Emotional release feels good – to kids, too.

The other day I was driving and the memory of a dear friend of ours who passed away some years ago, just before our wedding in fact, popped into my head. Perhaps I never grieved his passing properly as I had so much going on at the time. I really wanted to cry, to get the emotion all out and ‘get over it’ once and for all, but I could not because I was driving.

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Once, when I was a waitress at a casino (long story), I dropped a tray full of glasses and they broke. This was before the casino was open and my colleagues rushed around me to help tidy up. I burst into tears. My friend said ‘but they are only glasses’. The tears gushed forward. It was NOT about the glasses. That was just the last straw. All that stress and pent-up emotion I had been carrying around the last few days, was finally bursting out. I picked up the glasses but let the crying flow on. It seemed to be what I needed at the time.

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Very often I have had the experience that I feel so much better after sharing. Having someone you can just let it all out with and really vent about what is going on in your life, knowing they create a safe listening space, don’t judge and don’t take things personally (or try and make it about them or whatever). Sometimes you just need to tell someone how you feel for it to shift. 

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Crying childToday, I listened to my child cry for over twenty minutes. I was there, right up close to her, holding her at times, touching her at other times, engaging in eye contact whenever that felt right to her. She cried until she cried herself to sleep in my arms.

I would not have done this some time ago. I would have done what most parents do and tried hard to distract her (“look at the doggy”; “do you want a cookie?”) or tried to fix it (“is it because you are scared of the noise?”) or plain placate her (“there, there, you can have that toy and that one, too, if you want” – okay that is too far, but you get the picture). This time, I just stayed firm and weathered the storm with her, peacefully, lovingly.

This is NOT an easy option. It is hard emotional work for her and for me, as her ‘listening partner’. I am doing it because I have come to a place of understanding that for children (as well as for adults) the road to emotional health and wellbeing comes through full expression of our feelings. Whenever we do not allow ourselves to fully accept, express and release whatever emotions come up for us, they stay within us, lingering, festering, clogging us up.

Sometimes the difficulty lies in admitting we could have these feelings in the first place. ‘I shouldn’t be upset about something so little’ or ‘only a petty person would still be angry about that!’  – we judge ourselves and think we should be above these base feelings. But we are human. Feelings come whether we want them or not. Then our only choice is how to deal with them. Many of us (consciously or more often unconsciously) distract ourselves with other thoughts or by staying busy and/or we stuff the emotions down with food, alcohol or narcotics. Anything to stop us from admitting we feel things we ‘shouldn’t’ or don’t want to feel.

These emotions, packed down like this, continue to affect us and come out in strange ways, everything from passive-aggressive comments, defensiveness, a chip on our shoulder and the like to actual physical ailments said to be caused by ‘stress’; not to mention a difficulty in attracting and maintaining happy, stable, mutually supportive relationships, on all levels. Whenever we move to honestly look at and ex-press (literally: ‘push out’) our feelings we feel lighter, happier within ourselves, stronger and more capable of moving forward.

I have known this for myself for years. It is only slowly dawning on me that this could be the case for the little ones in our lives, too.

We are often so afraid of children’s emotions that we move Heaven and Earth to stop them coming up, but who is this helping? And are we doing this because it serves them or because these strong, passionate, free-flowing shows of emotion make us feel uncomfortable? Or even because they make us feel inadequate as parents – ‘if they are crying it must be because I did or failed to do something’, ‘there is an un-met need I did not attend to… what is it?!’, ‘I am just not good enough’…? Or perhaps we just fear judgement and what others will think of us if they see our child crying or raging in a public place. And these are all understandable fears but should we let them guide our behaviour toward these innocent beings we love so much?

I am lucky. As a mama-blogger and living among this powerful community of natural mammas in Northern California I have learned so much. Through many different channels, I keep coming across this idea that there is another way to approach and support a crying, distressed child. Time outs are not for me. I have read too much Alfie Kohn (or should I say ‘enough’) to  know that if I respond to my heart’s desire of hugging my child at her hour of need (rather than outcasting her) this is actually the best and most effective thing I could do, as shown by research. [I don’t mean being soft or permissive. I am actually quite assertive on many levels with her. My ‘no’ means ‘no’ but when she is sad or mad about it, I don’t punish her for it. That is a whole other huge topic though and much has been blogged about it, so let me stay on track here.]

Anyway, one of the main ‘authorities’ I kept being pointed to in this field is called Patty Wipfler and she is the leading light at an organisation called Hand in Hand Parenting, here in Palo Alto, CA. Here is the thing though. I kept hearing about her. Lawrence Cohen who wrote Playful Parenting (a book I LOVE) recommends this organisation. This is an internationally famous book, what are the odds that he would recommend a center just down the road from me?! And that is not all, my online blogger-friend and inspiration Genevieve  co-founder of the Peaceful Parent Institute also talked of the amazing teaching from this school called Hand in Hand Parenting. She is based in New Zealand. That was that, I thought: ‘I have to go check these people out’. So I signed up for one of their courses.

Given the international exposure this place has obviously got, I expected the workshop to be in a shining, modern room filled with eager parents. Nope. There were three of us on this course, in a dingy room in a local church. Hey, I am not complaining, it was very cosy and family-like, rather than big and corporate (which is what I expected). It was run by Todd Erickson who has trained with Patty.


Image by World of Oddy via Flickr

The mini-course was called ‘Tantrum Training’ and though I joked a lot about the fact that they were going to teach me how to shout ‘noooo!’ at the top of my lungs and stamp my feet with aplomb, it was actually freakin’ fabulous!

Their work is all about what I was talking about, above. It is about meeting and honouring the child’s emotions, rather than trying to repress, suppress or otherwise distract from what is going on, inside them. As one participant said, allowing her kid to work on and release his emotions, now, was helping him not accumulate baggage to carry around with him, later – hahaha. Loved that one.

Hand in Hand’s approach, in a way, brings together many practices I have been gathering from many sources over the years (some way before being a parent). NinjaDad said theirs was like the SmartPhone of parenting philosophies. Old phones just made calls. New phones unite phone, camera, games console, video recorder, computer, etc… lots of things you love all in one place. Hand in Hand Parenting did that for me: it brought together lots of disparate ideas and practices and organised them neatly into one system AND added in some new components that made the whole run better. Perhaps it is apt that they are just down the road from Apple :)

A quick summary of their teaching (as I understand it) goes like this: set aside some ‘Special Time’ to connect through play with your child each day and build a strong bond with them – that is the ‘prevention side’ (and they have specific advice, tips and guidelines for doing that); if/when a strong emotion arises for your kid, don’t move to distract or otherwise suppress the emotion coming up. Let the feeling come and be expressed fully. Know that the tears, the raging, the trembling are just the way to ex-press (push out) the feeling that is trapped and welling inside them. The crying, the tantrum is not the ‘problem’ but your child’s way of solving the problem and letting the hurt and frustration out!

This is genius stuff and so different from what we are taught and see modelled in the world most of the time. And the most important thing is: it works!

Yes, it is hard to see your child cry and ‘do’ nothing but actually you are doing a lot. The advice we are given by Hand in Hand, when the child starts to tantrum, cry or rage, is to move in closer, touch them in some way that feels natural and comfortable to you both (i.e. don’t force it) and engage in eye contact (or at least provide opportunity for them to see the love you have for them pouring from your eyes, when/if they are ready to look at you) and stay with them as they feel it all out. You can literally say to them ‘I am staying with you, I am not going anywhere’ along with other short (non-intrusive) support statements like ‘I know you are feeling sad’ or ‘you are very mad that you can’t play with your trucks anymore because it is raining’ (or whatever). But mostly you just stay with them, holding the space for them to express anything that they feel.

If you go back to my initial examples from my life, you’ll know there are times I wish I could have done that for myself and times I am grateful others were there holding a non-judgemental space for me when I cried or just talked about how big my feelings were getting about whatever little thing sparked it that day.

