Why Distracting Your Child From Having Tantrums Makes Parenting Harder

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It seems natural to use distraction as a form of tantrum management. When parents sense a storm brewing they may quickly try to cheer their toddler up by making a funny face, or pointing out something interesting, getting them a snack, or just about anything. And then breath a sigh of relief when the storm has passed.

Distraction comes as easily as breathing. We all do it, or have done it, including me!

Tantrums are one of the most challenging behaviours we have to face, so why would I suggest that it actually makes parenting harder to distract children from them?

Here’s why: when your child is on the brink of a tantrum, She’s not feeling good. She’s feeling a storm of unhappiness and stress and tension. To feel better your child actually needs to get the tantrum out. She needs to rage and storm, and cry, and move through anger, so that she can come back to feeling good, as nature intended – by actually having the tantrum.

When we distract or try to stop a tantrum that tantrum is still there, inside of your child. It’s going to come out sooner or later. It might come out in another tantrum, five minutes or five hours later. Those upset feelings might also come out indirectly through off-track behaviour -such as aggression, whining, moaning, and just about any other form of ‘misbehaviour’ is actually due to unexpressed feelings. Distracting tantrums appears to work on the surface, but overtime those feelings will manifest in other more challenging ways.

This information won’t come as news to you if you’re a regular reader of my blog, but as I still often see parenting experts misinforming parents and telling them to distract their children I felt the need to write about it again! Distraction may be a good emergency measure for weddings or funerals, but as a regular parenting technique it’s going to make your job much harder, and it will also effect your child’s wellbeing.

I think sometimes we think that since our little toddlers are crying about such small and inconsequential things, that their emotions are inconsequential too, and so we should avoid them. However that red cup they wanted instead of the blue cup feels enormous in their world at that moment, so we can empathise with them rather than avoid, and also acknowledge that their may be a deeper upset below the surface that they can’t articulate in words.

I really like this blog post from MindfulMummyMission, in which she describes how we can learn about Mindfulness from the Disney film Inside Out. One of the big messages of the film is to stay with the sadness, to feel it and let it go rather than avoid it and try to fix things. No matter how small our little ones are, they need to have their big emotions heard.

Parenting becomes easier when we take a mindful, listening approach to our children’s tantrums. When we sense a tantrum brewing, we can slow down, and connect, set limits if necessary, giving them eye-contact, and offering hugs. When we do so we give them the message that their feelings are allowed, that we welcome them.  Our child’s tantrum may go on for longer, because they sense that we are available to listen to them. But over time they will have less tantrums  because they get their feelings out.

If you’re dealing with any kind of behaviour challenges with your child, things will improve radically if you move from distracting tantrums to listening. A lot of the behaviours that we dismiss as being unavoidable issues for toddlerhood such as sharing struggles, aggression, night-waking or power struggles can all be dissolved with a listening approach.

It doesn’t take long to turn around your parenting approach from distraction to listening. Even I am always amazed and overjoyed when I hear stories like this one from Cherry at The Newby Tribe blog who describes how she now has a deeper connection with her son, (and less tantrums!) since reading my book Tears Heal and putting the ideas into practise.

As well as the benefits for us, there are of course a myriad of benefits for our children. They get to know their emotions, and how to process them instead of bottling them up. They build their emotional intelligence and have more empathy and understanding of other children’s emotional moments because they know what it’s like themselves. They grow up having deeper relationships, because they don’t run a mile from their own emotions or other people’s.

And they will be happier. Research shows how adults in therapy make better progress in their lives when they cry during therapy. Really what our children are trying to do is have little (or big!) therapy sessions so that they don’t grow up to be one of the 1-4 people who will have mental health difficulties in the adulthood. It’s a pretty smart move really to throw a tantrum, and all we need to do is stay and listen.

