood through my head. One time I sat on a train going to another city to give a workshop, and felt like I wanted nothing more than to get off at the next station, and head home! But actually, once I begin a workshop, and meet all the lovely parents, I end up having a great time and feel so fulfilled after sharing the amazing Hand in Hand parenting tools. I leave on a high, and immediately arrange another workshop, then as the time grows near the fears rise again! It has got easier with time though.

If I avoided giving workshops, because of my feelings, I wouldn’t get the chance t face my fears, and grow as a person. I know I need to do the same for my daughter.

It can be hard to give kids the push they need to embrace something that seems scary at first, but Hand in Hand parenting has taught me how to do it with love.

If you’d like to learn more about our approach to separation anxiety, check out my article 20 Playful Ways To Heal Separation Anxiety, or Hand in Hand parenting’s online Healing Separation Anxiety Course

Reader Question – Separation Anxiety

Dear Kate,
My little boy is 2 and every now and then decides that for 5 minutes he’s terrified of one of his loved ones. He can be excited for papa coming home then when papa walks in the door he runs away screaming in hysterical terror. Or be playing with my parents happily. Then suddenly refuse to even look at them and starts acting “scared.”
He can cry for me in the mornings then when I open the door flee bashing into walls and screaming in terror. He’s rarely out of my sight. I would never hurt him nor would anyone else. He’s been treated with nothing but love and has no reason to fear these people. He’s not shy by nature but very confident.
And 90% of the time adores his family. Then this. It’s hard not to be hurt. I don’t know why he does it or what to do. I’ve tried making a game but he gets more hysterical. Tried kissing it away but he needs space, and attacks me. It does pass after a few minutes but it’s not good for anyone while it lasts as he runs into things and could hurt himself. Any advice gratefully received, From ‘E’
Dear ‘E,’
thanks for your message. It sounds like your son is experiencing sudden bursts of separation anxiety. Often our children use normal, everyday safe situations, to ‘pin’ their fears on them, so they can have the chance to express and heal from them. It can seem strange to us when our child has a great relationship with their father/grandparents etc.
Separation anxiety is a normal part of all children’s development. It can also be related to
our child’s early life, and if they experienced any stress or difficulties.  For example stress in pregnancy, a difficult birth, or medical intervention that involved separating from the parents, even for a brief time can cause strong separation anxiety.
Hand in Hand parenting has five tools that can all be used to strengthen connection with our children and that can help reduce separation anxiety. Reading the Hand in Hand parenting booklet set, and putting all these tools into practise can really help.
As you noticed play in the moment of upset didn’t work. So I’d focus on staying with whatever emotion comes up for your son in that moment (rather than trying to shift away from that emotion). So if he’s crying or angry just try staying close, and listening to the upset. This can help your son to process the feelings behind his outbursts. This is the Hand in Hand parenting tool of staylistening.
Here is a story about when my husband came home from work, and my daughter was suddenly afraid of him. She was much younger than your son, but the listening principles are still the same.
At other times when your son is happy or fine, and in a playful mood you might want to try some of these playful games games to heal separation anxiety.
 You might also like to read this article Helping Children Conquer Their Fears.
I hope this helps. Feel free to get in touch, and let me know how it goes!
Would you like a Hand in Hand parenting solution for your family challenge? Leave me a comment or use the contact form here

Feeling and Thinking


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.

How Setting Limits Can Heal Separation Anxiety




Patty Wipfler says that setting limits can be like a gift to our children. Here’s one example of how the Hand in Hand Parenting approach to setting limits works.

I am a full time mum to my 2 year old daughter, but occasionally I have to go to an all day meeting for my freelance work as an editor. Yesterday was one of those days, and my friend would be babysitting her. She has a daughter the same age as mine and they are ‘best friends.’ Before the day I’d talked a lot with my daughter about how she was going to the zoo with our friends, to prepare her, and check in to see how she felt about the separation. She always had a big smile on her face when I talked about it. When we met my friend to drop her off my daughter was so excited, and when I strapped her into my friend’s car seat, and continued chatting for a bit, my daughter pushed me away and said ‘bye.’ It was clear she wanted met to go so she could start her adventure! I felt so relieved.

When I got home in the evening my daughter was happy and animated, telling me about everything they’d done. It was clear she’d had a great time.

Then she started asking if she could play with my mobile phone, which I’ve been letting her do recently for our special time. She seemed really desperate to have it, and often I notice this desperation, when it’s not really about the thing she wants, but the feelings behind it. I decided to set a limit, and told her that she couldn’t play with my phone now. I felt like we needed some time to reconnect free of technology! She started to cry, and my husband picked her up. She started saying she wanted the phone, but then as she continued crying, she said, ”I want my mummy.” It became clear the feelings weren’t really about  the phone, but I assumed because she’d missed me a bit in the day. I held her and gave her lots of hugs till she felt better.

Thanks to learning about the Hand in Hand listening tool of setting limits, I could see when I could say no to something, and it could be like a gift to her, helping us connect so she could show me how she really felt. It had been a great adventure for her to spend the day away from me, but I guess because it was something new and different she had mixed feelings about it too. We felt close and connected for the rest of the evening, and I spent lots of time, reading books, playing and laughing. This morning she was joking about mummy saying bye bye, so she could go off with her friend again!

I’m really grateful to have learnt the Hand in Hand parenting tools, to know that releasing feelings  is a natural part of helping our children grow in confidence so they can take little steps away from us as they grow older.

Here’s some tips for helping with separation anxiety.

  1. Prepare your child beforehand. Even if they’re young, talk about where you’re going and how long the separation will last. If it’s an unusual separation that doesn’t normally happen you might want to start talking to them a week or so in advance. Sometimes hearing about the separation might bring up strong feelings. Listen to your child – Hand in Hand calls this staylistening) to help them release their anxiety. This can help your child to feel confident about the separation by the time it comes around.
  2. Have a long goodbye. It’s common that if our child gets upset when we separate from them we may be encouraged to rush off, and hear from the caregiver that they stopped crying once we left, and were fine. However we may find, that our child continues to get upset when we leave, or shows other signs of separation anxiety such as clingyness. If we take the time to listen and have a long goodbye with our child, then they can fully release their feelings, about how it feels to separate from us. Once their mind is no longer clouded by feelings of upset, they can think clearly, be confident we will return, and feel okay with us leaving. You can read more about the long goodbye here.
  3. Be Prepared For Feelings When We Return. Even if our child was fine with us leaving, they may have some feelings of upset that come up when we return. As in my example above these feelings may be projected onto a ‘pretext’ that masks the real reason for the upset. If our child seems to have strong feelings about something small there may be a deeper reason for the upset, we can try to set limits, and listen to the feelings to help our child heal.

Separation anxiety can make us feel powerless or guilty. We often feel like we have two choices. Either we stay with our clingy child even though we desperately need some ‘me’ time.

Or we rush away , feeling bad about our child’s protests about our leaving.

With Hand in Hand Parenting there is a third way, with setting limits and listening to feelings, we can both be at peace with separation.

Learn more –You can download a free setting limits booklet, from Hand in Hand parenting. There are also online self-study courses on Setting limits and Say Goodbye To Separation Anxiety.

You can also check out the separation anxiety chapter in my book Tears Heal: How to listen to our children