And here is the thing, with this new approach to my child’s upsets came huge relief for me. You might think this is ‘harder’ than distracting and in a way, it is (as I said). It is deeper work. It involves pure, unconditional listening, empathy, caring and emotional availability. But in other ways, once I got past some of the objections in my mind (like: ‘isn’t this just like ‘cry it out re-packaged for more sensitive hippies?’ or ‘will all this crying damage my child?’ or even ‘will letting her tantrum openly this much make her spoilt and soft?’), once I got past those though, this felt lighter to me. This act of stepping toward rather than away from my child’s pain felt empowering to me, too, as a mother. Before, each time she cried I felt a stab of helplessness followed by a flurry of activity to try and stop that noise. Now, the invitation is to stay calm and centered as I invite her into my certainty that all is well, even as the tears, the feelings are flowing. And with this she can follow her own instinctive pull to express her feelings in the most natural ways that come to her, until all of them are spent.

And, as I said, the beautiful gift is that it works. Anya woke up from the nap she fell into, between tears, and despite my fear that she might be withdrawn, brooding or angry at me, her mood was happy, trusting, playful. And in general, since starting this work on a more systematic basis, she has been calmer, more at ease and more confident. Even her dad commented on it. I am new at this, but she really seems MUCH less anxious about separating from me, too, which is huge and I am (despite continuing to find my own individual path through this teaching) seeing more and more ways this is bringing us closer together and helping her release a back-log of fears, anxieties and upsets. Bless this system and others like it, for helping us parents find new ways to dance to rhythm of our own hearts.

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Sources of further information:

  1. The Right Use of Will – this is an… uh… unusual book I read a while back. But I have got to tell you it changed me and it introduced me to what I still think is the best method for identifying and releasing pent up feelings. If you can embrace the hippy in you, suspend your disbelief and read this with an open mind, it might really speak to you. It did to me.
  2. Hand in Hand Parenting – online courses (for those of you not based in the Bay Area)
  3. Hand in Hand Parenting Blog – full of fabulous real life stories of how connecting through ‘Special Time’ and deep listening (what Patty Wipfler calls ‘StayListening’) are benefitting the families using these powerful tools for whole-family-emotional-intelligence
  4. Aletha Solter and the Aware Parenting Institute – Aletha Solter is a world-renowned author and teacher in the area of effective, gentle parenting. Her website (linked her) has a wealth of articles and resources to help us learning parents
  5. Playful Parenting– information on Lawrence Cohen, PhD’s brilliant books and lecture series
  6. BabyCalmer – a facebook community of like-minded parents
  7. The Way of the Peaceful Parent – the facebook page of an inspiring gentle parenting instructor, full of wisdom and practical advice

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Do you do this for your child – practice what Patty Wipfler calls ‘StayListening’ or what, Aletha Solter calls ‘crying in arms’? How does it work for your family? Are you seeing the ‘results’ – a happier, more connected child that expresses their feelings easily, often, fully?


38 thoughts on “Emotional release feels good – to kids, too.

  1. Thanks for the link! It really does feel good to express tough feelings and share experiences – for adults and kids alike. I am a big fan of Hand in Hand Parenting as well, and often point other parents interested in learning more about gentle discipline towards their articles.

  2. What about when my natural instinct IS to outcast? When I’m sick of another outburst about a little thing, and my shoulders are trying to crawl in my ears from so much loud crying and screaming and flailing? How do I deal with her needs AND mine?

    • Then perhaps it is you that is in need of a ‘good listening to’ and a hug! I forgot to say but the third pillar of the Hand in Hand approach is to ensure we set up regular, emotionally safe and completely non-judgemental listening ‘partnerships’ for parents, too. If stuff is getting to you (which it does to all of us, at times, right?) then perhaps it is you who is carrying a load of emotions that have not been fully released. Does this resonate with you?

      Actually, look into that book, ‘the Right Use of Will’ if it peeks your curiosity. It actually teaches ways to release your feelings that do not need a listening partner. It helps to have one, but you don’t need one. You can express your feelings fully (to the point of feeling light, strong and with your response-ability restored) on your own. Classic ways include shouting and letting all the sounds out of your body (have you ever tried that? it is amazing!). You literally open your mouth and see what sounds (no words) want to come out and keep going until nothing else wants to come. It can get quite gutural, primal (somewhat like birth grunts, indeed). Obviously you need to do it somewhere where no-one can hear you. I used to go shout on a pier by the sea when I was younger. A friend of mine goes on the motorway on his own with the widowns rolled up so he could scream his heart out. Many do it into a pillow, when all else fails. You can also try punching a pillow or perhaps just letting yourself have a good cry.

      You could, if you want to go that way, try therapy… but it might not be about setting something so formal up. And for the record I am definitely NOT saying that you are nuts or that there is anything wrong with you. We ALL need our feelings to be listened to, and sometimes as moms it is hard to build-in the time. A regular support group or therapy session does the trick for some people, though. Physical exercise (aerobics, boxing?) does it for others – and can be a great way to let out pent-up frustration and rage (hey parenting is HARD).

      You could also try journalling or, as the ‘Right Use of Will’ says you can talk out all your feelings, OUT-LOUD alone, in a room where you know you won’t be interrupted. Sounds weird, right? Well, yes it feels a little weird to begin with – but if you follow their formulae (which I feel might be too much to go into here, which is why I recommend you look at the book, if you are interested) it really, really helps – a lot! Quite incredible.

      Anyway, I suspect this is not what you had in mind when you asked the question. What can you do in the heat of the moment, if your instinct is to ‘outcast’? Well, there are times when giving yourself a time-out is totally appropriate and helpful. I don’t believe in time-outs for kids as they create disconnection but with adults it is something different. If you need to cool off for a moment, do it, walk away, do a one/five-minute-meditation or visualisation (floating in the caribbean works for me :) or whatever it is that helps you come back to your Zen. You need to know yourself. If you are in danger of ‘erupting’, then, yes go cool off. At the same time that same truth stands, it is not about walking away from strong feelings (in this case yours) but about stepping toward them, acknowledging they are there and finding ways to express them fully in a safe, non-aggressive way so you can move on, unencumbered by them; so you can encouter your kids again, afresh responding to what comes up in the minute, rather than a back-log of hurts, disappointments and anger. You deserve to be ’emotionally free’, too!

      Thank you so much for your question as I think it helps us get to another very important point – we need to take care of our own emotional needs, as mothers/fathers/carers, too. Honouring our feelings, desires and needs is as essential to family health and balance as honouring those of our kids.

      Do come back and connect with us (here or on facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Loving-Earth-Mama/208544985825038) for that dose of connecting with like-minded community, which is just so healing, too. Ask, share, comment… And do check out the Hand in Hand courses – including the online ones,if you are not local :)

      I hope this opens the way for your own insights into what is needed here for you and/or for family wellbeing :D Hugs,

  3. Thank you for this thoughtful reply.

    With a long history of journaling, prayer, several years of good therapy (pre-baby, though), and recent habits of exercise including more contemplative / releasing types like yoga and Pilates, I think I’ve got some good overall tools for my emotional health. Thanks for the additional suggestions.

    I am severely lacking in solid, available, local friendships. (Husband is nice in general, and good in serious need, but not much help in ordinary stress.) Can’t seem to make any headway there… am currently looking into maybe volunteering somewhere, or better yet, finding a decent choir to join or something along those lines.

    Daughter’s outbursts are usually instant and short-lived but chronically recurring. It’s much easier to deal kindly and respectfully with both of us when there’s a more — serious? legitimate? substantial? none seems quite the right word — upset.

    But these yucky faces, yucky tone of voice, physical lashings out — when it’s so short, so repetitive but with space between, like a sort of pulse — it’s much harder to make sense of taking time out for myself, and it’s much harder to find peace again. Her feelings seem to burst and ebb pretty freely, but when she does this yucky stuff many times a day several days in a row, I get to the point where it is harder to let go of it quickly. My fed-up-ness, my hurt and anger, burst bigger than any one of these little triggers merits.

    It’s rather like a silly conditioning experiment — find me anyone who wouldn’t get sensitized if every time, or even half the time, they reached for the treat they got a shock. The effect of the little triggers is cumulative.