Having said all that, although listening to tantrums will make your parenting life easier, it can still be challenging! We didn’t have this kind of deep listening for our own feelings as children. That’s why as parents we need to find support for our own feelings. Read my blog post here about how we can catch up on our own tears from childhood so that parenting can be a healing path for ourselves and our children.

Life with Baby Kicks

The Parenting Revolution You Might Not Have Heard About

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I started this blog and wrote my book Tears Heal: How to listen to our children because I wanted to share the amazing life-changing information that crying is a healing process, that it is part of the natural  way we recover from stress and upset. And that when we can listen to our children’s tears, without trying to distract or stop them from expressing emotions, we can help them to heal the hurts that cause their ‘misbehaviour.’

I wanted to share that aggression, or whining, or sleep struggles, or having trouble sharing, are not an inevitable part of parenting young children, and that listening, play and connection, can allow them to be their natural, co-operative selves.

I wanted to share this message with as many parents as possible that because of our own childhood we have this unconscious urge to try and stop our children from crying, to distract or fix, because deep down, we aren’t comfortable with our children’s tears.

I wanted to share the amazing resources available from Hand in Hand parenting, for giving us the strength and patience to deal with our children’s emotional moments, and to grow and heal along with them too.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, then you probably do know about this parenting revolution.

A while back I read this fantastic article by Heidi Stevens, To Stop A Tantrum You Just Have To Go With It And then this week I read Dr. Shefali’s 3 Mistakes Every Parent Makes During A Meltdown, with wonderful advice, (even if it’s a slightly inaccurate title!) about how to stay present and calm in our child’s stormy moments.

These were both great articles, but they both came from the assumption that they were the first person to discover these ‘tantrum managing’ tricks. This vital parenting information is still relatively unknown. For example I noticed a blog about how to stop tantrums had been shared 75,000 times on Facebook.

We are in the minority of parents, but we are a strong minority  who are passionate about sharing what we’ve learnt, and changing the lives of not just our own children, but other children as well.

So I wanted to open up my blog to anyone else who would like to write about their journey to discover the healing power of tears.

I’m looking for stories from parents about how they first discovered that crying was a healing process. I’d love to hear about the thought process you went through, and how your parenting, your child’s behaviour, and your family life was transformed. I’d love to hear about the doubts and confusion you might have felt at first, about learning something that is completely different to the way our culture deals with children’s upsets. And I’d love to hear about how you build support for yourself to deal with your child’s challenging emotions, and behaviour.

I’m looking for anything between 400-1500 words. Here’s my story here .

Lets share our parenting revolution with the world!

And if you’d like to discover more about listening to tears and Hand in Hand parenting, here are few useful posts to get started.

Why this isn’t another article about how to stop tantrums

The secret to transforming tantrums

The secret weapon every parent needs to know about

Why This Isn’t Another Article About How To Stop Tantrums

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It is such a dangerous part of our culture, the fear of letting liquid loose from our eyes – Hollie McNish, Performance Poet

Recently I’ve been coming across a lot of articles online about how to stop tantrums. These articles are well-meaning but the information they are sharing is misguided in the least, and potentially harmful to your child. The ideas they share are simply a reflection of the ‘cultural blind spot’ we have around the real purpose of crying.

To explain why I need to tell you a story about when I was 25 years old. My parents separated after 30 years of marriage, and although you might think this wouldn’t effect an adult as much as a child, I felt like the very foundation my life was built upon had been shattered.

I felt angry, so angry that in a two-week stretch I wrote 90,000 words of anger onto my computer ( I looked back later with a clearer head, and none of those words could be rewritten into anything worthwhile). I was stuck in my feelings, and I was also exhausted. I became incredibly fatigued and spent 90% of my weekends in bed watching DVD’s

Then I started doing yoga. I got a trial 7 day pass to a yoga studio and one day I tried out yin yoga. This is a slow gentle form of yoga where you spend a long time in each post, getting into the fascia of the body, where all our emotions are stored. Shortly after trying yin yoga my anger transformed into sadness. I started to cry. My entire writing style changed into something much more gentle. I stopped circling around in the same angry thoughts and began to get some clarity about my life. That’s when I started healing. I started to get more energy again, and my life changed. As I incorporated a new awareness of who I was things were much brighter than before my parents had separated.

