How A Gentle Approach to Aggression Made Our House a Home

house-a-homeI have done four different parenting courses and have read somewhere in the ballpark of 70 plus parenting-related books, but my oldest was hitting and biting, and I was so sad that my children were not getting along.

I thought all the work we had put in “should” make it so those kind of behaviors would be rare occurrences. I was devastated when they became routine. I felt like a failure.

I was beginning to crack and stray from the positive discipline methods I had so avidly been learning, and I found myself yelling, resulting in my daughter bursting into frightened tears.

What a contrast that was to Hand in Hand Parenting.  The five listening tools that makes up the parenting non-profit's approach seemed to make fast sense to me. They were easy to implement, empathic, and still allowed me to set limits. Finally, I saw a way out of yelling.

Trying the Tools

My first try using these tools with my daughter happened over a fort she had built that her sister knocked down.  She wailed that it was ruined.  I tried the Staylistening tool. Instead of talking her out of her upset, I held her as she cried about her sister ruining and taking her things.

Mostly, I listened and told her I knew it was hard.

At some point, I told her that her sister may take her things, but that she could never take her place. Shortly after that, she stopped crying. Then she looked at me and said, “I know! We can build it again!”

I asked her what would happen if her sister knocked it down. She giggled and said, “That would be fun because then we can build it AGAIN!”

She hopped down and ran over, calling for her sister to come and knock down the fort with her. They played together.  I mean, really, they played together.  They had never done that.  That was the beginning of an amazing shift in their relationship and in my relationship with my daughter.

Lasting Change and Transformations

Now when my daughter hits or pushes, I look at her and she just knows what is about to happen.  She says some odd things while I hold her and she cries, but invariably after it is over she will thank me for helping her feel better. Yesterday after a rough patch at the park, I held her and she told me that she just needed to cry.

She is no longer associating her behavior with anything bad or wrong about herself, instead she is thinking that she is having a hard time inside and needs to cry.

I cannot imagine what a difference this is going to make over the course of her life. She was heading down a path that could have caused her to perceive herself as a “mean” or “not a nice” girl.  I wonder how that would have influenced choices she made in the future.

Our life has changed so radically that even people who visit us are beginning to ask questions.  Our nanny was stunned at the difference in behavior and has passed along the course information to her sister.

My father who works with therapists, has been sharing Hand in Hand's Website with board members and any one else who will listen. And a couple who stayed with us last week passed the information along to their parents and are saving it for when their baby comes along!

But the best gift for me is watching the girls giggle together and be generous to each other and has been so heartwarming.

At last, my house has become a home.

From the Hand in Hand Toolbox:

Read the book Listen and get support for your parenting using Hand in Hand's revolutionary approach

You can find out more about the online video class “No More Hitting!” Helping Your Child with Aggression and change things at your house too.

end aggressiveAre you looking for some more ideas on how to end aggressive behavior?
Get your free video tips now.

13 thoughts on “How A Gentle Approach to Aggression Made Our House a Home”

  1. Hi, I am open minded but I am haing trouble understanding listening in this kind of context. So, you hug the child who has been hitting? Is that correct? What happens to the other child?


  2. Hi Good Parent,

    Since the most common view of an aggressor is that they should be punished or at least shunned, i.e. put in time out, one might think that ‘hugging’ the child who’s done the hurting is rewarding the behavior. But if you understand that the hurting behavior was driven by fear and a sense of disconnection, then it makes sense to come in close to the child who did the hurting. You are coming in close both to stop the behavior, and to bring a feeling of warmth and safety to them. Your warmth and safety allows the child to offload or release the fear, disconnection and icky feelings that caused them to lash out. If you get there after a child has gotten hurt, you do have to decide who to listen to. You might check to see that the hurt child is ok, and listen to them for a moment, telling them then that you have to check in on the other child and that you’ll be back. You might keep the hurt child close to you as you listen to the child who did the hurting. There is a beautiful article and description of this process on our website

    Thanks for asking the question and thanks for you open loving mind and heart.

    Peace & Smiles,

    Kathy Gordon
    Certified Instructor Parenting by Connection
    Follow me on facebook: Parenting by Connection with Kathy

  3. It sounds wonderful, but I find it very difficult in practice when 2 boys are screaming their heads off and trying to get the other one back 🙂 Your concerns at the start of the article really resonated with me, and I will try your suggestions, but I have some supplementary questions to what you just answered – what are you telling the hurt child about why their aggressor is not getting any sanction? I mean in actual words, do you explain it to them? eg “yes i know your brother hurt you but I’m not going to tell him off for it because…” or “yes, you’re right, we’re not allowed to hit, but …” Also I worry that sometimes my older child hurts the younger just because he feels like it, not as a retaliation for anything…