    I want to take her emotions seriously and respectfully, and give her room for them, even for expressing them, and yet at the same time I would really like her to be a lot slower to get upset about things, and I would really like her to direct her upset somewhere other than at me. And I would like to be better able to digest and shed my own reactions a little faster, to let things roll off more and not stick so much — is it even possible to get to a point where each new yucky thing is not one in a long cumulative list but its own small thing?

    I don’t want her to be afraid of me or take responsibility for my feelings, but it seems she will someday need to understand that her behavior does have an influence or effect on other people, and so she’ll need to judge when her need is sufficient to risk negative effects on others, and when she can safely redirect, postpone, or otherwise deal with her stuff away from others. Likewise I don’t want her to think that I only like her when she’s cheerful.

    It helps — and doesn’t help — to know that she is nearly angelic at school. So she has the impulse control to an extent… whether I am more “safe” or more triggering than her teachers — or both — I’m not sure.

    I don’t want her to be afraid of me or take responsibility for my feelings, but it seems she will someday need to understand that her behavior does have an influence or effect on other people, and so she’ll need to judge when her need is sufficient to risk negative effects on others, and when she can safely redirect, postpone, or otherwise deal with her stuff away from others. Likewise I don’t want her to think that I only like her when she’s cheerful.

    • Okay, I love that you journal already – that makes you one of ‘my people’ and I know I can use this kind of language and approach, easily and without explanation. Cool. You’ve already done the therapy thing so you know some of how/if that works for you. You do Yoga and Pilates so you know how the body stores emotion on the one hand and how excercising the body can help release tension from the mind and feeling-field, too. And, perhaps most importantly, you are at ease with prayer. That tells me a lot. Personally, I don’t care if people call it prayer or not but having some kind of practice or even a connection that links them to something bigger than themselves (or even the vastness inside of ourselves) is the most vital thing of all.

      I also hear you on the ‘hubby as support system’. We marry these men that (in most cases, hopefully) we fell in love with. We loved them for their humour or their physical prowess (???) or their fascinating minds or their ambition or… rarely do we marry them because they are good housekeepers and incredible therapists to us. It is just this crazy disconnected society when so many of us are sooooo in need of a stronger social support group that we suddenly turn to our husbands to be it all. I have written elsewhere [http://www.alternative-mama.com/new-generation-fathers-co-parent-from-the-heart/] about the fact that in this post-feminist era it seems to me that it is the men that are expected to be and do it all – and this is an impossible task for them to live up to. My point is, let’s enjoy the things we love about our husband and then go out and cultivate other friendships that reach the emotional spots he cannot. Most men are not built as ‘listeners’ anyway, are they? It is not their natural niche (thinking very ‘Men are from Mars…’ here). But it sounds like you have more than identified this already and have started putting in place a plan to get yourself some more, real-life listeners and that is kind of awesome. Self-empowerment is the best (and possibly only) way to really move ourselves forward in life, right? That and luck or the grace of God or the helping hand of a guiding Universe, whatever you want to call it. But it all starts with this: intention. Getting clear about what you want, asking for it (prayer) and then going out and doing the work is a ‘magic’ formula.

      Oh, I have some great books on that, actually. One is Kryon. Have you heard of ‘him’? Check it out if you are ready for some more way-out help. It has some pretty awesome insights to share. https://www.kryon.com/k_16.html This book tells this fab allegory about, essentially, the fact that the pathway gets easier when you get into the flow of what you are ‘meant to do’. It talks about ‘partnering with God’, trusting your higher-self has the road map and knows where you need to go – you need to trust its direction and timing – even when you think/see it is leading you into a bog. Maybe that really is the fastest path to where you need to go, maybe it is the *only* path to where you need to go. It (your intuition/your soul/your higher Self…?) has the big picture. Trust. But sorry, this is a tangent… Happy to talk more about this later, if you want.

      Anyway, yes, as well as ‘real life’ listeners, we can also build (in this modern world) online support groups which can give us a lot of the empathy, validation, belonging that we need in those moments we are feeling ‘different’, alone, disconnected. Most of us still need real life
      friends and supporters, too, of course, but it can be part of a tapestry of connections we have in the world. I have a couple of friends that I have an ongoing conversation with on facebook (private message). We used to live together, sharing a house and now we have all moved and actually live on three different continents. Our online convo is like a cross-continent self-help support group and 24hr message board where we can talk about anything. I couldn’t recommend this kind of open-letter-exchange more. I love it and it is a great place to experiment with new ideas, sound out some of the more crazy-ones, get inspiration, support, cheer-leading and just like-minded safe forum to bring up anything you need to voice.

      Obviously, I get a lot from blogging, too. Talking to other moms (many of them bloggers themselves, like you) has been one of the most rewarding parts of this process, for sure. I mean, first it was just about getting stuff out of my head and onto a screen, a kind of public (self) therapy. Now, it is about an on-going dialogue with a growing number of enligthening, insightful mothers. I am so thankful for this (… topical as today is Thanksgiving :)

      So, well, I am NOT a counsellor. I am talking here as one mom to another. [My background: I do have many years of studying (and some of practicing) healing and flower essence therapy among other things. I have studied psychology but am not a psychologist. And frankly I am pretty new to motherhood, too although am an old-hat at ‘spirituality’, for better or for worse]

      So here, finally, are my two (amateur) cents:

      “Daughter’s outbursts are usually instant and short-lived but chronically recurring.” I am not there and can’t see them. I hear you and feel from you how hard this has been on you. I can only imagine.

      When my daughter was little she cried a lot – A LOT. I remember weaving similar metaphors to yours about being subjected to loud, unpleasant noises at all hours of night and day – and what that did to your sanity… not good things in my case :p I feel for you.

      How old is your daughter now, I am wondering? Is this a toddler-thing? Toddlers are known for their moods and their budding ‘assertiveness’ as they try to figure out when they can push and when they *have* to yield, etc. These are trying times. Or is she older? You mention ‘school’ so I wasn’t sure if she is over 5.

      I think the underlying emotional truths are the same, no matter what but some of the triggers and how we deal with the ensuing outbursts may be different with different age groups.

      Still the first thing that comes to mind, is this: if the outburts are short but frequent and triggered by seemingly little things then what we are likely to have here is a ‘glass which is full’ situation. Do you know that image? We all have a certain amount of stress/tension/strong emotions that we can handle – this is represented by a cup. When the cup is empty or partially empty we are able to go about our day evenly, peacefully. When the cup overflows our emotions come pouring out whether we want them to or not. Sometimes a mere drop will send us over the edge. And if the cup isn’t emptied properly that time, the next little drop may send the cup into overflow all over again.

      They talk about this a lot in Hand in Hand Parenting (HiH) – so here is another ‘vote’ to go check out their training (online or in person). Actually they call the small trigger thing the ‘broken cookie’ syndrome. It is much like that story I recount at the start of the post of when breaking all those glasses made me cry. It was a last straw and it was also ‘just what I needed’ (HiH people would say) to help get all those pent up emotions out. Now what would happen if I handn’t let myself cry then, if I had just carried on suppressing my emotions? Well, the feelings, that huge build up of tension would have continued to grow and ball up inside me making me tense all the time and probably very hard to live with, too. So, that release was a huge relief and very freeing.

      So I guess that is the next question, when your daughter has a rush of emotions, is there ever a feeling of completion? Does she see the emotional release all the way through? Or does she get distracted from her feelings? Do you purposely try to get her to stop crying by re-directing, for example and/or does she see something shiny, so to speak, and go after that rather than really, really getting into her feelings and letting it ALL out?

      This is a big, important question. If she is having lots of releases but none of them is ’emptying her cup’ then, yes, she’ll still be highly volatile and ready to burst at the next ‘broken cookie’ (read something very small that has nothing to do with the reservoire of backed up feeling inside but is a good excuse for a cry). I see how the fact that the triggers are so small or ‘insubstantial or illegitimate’ is getting you down… but actually that is exactly a sign that there is soooo much more going on, inside there. It is NOT about the ‘cookie’, it is about her lack of feeling of connection to you, in that moment plus a back-log of stored emotions.