It took me till the age of 25 to relearn this natural healing process that we are all born with; the ability to simply be with our emotions, to cry, and let them go. Crying is good for us. Through crying our body releases stress hormones, and makes antibodies, and endorphins. Crying actually plays a vital role in boosting the immune system, as well as our general physical health and emotional wellbeing.

Yesterday my daughter and I were leaving the house, and I asked her what she wanted and she said, ‘’anything.’’ So I packed an apple in my bag, and as we walked out the door, I told her I brought her an apple. She immediately started crying. One minute she was crying because the snack was meant to be a surprise, the next she was crying because an apple wasn’t enough.

I could of immediately ‘fixed’ things and rushed back up the stairs to get her another snack, but I sensed that her upset wasn’t really about the apple. She had been grumpy for the previous thirty minutes and I had sensed a storm brewing.

Instead I listened to her emphasising, and cuddling, and saying that we couldn’t go back and get anything else. After a few minutes those grumpy, underlying feelings were gone, and she was in a fantastic mood.

If I had avoided the meltdown, I might have been side-stepping her anger all day. Instead a bad mood was over in a matter of minutes.

Almost all of us start off thinking that stopping crying and tantrums (even when our child has no particular need) is for the best. It seems like the most natural thing in the world to do.

But what appears like nature is as actually a result of our own past experience. When we were children few of us had parents who could deal with our deep feelings, and when we cried they may have distracted us, or stopped us somehow, using gentle or not-so-gentle means.

When we grow up, until we examine our own response to crying we tend to react in a similar way to our own parents. So even if we choose to parent in a more peaceful way, we assume that crying is something we need to stop as quickly as possible.

Our thinking gets confused and we think that stopping meltdowns is ‘cheering’ our children up when in actual fact we’re encouraging them to bury their emotions. Stopping meltdowns can mean our children start to ‘tell’ us about their feelings through challenging behaviour, and parenting becomes much harder than it needs to be.

Funnily enough, our children never asked us to stop their tantrums. They are actually perfectly ‘happy’ to have them because it’s a healthy emotional release, and they are simply following their natural instinct to cry and get it out so they will feel better (and behave better) after having got to the end of a tantrum.

Stopping tantrums is all about us. It’s about the struggle we have with dealing with strong emotions, because our own strong emotions were never heard. When our children cry it triggers all our unconscious memories of how our parents reacted to meltdowns.

Instead of focusing on avoiding or stopping tantrums, we actually need to focus on how we can get ourselves into shape for the challenging emotional work of listening. Rather than trying to make our children cry less, we actually need to cry more. That’s at the heart of bringing up children who don’t need to recover from their childhoods.

My daughter’s life is pretty much therapy on tap. Play therapy, laughter therapy, and crying therapy. Although I’m not a therapist, so I don’t call it therapy, but it serves the exact same purpose and it is completely free.

This is emotional work, but it’s what I’m willing to do, because it means that at least most of the time, my daughter is absolutely a complete delight to be around. Also, because I don’t try to stop my daughter from crying, she tends to have most of her meltdowns at home, when she senses I’m most available to listen.

Hand in Hand parenting is all about supporting parents to do this challenging emotional work, and one of the most powerful ways we can do this, is by listening to each other, by creating the safety and space we need for our own emotions. Then we discover our true nature, and our ability to listen to our children’s tears.

Try This: Find a friend who’s a good listener and agree to exchange 10 minutes each talking and listening about how you feel when your toddler throws a tantrum. Vent and have a good moan. Reflect on what happened to you when you were a child and got upset.
Notice: Does this listening process effect how you react to your child’s next meltdown?