  4. Patty Wipfler

    Dear Good Mom–your questions are important ones! The idea here is that telling children off doesn’t help–often, it makes things worse. A child who hurts is a child who can’t think at that moment, and is just reacting. His mind is turned off. So whatever “lesson” a parent intends with punishment or scolding or time out is lost on the child. Isolation and sternness sends fear into the child, who is already hurting badly enough to hurt someone else. If telling a child off was actually helpful to the child, and led to better behavior tomorrow and next week, we would recommend it. But it doesn’t.
    Setting limits, however, IS VITAL. “I can’t let you do that” are some of the most important words a parent can say. But children can’t process what you say when they’re off track, so you need to GET THERE first, BRING the limit to the child who is unkind. That means putting your arm around his tummy, and pulling him away from the child he’s hurting. Or holding his arms gently by the wrists while he’s trying to swing at his brother….and being quiet about it, so he can feel the awful feelings inside, and begin to cry about his troubles, safely corralled by a caring parent. Then, listen while he feels awful. Don’t stop him. These feelings he’s shedding are the source of the troubles, and you want them out, and your compassion to seep in as you listen. YOU bring the limit, rather than asking him to abide by it, which he can’t. There’s more about what to do when you get there too late on our website–Search “get there too late” for an article on that. Hope this helps to clarify things a bit. It’s a whole different way of seeing what children do–the troubles are all connection-related. Your sons don’t want to be hurting or hitting or making trouble. They’d much rather play and have fun!

    1. I just tried exactly what you said tonight – gently holding my 36 months old son’s wrist and sending him my care when he attempted to throw everything from the dinner table on the floor. Instead of crying he started smiling and making funny faces. He tried to pull his hands off and I had to squeeze him hard to keep my hands on them. I felt like we were fighting so I let go but as soon as I did he went back to finding things to dump on the floor. I held him back and the same thing happened. It’s like he was on drugs and couldn’t control his hand/body. This last for 30 mins until I gave up and dragged him to take a shower. He calmed down a bit afterwards but started behaving badly.

      My question is what do we do when the child doesn’t cry? Could they be too afraid to offload their emotions? Or this type of bahavior is caused by a different issue than fear?

  5. Susan hutchison

    In case it is helpful, you might want to read a blog post I wrote about my son and a friend getting into a yelling fight. You can search for “learning to play with a friend.”

  6. Yes to, “I can’t let you…” or “I won’t let you..” statements. Stopping a child gently with your hands and not relying on your words is great advice. You can model empathy to both children. You can say to the affronted/injured child something like, “I am so sorry your brother hit you,” or, “I am so sorry I wasn’t here to stop that hit.”

    To the child that hit, you can also show empathy (because he must be hurting too to act that way): “I am here to help you stay safe with your brother,” or, “I will keep you from hitting your brother,” or, “I will listen to your strong feelings that make you want to hit.”

    The framework of punishment will only (as Patty said) fuel the bad feelings and ironically potentially create more competition/jealousy, etc. between siblings.

    It is also helpful to speak about kindness and keeping each other safe at times when everyone is feeling calm. Speaking about it when folks are escalated and upset sullies the message.

  7. Looking4Inspiration

    Hello. I was brought here by pinterest. Looking for ways ti parent and discipline without yelling or hitting. This was helpful for when my kids hitveach other. And surprisingly good for me too. I am a mother suffering from postpartum depression. I feel sad all day and like nothing is ever good enpugh. I strive for perfection. But iwant to stop. Any tips? what ways can i change and guide my kids through all the craziness they have to deal with… (i have three babies under the age of three)

  8. This sounds great but what if when you try to hold your child they lash out at you. Yelling at you and hitting and kicking. What then?

  9. So my son is aggressive towards me, not usually anyone else. When he gets upset he hits, kicks, scratches, bites, me. And holding him seems to makes him even more upset. Eventually he will stop and climb on my lap and cry or talk. It can take a while though sometimes of him attacking me. And I’m not always sure what to do? I stay with him and stop his hands and feet but am I still doing something wrong?

  10. I feel like the question asked by Laura just got sidestepped. She specifically wanted to know how you talk to the hurt child about why their aggressor is not getting disciplined for their unacceptable behaviour. I’d like to know this too.

    It sounds like what you are going for is enabling the child doing the hurting to restore his/her relationships with parents and peers. This is a worthy goal. Without being an expert, I’d also say it’s probably the most effective way of eliminating the hurtful behaviour in the long term.

    But I disagree that there should be no negative consequences at all for the child who did the hurting. Certainly isolating them will further any disconnection they may be feeling, but I really don’t think it’s okay to give them an implied message that there are no consequences for poor behaviour. Privileges can be taken away without enhancing the disconnection. Restoring connection is the priority and can be done first, and then the consequence can be given (a favourite toy confiscated for a day, screen time privileges removed, for a first/rare offence a very clear verbal communication, e.g. “it is never okay to hit/bite/say hurtful things and I want you to know that I do not approve of you expressing yourself by behaving this way. In our family we treat each other with love and respect at all times and that is completely non-negotiable.”)

    The child who hurts another child should not be treated dismissively or made to feel like his/her worth is lower as a result of engaging in unacceptable behaviour. Nevertheless, this child must learn that this behaviour will not be tolerated. The older they get, the more they will be expected to take responsibility for their behaviour, and a police officer is very unlikely to offer a soothing hug to a person who’s just assaulted someone because they have big feelings they need to express.

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