      These stored emotions were not necessarily caused by you, either, and in any case are NOT your fault [unless you ever purposefully set out to hurt her… which I VERY MUCH DOUBT!! You seem like an awesome, loving mom]. People are triggered by what they are triggered by. You have been doing the best you can with the knowledge, tools and energy you had access to. You have been doing the best you can. Give yourself the love and recognition you deserve before even looking further or reading further. Go give yourself a hug for all the loving and striving and worrying you have been doing. You are an awesome mom! Say it :D

      Some of this built up anxiety can even come, they tell us, from stress felt in the womb, from traumatic birth experiences (from the baby’s point of view) or from seemingly little stressed that occurred very early in a child’s life. These can by trying times for these little precious, vulnerable beings and this world is not always as soft, as gentle as it could be on them [again for no fault of our own, as moms].

      So, wherever it came from (and actually we don’t worry about that so much as the path forward, in HiH) she is trying to show you she needs and wants now to release it and wants your permission and support in getting it all out. It might take time. It might be more than one session of deep, troubled crying, shouting, struggling, etc – sometimes lasting for an hour or more, most likely leading into sleep afterward… but after enough of these sessions and you will start to see a difference in your little girl. Look, I am new at this HiH stuff, so I grant you that some of this I am taking on faith. I have seen it work on my little girl and I know that is what I would chose for me, but it is Patty Wipfler and others’ stories that give me the confidence to say it will work (in most cases – there may be exceptions in extreme cases where other kinds of interventions are needed but if we are just talking disrupted emotional and behavioural patterns, then, really these tools are built just for this!).

      As for the ‘how to’, again, I really urge you to learn directly from HiH. I mean you can probably ad-lib it just find and undoubtedly many parents have stumbled across these types of techniques never having heard of Aletha Solter or Patty Wipfler or any of the other people who share these types of teachings but if you want more detailned guidance that would be the place to go. And did I mention they have a whole online community support system where you can post questions and learn from other people’s brilliant, real-life examples. Check out their blog (linked above) for more inspiring stories, too, if you are reticent to give it a go.

      It is scary, to LET your child cry and keep crying until ALL the crying is done (with your warm, loving support, right there with her). But it is worth it.

      “is it even possible to get to a point where each new yucky thing is not one in a long cumulative list but its own small thing?” – Yes, it is, for both of you. Yes, it is.

      As for whether she feels safe or triggered by you, personally I would hazzard to guess: safe. When I was a kid I broke my arm in gym class. We didn’t know it was broken yet. The teacher called my mum. She teased me that I was ‘turning all the colours or the rainbow – green, purple, blue’ and generally laughed at me for being a whimp. I didn’t cry. When my mom turned up to pick me up, I burst into tears (my gym trainer of course teased me more). I would never have dared cry in front of all those kids and that (horrible) gym trainer until my mom was there, to keep me safe. Just sayin’… Your daughter needs to get these upsets out, she is telling you that she is safe with you. I am sorry that you are the ‘target’ of her yuckiness, that does suck.

      But remember, that, even though I glossed over it, above, the main and most vital component of gentle parenting (including as espoused by HiH) is connection. Yes, even you want to go this route, you will spend some time (especially upfront) listening to your kids upsets expressed often in the most dramatic form possible…. but you will also be working – or playing, to be precise – to build a much stronger, happier, easier bond with your child.

      I really recommend two books on this front: “Connection Parenting” by Pam Leo and “Playful Parenting” by Lawrence Cohen (mentioned in my post). I bought the former on MP3 – so there is not even any excuses if you ‘don’t have time to read’. These books (and HiH) emphasise that getting close to our kids, really enjoying them, sharing laughter, building trust, these are the things that really help improve our relationships with our kids the most. Then if/when feelings need to come up, it will be easier and faster to work them through, too (but not necessarily less frequent… but that is another conversation).

      Wowee!! This is much longer than I had imagined it would be. Phew. Hope you are still here, reading and not asleep somewhere, bored to tears by my endless rhetoric – ooops, lol!

      Finally, as for teaching them about how their actions affect others, well, I think that is about authenticity, about letting our truth show… but only when we ourselves are clear that we have dealt with our own backlogs of emotion, when we are, as you say, reacting to what arose in that instance and not reacting from pain, from memory, from fear of repeated trauma, etc. We need to get healthy and balanced as much as possible ourselves and then let our true emotions show as they arise. This is a process. It it does not happen over night and we are not aiming for perfection here… but we are continuously looking at what is there, being honest with ourselves about where we are at and being gentle on ourselves as well as our children and loved ones.

      You are a fantastic mom, even just for thinking like this, about this… for engaging in this dialogue, reaching out and reaching into yourself for answers. This is work not many do, in this fast paced world. These are questions not many stop to ask. Remember only THREE people came to that seminar I went to – what a small minority of us are even willing to try to go beyond knee-jerk spankings, shouting or time-out to find ways which may take more of us… but give us so much more in return, too.

      Than you for coming. Thank you for asking. Thank you for being. Thank you.

      • No such thing as too long. Sometimes it takes lots of words to be articulate.

        Yes, I’ve pretty much accepted that husband has particular limits, and I don’t expect him to be everything for me. I want more than I have… and I might be getting that book to see if it might help. But mostly I accept this aspect of reality. And mostly I am angry with our country’s work culture, that sucks so much of our husbands’ best energy.

        What you say about the Kryon book makes sense. My late therapist was often talking about things like internal locus of control and trusting intuition. It goes along with that self-validated intimacy thing — and being an agent. I have a history of reacting instead of acting, and being too tied up in others’ feedback or lack thereof. It is really hard for me to act, especially without a ton of validating feedback, especially in the face of indifferent or opposed feedback, but I press on as I can.

        What you say about stored emotion and need for connection makes sense, too. And here we get into some interesting and relevant history. I learned in childhood (took a while, but finally it got beat in well enough… not literally beat in) that there is too much of me, I am too sensitive, and too intense, and too demanding / willful / high maintenance. I need too much.

        Of course that was a big motif in therapy. It’s not as powerful as it used to be, but it is certainly still there. It’s a big reason I had postpartum depression — my idealistic, very willful determination to be there for my child, able to hold her and be with her through everything, ran into my fear of being sucked into oblivion and my learned / modeled negative responses to her intensity and needs. That, and sleep loss plus sleep anxiety plus panic attacks plus hormonal changes plus an induced birth after weeks of trying to avoid induction and feeling unprepared for the natural birth I desired.

        Okay, so that brings us to what to do when Amy (who is five) has such an outburst on a day when I have my own full cup. When both of us have full cups… perhaps time to myself first (like the oxygen mask thing) and then connect with her. She, like me, seems insatiable — an hour of playing together, with her leading the whole thing, is not sufficient for her. She will still flail into dramatics when the time is up. Yet there are plenty of times when she plays independently for a long time with content.

        I will have to think and read about this some more.

        In general, I don’t think I try to distract or deny her feelings. I have often suggested that she can go to her room to work on her feelings — especially at times when I am not feeling able to be the recipient of them. She knows she can pound on her pillow or bed, bang her blanket against the floor, pray, count, deep breathe, make yucky faces and noises to herself. I’ve said many times that it’s okay to have the feeling but that not all ways of expressing it are okay, and I’ve said that with angry feelings especially sometimes you need to hit something or do something physical.

        Occasionally I am able to just sit by her and try to stay there, not commenting or judging.

        Sometimes (more often) I am past my limit and I complain about her feelings and say I wished she could be more gracious about certain things. I’ve even said that it’s hard to want to play with her when I am fairly sure there’s going to be yuckiness at the end. Or when she’s being nasty to me I’ve sometimes said I don’t want to be with someone who is being so nasty to me.

        So yeah, I think I can be triggering as well as safe; I don’t think any parent can be only safe.

        It seems that I need to do a lot more work to keep the level in my cup down to a reasonable amount, and then I’ll be better able to stay and listen. I do feel pretty limited in resources in that area.

        I have a slow emotional metabolism — Wednesday I was out most of the day without her, and almost half of Thanksgiving Day, and by noon or so I was finally feeling a little bit more like myself. That’s too long — I can’t take day-and-a-half breaks very often.