Further reading on handling tantrums and how to start a listening partnership with another parent.  Free ‘Secret To Transforming Tantrums’ E-Book
Listening Partnerships: The Secret Weapon Every Parent Needs To Know About 

Would you like to get started with Hand in Hand parenting? Here’s more info about the Parenting by Connection Starter Class

The Pramshed

10 Ways To Use Special Time To Transform Your Day

 

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

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

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

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

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

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

One Single Step To Transforming Parenting

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There’s a lot of information out there about parenting. Thousands of books, TV programs, and now with the internet, there are websites, forums, blogs with new posts, and new information flooding our lives everyday. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, it’s easy to get confused, and it’s easy to miss a pearl of wisdom that could completely transform the lives of our children, ourselves, and the communities that we are part of.

When I became a mother, I was sure I wanted to be an attachment parent. Breastfeeding, co-sleeping and carrying my daughter in a sling, seemed like the obvious way I could ensure that we would have a strong connection, not just through her childhood, but to teenage years and to adulthood beyond. I naturally fell into feeding my daughter to sleep, feeding her all the time. Breastfeeding seemed to be like a miracle cure for everything so some attachment parents would tell me, if they fall down and hurt themselves just breastfeed them, if they wake in the night just breastfeed them.

But the thing was, my daughter didn’t actually want to breastfeed when she fell over, much as I tried, or on the plane when we landing and the air pressure was bothering her. At these times. She just wanted to cry. Loudly and freely, she wanted me to hold her as she expressed her feelings. And the other thing was that I felt a strange tension between us, sometimes when I was breastfeeding her, if this was helping her get to sleep, then why was I just counting the minutes, and why was she wriggling her body around as if filled with tension? It didn’t seem very relaxing at all for either of us.

Then there was a fact that the books I’d read about attachment parenting, all emphasised attachment as a sense of physical proximity, using a criteria that it wasn’t always possible to match. Breastfeeding, babywearing, and co-sleeping just don’t work out for everyone, including me. There had to be a something else, a deeper understanding or our emotional connection to our children.

After about nine months, I did began to emerge from the fog of becoming a new mother, and to figure out how my own parenting instincts aligned with a book I’d read before my daughter was born that explained about the healing power of tears. Could it be true? Could it be that our role as parents wasn’t always just to stop our children from crying, to fix, or talk a lot to reason the out of our feelings? Could it be that if breastfeeding had become a habit that was stopping her from expressing herself?

I knew from my own experience just how good crying could be. There had been a long period of my life when I had felt really, really angry, and it was only when I started to access the softer feelings beneath the anger, that I was able to finally to be sad, to cry, and finally heal and move on. If this was the path to emotional well-being, that I didn’t want to stop my daughter from crying, I wanted to figure out how to listen.

When I saw the benefits of listening to my daughter’s feelings, as a baby, and then beyond into toddler tantrums, when I started getting listened to as a parent, I realised just how big this pearl of wisdom can be. When my daughter was stressed, and tense her sleep was bad, her behaviour challenging. When I began to address the times she had feelings to release instead of an actual need, things became a lot better. There were less tense and edgy moments between us, less power struggles. I realised that she wasn’t hungry just before bed, and when she woke up crying, even at a year old, it wasn’t because she was starving, it was because while sleeping, feelings had risen to the surface, that she wanted to tell me about, without words.

This single step simply means to listen and offer warmth and connection even in our child’s most challenging moments, isn’t about permitting all behaviour, it’s about allowing all feelings. And when children are fully listened to, a lot of their challenging behaviour melts away.

It’s also about being listened to ourselves, to make up the shortfall between the childhood that we had, and the one we want to give our children. Our parents did the very best they could, but we don’t live in a culture that fully supports the expression of feelings. Things are changing though.

I’m glad that this pearl of wisdom is being discovered, that more and more families, are recovering this lost art of listening to feelings. It’s part of our instinct as humans, to fully feel, and to fully move through our feelings, to come out the other side into a brighter world.

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!