        I’ve mentioned the dearth of available local friends. I have some ideas about pursuing more local connections but it’s long slow hard work.

        And while online friends are great when they’re available, it’s not quite the constant availability your facebook community of private messaging seems to be.

        One thing I can and must do is get to sleep at a reasonable hour.

        And I’ve made progress in being more efficient in the kitchen and with the little housework I need to do.

        And I will look around more at HiH and look for those two books you mentioned.

        Replying here to the later replies… mmm, Star Trek; we’re Netflixing the original series, but no, no costumed yoga, giggle. And thanks for the virtual hugs. I had a good bit of those yesterday from one therapeutic friend with my facebook comment (“To all the black holes out there today, who feel the howling yowling wasteland, my heart goes out to you today, and I hope that your list of things you’re thankful for doesn’t feel paltry, a mockery, and a slap in the face. May you hold the gratitude for real, and the grief and rage and terror for real, and may peace find you.”) and considering my inner child to be an inner black hole — in a kind and compassionate way, not a ridiculing or shaming way — and loving my little inner black hole — bringing the apparently negative yucky thing in, welcoming, listening.

        Which reminds me of a thought I had drifting off to sleep last night — it’s not because yucky feelings are actually not negative that we accept them — it’s because they’re real even though they’re uncomfortable.

        I’m going to go follow your facebook page now.

        Thank you again!!

      • Hi Marcy,

        Saw you ‘arrive’ on the LEM fb page :D Welcome!

        The more you reveal the more I can relate to the ‘real’ person and, wow, I recognise a lot of what you are sharing, from my own path. “my idealistic, very willful determination to be there for my child, able to hold her and be with her through everything, ran into my fear of being sucked into oblivion” – this sounds so familiar to me, for example. I also had NO community when I arrived here (having moved from Europe a year before I got pregnant, the few people I knew here were not ‘baby people’) so I totally identify with that and KNOW how hard it can be. I love the amazing people I have met here and still I would say ‘I am still working on it’, somehow… I also am terrible at looking after my own physical (and emotional and spiritual) wellbeing, including to the point of not giving myself enough quality sleeping time. Oh, yeah, know that one, too. So, here we are, sisters in mis-treatment of ourselves – lol. All I can say is that I am learning to put myself first (in that oxygen mask way that you mention) or even, really, it is about considering my needs AT ALL in the midst of trying to care for and please everyone else – not that I am a saint or a martyr, I certainly am not, I just put my internet needs ahead of my sleep needs, for example – hah.

        Also, I meant to mention in the last message, another great tool that I have used a lot throughout my life is flower essence therapy. Oh, my goodness I love this. I took them all through the post-partum period and they helped a lot and I take them still, both for physical and more often for emotional challenges. I keep meaning to do a post about this. It is a little different from my usual ‘line’ in a way, but one is brewing. In the meantime, if you have never taken them check them out here http://www.ausflowers.com.au/cms/details.asp?NewsID=2. Or you may have heard of and taken Rescue Remedy from Bach Flower Remedies (which is by far the most commercially available and therefore most well known of the flower essences – but by no means the best). Or perhaps like me you are already an afficionada and know there are hundreds of powerful flower essence ranges from around the world. They are amazing, really. It is hard to explain how they work, to ‘new comers’ in a way, ‘cos they are so, well, weird (there is that word again). But essentially they work with the energy or spirit of the Plant and that energy helps guide our energy to a safer, more harmonious place. Hmm… yep, knew I didn’t know how to explain this. No wonder I never write about this stuff. I believe the flowers’ spirits chose to work with mankind to help heal us when we are stuck and each plant/flower has a particular gift for us.

        I know this sounds so wishy washy and I am a very rational person, really, which is why it is hard for me to describe this stuff, in a way, but I can tell you it works. It works wonders for me and they work amazingly on children and pets (which proves you don’t have to ‘believe’ for them to work). They do work quite subtly, though. Not to say their action is ‘weak’ – it is certainly not that, they are very powerful but it works shifting things on a level most people are not very aware of, I find. Hmm… all I can say is this: try them. Let your intuition guide you to an essence that feels right for the issue most pressingly at hand, emotionally speaking, and take it for two weeks to a month – every day, twice a day. Keep a log of your feelings on this issue before and after. Maybe even put it on a scale of 1 to 10 and try to ‘quantify’ how you feel about that before the essences and after the essences. Then come back and tell me how you got on :D With first timers, I sometimes have to help direct them to the part of the emotional picture where the shift has occurred as often they will tell me something like ‘oh, yeah, I feel much better, my life has completely changed on this matter… but it was a coincidence, nothing to do with the essences, I just went back to my old, normal self, that is all’. Huh, yeah, okay. I have just heard that so many times that it makes me laugh how many ‘coincidences’ happen when you take flower remedies. Hah.

        Anyway, that is an effective tool you can add to your kit for yourself. And the essences don’t do the ‘work’ for you, but they do shine a light on the area that needs ‘fixing’ and give you the strength, confidence and trust to push through with the (sometimes tiny) changes you need to make to bring yourself back to balance. Just sayin’… give it a try :D

        Meanwhile, yes, if you want to explore this approach of encouraging and actively supporting what I am calling ‘full emotional expression’ or ’emotional freedom’ with Amy (bless her little cotton socks) check out the HiH materials – especially those on StayListening and remember that when you plug into them and say do one of their courses, you have access to their incredible online community who can really help you clarify any questions and push through stuck areas.

        Btw, another area I really feel you is on your need for outside approval before action. I have really been working on this for myself (and yes, there is a flower essence for that, too – Bush Fuschia being one of them) and actually see it in my little girl, too. It is clearly part of our DNA, somehow (in our case – as she was just born like this, too). But for me, I find the shift has come in allowing myself the supreme and health-giving gift of self-love. I used to think I needed other people’s permission or approval to love myself. If they didn’t love myself surely that meant I was unloveable, right?? Wrong, it just doesn’t work like that. They may have been loving me tons but I just couldn’t see it or let it in ‘cos I had my ‘I don’t love myself’ shields up. Nothing can get past those suckers! Until I realise that I can love myself, for NO REASON, just because I am, then nobody else’s love for me will ever truly penetrate, no matter how strong and patient they are in it.

        And this is an incredibly important message for our little girls, too. We can’t “teach” self-love but we can share it, model it, lead the way and inspire it… this is what I am aiming to do with my little one. Won’t you join me on the path of self-loving?

        [I sooooo need to blog about this, too… it is coming, it is in the muse’s green house…]

        I feel a shift is in the air for you, the very fact that you are out there, ‘asking’ for it, praying for change. The answers will come. The answers, strength and self-belief are coming or perhaps are here already, ready to be unwrapped. Just ‘ask’.


      • Other reasons I’m weird: I care about natural sustainable food, hate candy at parades and in Sunday school, am a believing Christian but hate much of evangelical culture and don’t love our church which we’ve chosen as the least of many evils, occasionally think about ethics when considering a purchase, and other such things.

      • “There is no such thing as a weed… just a flower in the wrong garden” Sorry if you have been surrounded by people who made you feel lke a weed! Actually, you have more than grown enough (spiritually?? as a person????) to be transferred to a proper ‘garden’ where you will be recognised for the beauty and gifts you bring to the world, as you are. No need to change a single petal. You are not weird. You are perfect and conscientious and unique :)

      • Flower essence therapy is something I haven’t heard of before. For now, I’ll tuck it in a corner of my mind.

        I think the bit about outside approval or positive feedback is especially interesting since my daughter seems to be sensitive to others’ approval without it motivating her to change her behavior very much — she totally fits the “dreamer” profile in Strong-Willed Child or Dreamer, a book I haven’t quite finished blogging through but have read twice so far.

        One of the ideas in the book, if I remember right, is that for dreamers, it is especially painful to not have others’ approval… kids who don’t care much (drivers) just go ahead and be themselves; kids who do care and who change as a result (diplomats) get positive reinforcement for the changes they make (which can, admittedly, be problematic, depending on how deep and real and authentic — or not — the changes may be), but kids who care and don’t change suffer doubly.

        I’m pretty sure I am / was a dreamer, too, and the “don’t go where you’re not wanted” and “not everyone will like you” messages really had to be pounded in before I got it, and then it’s been a long journey climbing out of there again. How hard it is for a parent to gently guide an intense, willful, sensitive little one who causes or provokes all sorts of difficulties without meaning to and without understanding. I can see how ever bigger clubs are brought out in the effort to teach the lessons that might have started out more gently.

        And I’m head-scratching again and still — relatively easy to understand staylistening for sadness and fear especially, and even frustration to an extent, but not quite sure how to go about it when she’s really being a jerk. Spitting at me, throwing toys, yelling… it doesn’t seem quite right to just sit there and project unconditional positive regard in such a situation. Am thinking for one thing I need to be present enough to prevent the throwing if I can. But I can’t stop her from spitting or yelling.

        This morning when she was flailing about having to go home from the grandparents’ (she seemed to really think she could decide to stay there and we would leave without her), I tried to hold her, and she flailed more, fought against me and yelled for me to let her go — I can sort of see the idea of “giving her something to push against” but it also seems on the surface to disrespect her stated desire or felt need to not be constrained. That, and it was starting to make me angry. AND she’s really strong, and already I won’t be able to hold her against her will much longer.

        Anyway, as for a shift, yes, I’ve been feeling it, too; it’s been long and super slow, but glacial progress is still progress, and maybe, as in weight loss, it’s got more staying power if it’s slow. I might be the most idealistic pessimist I know. :)

      • Hi Marcy,

        That books sounds interesting – I have not read it. I have got (but have not really read) ‘Raising Your Spirited Child’ which I had recommended by someone I really trust who says it is excellent. I am not sure I would class my child as ‘spirited’, though, which is why I have not bumped it to the top of the ‘to read’ list yet. I have many challenges to overcome but this specific one does not seem to be on my plate (yet/at the mo).

        I hear your question about how to apply the HiH stuff when the child is being actively aggressive. I do know that both Patty and Janet Landsbury (whom I have mentioned elsewhere and really respect, though she mostly works with babies and toddlers, I believe. Check her out here: http://www.janetlansbury.com/)… both of them recommend intervening with loving, assertive confidence, for example, grabbing the hand (that is going to hit or throw) and saying ‘I won’t let you hit/hurt me/hurt yourself’. I agree with you that it is vital to step in to ensure nobody is physically hurt.

        As I have said, though, I am ‘just’ a mum and my kid is in fact younger than yours. This is not an area I have any personal experience with nor do I work in this field – and hence I would find it hard to give specific advice. It sounds like you are going through a lot. You have some real challenges and could do with some ‘real’ support and more experienced guidance, imo. I would recommend you get in touch with Hand in Hand Parenting if you are drawn to this approach (as I myself am). Talking to other parents is great, specially if you can get lots of non-judgemental empathy and I hope our little community here and online can fulfil a tiny bit of that but for really practical advice, I am probably not your best port of call for this issue.

        The one thing I would say, is that flower essences work super well with kids, too. I hear you – you are filing it. It is new to you. They say we need to hear something 7 times (from several sources) before our mind opens to it. No idea if that is true but I do find I need multiple exposure to new ideas for it to start to sound ‘comfortable’. In any case, I will share: Flower Essences are completely drug-free, do not have any side-effects and do not interfere with other medications. There is one company called Indigo Essences that make remedies especially for kids. They are great for helping kids calm down and find their ‘zen’ naturally. This is not a herbal remedy – it is not operating through chemical/physical pathways. It is not a medicine (you would not be ‘medicating’ her, with this). It is more like ‘meditation in a bottle’. But it is so different to most of what is out there (except perhaps homeopathy) that it can take a while to really get it (I get that).

        Here is their site: http://www.indigoessences.com/. You might find their text on the ‘new children’ interesting, too (or you might find it wacky and way out and that is okay, too: http://www.indigoessences.com/tpt/TPTsecondary.php?t=8) Have you heard that term ‘Indigo Kids’. That might be something that is interesting for you to investigate too. Here’s one take on it: http://www.kryon.com/k_37.html If you are still talking to me after this (and haven’t written me off as a nut case) come back and let me know if any of this rings true for your child.

        Thanks for popping in.


      • Drat. I meant to include that, in true dreamer style, I have very little desire to change anything about myself in order to avoid the “you’re weird” vibe — instead my desire is that the people around me would change to see that “I’m what normal should be,” ha! But sometimes it does seem that, faced with apparently overwhelming circumstantial evidence, maybe the others might be right. Then I remember that I’m depending on my own interpretation of what others say and do, which is colored by my perceptions, so the evidence may be less overwhelming than it seems.

      • You sound like you could be an ‘indigo’ yourself :)
        I love that you are proud and happy to be who you are. You are right – the world is nuts and we certainly should not be changing to adapt to it (not unless it feels good/right to us, too). In many areas, the world needs to change just to get back to sane (back?…).

      • I’m glad there’s the Facebook page; this comment thread is getting pretty unwieldy and I hate to be dominating it.

        Thanks for all the encouragement. I highly recommend that Strong-Willed Child or Dreamer book. Another one I found useful was The Explosive Child — mostly geared toward ADD and such, but a lot of it applies more broadly, especially for sensitive intense willful kids like Amy and me. I’ve been recommended to read something along the lines of “Spirited Child” but I’m not sure if it’s the same book you mentioned or another. Haven’t done it yet.

      • All in good time (books wise). As I have said elsewhere, I always find the right books find me when I am ready :D

        I am glad you have joined the online family, too – as it can be a lot of fun, there, with multi-way discussions but you are welcome here also, always.

        Hugging joy and peacefulness,

  4. I literally have a quick second but wanted to let you know that this is perhaps your best post ever. Wait…there is one ahead of it…the hippy/crunchy post that went wild! That was the best. This is a close, close second. And I LOVE the comment exchange as well. Seriously…loving this, sharing this, wanting to comment more but feeling the tug of little hands on my leg! :)

  5. This resonates with so much I have been trying to learn about myself and my children over the last 8 years. It’s heart-warming to think there may be a method to increase my ability to be emotionally available to my kids, as I feel like I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants on this.

    One question I have is whether you can put off the active listening to a later date, if say there is more than one child who needs the attention at one time. It would not be uncommon, for example, for our 8 yo to attempt vigorously to interfere with our attempt to listen to our 5 yo when he is in need, especially if he is having a tantrum due to something the elder has done to him. It is rarely easy to separate the two if only one parent is present. But putting off the “listening” seems to defeat the purpose of accepting the emotions in the present. Perhaps we can learn to give it two ways at once? Sounds difficult.

    Thanks for writing about this. It’s a great gift to us all.

    • Dear Tim,

      Thank you so much for your question. Sorry it has taken me these couple of days to get back to you. I have been carrying your question in my heart, though.

      Have you read ‘Sibblings without Rivalry’ I love that book. I only have one kid and yet I really got a lot out of that book, in terms of how to handle two or more kids with seemingly conflicting agendas/needs. It is a super-easy, even fun read, so if you haven’t yet, I highly recommend it.

      I also love http://www.JanetLandsbury.com – although she is usually dealing with younger kids, oh, the wisdom that pours forth, it is just inspiring!

      Here’s what Hand in Hand Parenting (HiH) teaches: that if an upset is not dealt with there and then… no problem, it will come up again later. It sounds funny, but they mean it. When an emotion is suppressed, it will make another break for freedom, later, so to speak. If they didn’t get all the feeling expressed and out at the time, it becomes back-logged and fodder for the next tantrum at (probably) the *smallest* little trigger. They say this, too, to remind us not to put too much pressure on ourselves. Really. Life is tough and stress happens and we can’t always deal with it right there and then, right? Sometimes it is because the other sib is there, other times it is because we are in the middle of the library and sitting with them gently as they wail in the fiction section is not really appropriate. It is okay, the emotion will come up for air again, soon enough, and we can create ‘safe pathways’ for it to exit the body then :)

      So, yes, if it is possible to do it there and then with short asides, in this case to the older sibbling, explaining what is happening “your brother is feeling upset about x [mention trigger – NOT backlog] and he needs all of my attention right now [don’t mention the crying, specifically, as that only puts the crying kid on the spot and can stop them in their flow]”; you could conceivably even try to involve them in being empathic, sitting with the kid with greater need – hahah… am guessing that is pretty naive/unlikely in most cases, though – lol. Again, to be clear, I have *one* kid and she is two, so my personal experience is limited.

      If you want more guidance, by all means look up HiH’s stuff including their local and online workshops. I bet that would get to the bottom of all your quesitons :)

      Thanks again for popping by and I do hope you stick around and enjoy this fledgeling online community, as we learn to gently parent our kids and ourselves into the highest version of the highest vision of our family :) Amen.

  6. I forgot to say that yes, your first paragraph in that reply does indeed resonate. I am feeling the lack of validating listeners and was recently introduced to the idea of self-validating intimacy… head-scratching but intriguing.

    • Ahh, ‘self-validating intimacy’ hmmm, sounds right, familiar… though I have never heard of it (certainly not with that name). Do say more.

      Meanwhile, I’ll go back to your previous message and give it the time and energy it lovingly demands and deserves :)

      • It’s a term I came across in a roundabout way. A friend was mentioning a marriage book she was reading — Passionate Marriage –http://passionatemarriage.com/library/passionate-marriage-chapter

        I went to check it out, read the chapter in the link, and found the idea applicable to a lot more than sex (which is essentially the point of the book — just about everything about sex is about a lot more than sex)

        Here’s the relevant passage, a quote from someone in a therapy session:

        “That’s when you don’t expect your partner to validate or accept what you disclose. You validate yourself as you show your partner who you really are.”

        My dear husband is not on the same page as me with several things (like parenting) that I have time and energy to care about and research and he doesn’t, and so I expect that this self-validated intimacy is about the only way to connect with him about these things — I have to be willing to share with him even though I don’t expect him to understand or be interested or adopt my views.

        I look forward to your response to my other comment — I’m already feeling a lot better just from the warmth and attention here; helps mitigate the “you’re such a weirdo” vibe I get most places.

      • Okay, you are not a weirdo… well not in anything you have showed us here, anyway – lol. All I see is love for your kids, striving to do better, as a mom while also feeling a pull to accept that which IS, right now. Bravo. If you like to do yoga inversions dressed in StarTrek gear, you might be a bit of a weirdo, but… honestly even that we would accept here, most likely :)

        Hubbies, yes… well… mmm… big topic. Do you follow the Loving Earth Mama facebook page? We had a discussion there the other day about just this: how to deal with the fact that our partners/co-parents are not always, necessarily in agreement with us, when it comes to parenting philosophy. Let me leave this one for just now as, still, I want to answer your main question. Sorry it is taking so long – hectic times, these (for moms and all).

        Breathing in love,

        PS might have to look up that book!!

    • Okay, good to know – the more you tell me the more I know where you are at, you are sending up flares as to your true position where as in the beginning I was almost in the dark. Now, I feel like slowly, slowly I am getting a picture… little glimpses of you and where you stand in this (transient) moment in time. Then, I can take a step toward you… (and hug you back to self-love… hmm it sounds good at least, right?)

      PS Hmm… wordpress seems to have slightly mis-filed this as it was in response to your ‘yes I resonate with that’ comment. Hmm…

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  8. Hi Gauri,

    I really love this post and resonate with the ‘hand in hand parenting’. I would love to use it more with my daughter who is in the ‘terrible twos’ phase and is getting very challenging at the moment.

    Firstly, I love the idea of ‘special time’, playing with her daily in order to prevent trantrums. You mention that there are some techniques and tips you can use for this ‘special time’ and I was wondering whether you could share some tips on this, as I’d like to make sure the playtime I have with her is ‘quality special time’. Also, how long does this play need to be?

    Secondly, I’d like your point of view on a technique I’m using. I’m not sure whether it’s ‘unconditional’ enough, whether I could replace it with something else… or whether it’s ok, and a kind of limit that I am setting that she just doesn’t like (in which case I just deal with it like a tantrum, right?):

    It’s the ‘counting to three’ technique. I usually use when I need my daughter do to something quickly. For example, when she needs to get dressed so we’re not late for a doctor’s appointment. I tell her that she has the choice between doing it herself or me doing it (she always prefers doing it herself but not always when I need her to) so I tell her that if she doesn’t do it by the count of 3, I’ll do it for her. And when I do it for her after I say ‘3’, she gets upset, sometimes to the point that I can’t actually put the clothes on her (she’s very strong and can wiggle away!). She ends up putting them on while crying, and we leave on time. What do you think of this technique? I know I could allow more time for example but in the case when you just need things to be done quickly, is that technique ok to use do you think? Or would you recommend an alternative?

    Thank you for sharing all the information on this blog by the way, really interesting stuff, full of links to other sites and all very loving :)

    • Dear Annonymous-loving-mother,

      So, here, I am privy to a bit of information that others won’t see. I know who you are and I know you know me. And I know you know I am no expert but we can certainly think through these issues together, as fellow mamas :)

      I also know that you have read and resonate with ‘Playful Parenting’whose Author appears to have been quite influenced by Patty Wipfler (founder of Hand in Hand Parenting) himself. He is like the master of the ‘special play time’ side of the Hand in Hand parenting, as I see it. He gives lots of suggestions for play that is empowering and even therapeutic in nature, as well as nurturing to the parent/carer-child connection. I guess the basic rules are this:

      – do it every day or as close to that as you can
      – set aside special one-to-one time with each child, at a time you know you will not be interrupted and can give them your full, undivided attention
      – let them chose and guide the play; you are there to follow them and often to take the lesser role (but even that is theirs to determine in ‘special time’ – outside of that you can instigate role-reversal play or other types of play you think may help your child move through a particular emotional road block)
      – pour your delight into the child, let them see how engaged you are in what they are doing

      You asked how long it needs to be, my experience is that even 2 minutes of dedicated special time can bring about a shift in the relationship between two people. The important thing, in my view, is the quality of the connection achieved in that time. This shouldn’t be an excuse to only ever do micro-check-ins but it is hope and inspiration for days when we have less time.

      As for the ‘countdown’… I think counting is morally neutral. For example, I often count up to exciting things, like on the count of three we’ll pick you up and fly you through the air, you know? The counting itself is a way to signal the passage of time to little creatures who do not yet really live in ‘time’ as such (it is all now, now, now). Which brings us to the next question about getting her to do something she doesn’t want to do, after you have offered her a choice to do it herself (which she declined to do in the time alloted). Hmm… it is a toughy. I guess my thinking would always start with this: how would I feel if I was doing something I really enjoyed and was into that moment and somebody came and told me I had to quit now or else. So, the first stop for me, would be to try and put myself in her shoes and imagine a) what she is feeling at this time and b) ask myself what (if anything) would pursuade me to do what my mother asks or make me feel comfortable with the impending abrupt change in activity and rhythm?

      I guess part of this is just a question about helping toddlers with transitions – something notoriously hard for them. For me, it is always about giving us much advance warning as possible (often starting the night before, if it is an important meeting that is scheduled and I want to make sure she is ready for it) and then telling her again in the morning. I also try and move with her as much as possible, I mean, perhaps breakfast can happen in the car (this one time) – well that is one ‘rule’ I am happy to break, it might not be one you are comfortable bending. But if putting clothes on is the hardest bit and you have already given extremely and repeated advance warning… are there ways you could make it into a game, like getting dressed before her favourite song is over or, one I do a lot, getting dressed *while* she is doing something she loves/is enjoying, like playing with her toys or even (once) watching a video (and suddenly I understood why so many parents love the pacifying effect of TV).

      Yes there are limits that we have to enforce for our or our kids’ safety, etc. But I find it is not the limits that cause the ‘problem’ or the melt-downs. Invariably meltdowns come when there is a lack of connection first – the limit is only the trigger, you know? At this point in my explorations of the HiH approach I can nearly always tell when my kid is working up to a tantrum/emotional release. They usually come after excess stimulation and/or a disconnection from us (which often happen together if we are out in very busy places and/or – like now, on holiday – she watches some TV) and in any case I always feel the tension mounting in the lead up to the release. It is one of those scenarios where nothing I do or say will make it better. If I say it is bed time, she will say she wants one more book and then after that book she will say she just wants to eat and after that… there is a kind of insatiability of the soul by this point that clearly signals to me that she is overwhelmed by feelings/adrenalin that is about to spill out in a big old fashioned tantrum/release (almost no matter what I do in terms of meeting her expressed desires). This sounds different to me than the scenario you are describing, which is actually about a specific aversion – though hard to say whether it is putting the clothes on, per se, or the timing of it which so rudely interrupts her play. What do you think?

      In any case, have you tried doing ‘special time’ or at least slowing down and making sure you are really connected to your little one just before the rush of getting-ready-to-go-out begins? Maybe that would help things run more smoothly as she would already feel her love-cup full.

      And/or (to put these two suggestions together): you could try doing something really fun before getting dressed, like ‘let’s dance like crazy around the room, to our favourite song, prettending to be all the animals now… and when this song ends we put out clothes on fast and then… we can chose a toy to take with us to… [enter name of place you are going]’

      Do any of these suggestions sound workable with your little girl? Either way, come back to us and let us know how you are doing with this. Remember (and I can say this confidently, because I know you), you are a GREAT mom who is doing a fantastic job persevering through all your parenting challenges, searching out new, gentler solutions wherever possible. You rock!

      • Also (still thinking about this) another way to think your way into this could be to ask yourself which of her needs isn’t being met? Is it the need to know where she is being taken (inclusion)? or a need to finish what she is doing first (a kind of self-determination and feeling seen/respected)? – and in which case more advance warning might help and/or working with her to find a time to interrupt (“okay, how about one more tune on the xylophone?” or whatever).

        Another thing that sometimes works with my little girl (and often talked about) is to say this is something we have to do, to briefly explain why and then ask how she would like to do it. For example, today, she was enjoying running around half-naked in her grandparents house but I explained we had to put trousers on because it is cold. She didn’t want to and was determined to stay seated where she was at the time… I suggested various alternatives (like standing on the bench, coming onto my lap) all of which were vehemently declined. Then I asked her how she would like to do it and she said ‘sitting down’. Fair enough, I thought. So I basically found a way to put her trousers on while she was still sitting (in segments, lifting her butt up at the end). lol. Obviously I am not saying to use the same options with your kid, but I am sure you will come up with your own and perhaps (and this is the bit I wanted to share)… perhaps she has her own suggestions and creative solutions to your dilemma :)

    • Anonymous mama,

      I was just thinking about something like this myself today — realizing how often when I say something like “you can do it yourself or I can help you,” it’s not really a neutral choice to me. Some days I can give the choice neutrally, and be kind and warm with whichever option she chooses. Other days, even though the words are the same, I’m giving the choice as a threat, and when I have to help her, I am not kind and warm about it. My little one — five now — has a tendency to dig in her heels and become a dead weight, and insist that she’s not going to do whatever it is, or that she’s not even going to choose… and it’s infuriating. Clearly she is doing everything in her power to get my undivided, direct attention, usually at a time when I am really trying or wanting to do something else, or to be done with this quickly.

      I don’t have any suggestions yet — just that your post reminded me of my noticing this issue today.

      • Marcy

        Thanks for your comment. It’s always good to know you’re not alone and that we all face similar challenges. It also made me realise that this challenge will come up again and it’s not just a phase so I’d better learn how to deal with it ;)

        And yes, this stuff usually happens when it’s a battle of wants – she wants my attention, I want to get on with other things. Typical. I guess I’ve come to realise that patience is one of the most vital qualities you can have as a parent – and the more you have, the better… but it’s not always easy to find it when you need it!!

      • Hi Marcy, you know I started to answer you the other day but then lost my response… Anyway, what I was saying is that you have a great point that a choice can be offered lovingly or, really, it can be an ultimatum complete with threat so that the putting on of clothes (harshly) becomes a kind of punishment for not taking option A, in a way. This is very true and I am sure something all of us recognise in one form or another. Thanks for responding to Annony-Mama’s comment and reaching out for support.


  9. Hi Gauri

    Thank you so much for all this advice, so helpful, I can’t tell you how much it’s helping already :)

    I only realised this morning that you replied so thank you for being so quick and sorry for being so slow to reply… I’m new at this blogging comments thing!

    So today I put into practice what you said – for one, I told her where we were going which instantly made her want to get dressed!! We were going to a toddler group she likes – so no battles there ;) And then later on, when she refused to get her trousers back on, I did what you suggested and asked her how she wanted them put on (sitting, standing etc) and she said ‘on a train’?! So there I was pretending we were on a train journey while putting the trousers on and it was easy :) I even convinced her the push-chair was a plane to get her to go in the push-chair (also a battle-time with her sometimes) and again, easy peasy!

    The main thing I realised is that ‘threatening’ isn’t going to work, and is the bit that I was uncomfortable with. So thanks for making me realise that I was using the ‘counting to three’ as a threat and this is what I needed to change. So hard sometimes to ‘think playfully’ but so worth it when you remember/make the effort!! :)

    Thank you so much!

    Lots of love from the not-so-anonymous Mama ;) xx

    • Wow, Annony-Mama what a great report-back. It is just fab that this has opened up new avenues of thought and playful experimentation for you. What creative and fun ways you thought of to step into her world, see things from her point of view and make them joyful for her. Fab! I think, so often, it is about adjusting the way we are looking at it, you know? Then the doing flows naturally from that. And yes, like you, I find telling A. what we are doing in advance helps so much – it is perhaps the best tool of them all and so simple.

      Recently flying back from Portugal I explained in great detail what was going to happen on the way back, including the fact that I was going to have to wake her up in the middle of the night to drive to the airport on time – and it went really, really well (and I am convinced that is why). And I know that your kid is like mine and really likes words and to understand stuff. Plus it makes sense… I mean for them life is a bit like being taken hostage, sometimes, in that you are taken from place to place without knowing where you are going – you might as well be blindfolded in the back of a van, sometimes (dramatic, I know… but it helps me empathise with toddlers ‘plight’).

      Other things that really work for us are telling stories (away from the time of stress) where the topic is covered light-heartedly. For us, the stories usually come after lights-off at night. I’ll tell her a story that starts with ‘once up a time there was a little girl called’ and I make her the central characther (which she loves) and then either go through her day or make up an imaginary day where I go into detail about the area we are ‘working through’ (which for a while included potty). Or sometimes the stories are about other little girls – as in the story of the little girl who one day told her mama she didn’t need mama’s milk anymore (it is a long and beautiful story about mother and child bonding and all the milestones a girl goes through before chosing to self-wean… or that is the idea, anyway). So, my point is you can tell stories with them as a protagonist or based on somebody else.

      Also, was just remembering an idea I saw in a mamas’ group once, where the mom used to draw on the chalk board all the pieces of clothing the toddler had to put on before leaving (underpants, trousers, socks, shirt, jumper, coat, boots – or whatever) and then the kid would cross it out when he put it on. What a great idea, isn’t it? [could do it on paper if no chalkboard, of course]

      Glad the feeling has shifted for you, on this, from an ‘adversarial’ event between you and your little where there is one winner and one loser to a ‘doing with’ attitude that allows you to drop back into your heart and get playful and funky with your BEAUTIFUL (and feisty) little girl. You are ever an inspiration. Thank you for the chance to think through this area together!

  10. Pingback: Fostering Self-Directed Play: ten tips to help pre-schoolers entertain themselves | Loving Earth, Mama!

  11. Absolutly agree with you. i really dont like distracting.because it is like hiding from your feelings and personality.and it is not a best tip for childs futer! thanks! you wrote it so great!

  12. Pingback: Slow Parenting: seven simple steps to help our children be a little calmer | Loving Earth, Mama!

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