School Success Through Listening Time

At the end of a school year, my husband came home ecstatic. “My sons are geniuses!  Did you see their report cards?”  Our sons just finished third grade and Kindergarten, and we had just received their report cards by e-mail.

70615_PillowFight_J1J0847Our sons did well in all areas. My third-grader scored in the 99th percentile nationally in reading, having scored in average range last year. Our Kindergartener leapt from knowing almost no Kindergarten facts to showing advanced skills.  This was not because I pushed them on academics–I didn’t push at all.  I think it was because my primary focus was on increasing the time I spend listening to them and encouraging play. That's why my children advanced by leaps and bounds. It showed up on their report cards.

I did work hard listening to them.  When my Kindergartener was afraid to take the pre-Kindergarten test, and when he didn’t want to go to school the first two weeks of school, I listened to him cry for hours, reassuring him all the while that he would be safe as he did those things.  My listening led to him being able to go to school confidently, and also to his loving to learn so much that I couldn’t stop him from reciting and writing the alphabet and practicing his numbers at home.

When my third-grader came home from a day of school with nasty behaviors and harsh remarks, and wouldn’t do his homework, I listened to him cry and rage for hours.  Many nights, he didn’t do homework, and I worked with his teacher and even his principal on this issue, as I agreed with him that he had too much. He also had difficult social experiences at school, and I listened to his feelings about those.  I listened to relieve his mind, and took action when I thought it made sense, advocating for him and changing my expectations of him, according to what I learned through listening.

I listened to both my children when they fought.  They fought not because they didn’t like each other, or because that is just what siblings would do, but because things were hard in their lives.  Nowadays, they amaze me with their increasing ability to roughhouse with each other like lion cubs, laughing and creatively coming up with new play when their upsets are cleared through listening.

My husband and I offered them each a short Special Time daily, and whenever I found opportunities for more one-on-one time. We did Special Time before getting out of bed and before their homework or music practice.  We even did Special Time sleepovers for one parent to take one child on a special outing overnight.  My children and I spent time pillowfighing and roughhousing in the evening, and we spent time chasing after each other or playing hide-and-seek when going through a morning or bedtime routine.

I listened to their crying every day from three minutes to an hour at a time.  Even with frequent short Special Time and Staylistening sessions, by the end of the school week, my sons would become very tight, sizzling with upsets.  So over weekends, my husband and I did longer Special Time sessions, and we ended up Staylistening with them when their big feelings would finally surface. Then they would go off to school again on Monday. This is what I did in my family to try to turn their troubles at school around.  And when the emotional obstacles were removed, my children went ahead and learned a lot on their own. My Hand in Hand mentor's comment was, “Your husband should say, ‘My wife is a genius!'”

I kept listening to my children because I saw their positive transformation and because we felt closer even though it wasn’t easy to do.  I kept listening because I gradually remembered and worked on my childhood and came to think I would have liked it if I had been listened to back then.  I was able to keep listening because I had other parents listening to me.  So thank you to all my listening partners in my community of parents, for your support.

Parenting by Connection Instructor in California

Messy Loud Real-Life ParentingIf you want some more suggestions on how to use Special Time, check out our free video series. In the first video, you'll get a step by step guide to using Special Time and some fun examples of what it can look like. Get your videos now.

5 thoughts on “School Success Through Listening Time”

    1. Parenting by Connection offers four ways to listen to children; Special Time, Playlistening, Staylistening and Setting Limits. The parent in this blog uses all four tools along with Listening Partnership, a tool to use with other adults. It’s listening to a child’s whole being, verbal and non verbal signals, using our ears, eyes, heart and mind while offering connection and safety.

      Listening to a child who does not want to go to school may look like the following, for example;
      1) go over to the child who does not take off his PJs,
      2) offer an eye contact,
      3) using a gentle and calm voice,
      4) say, “it’s time to change, sweetie,” and
      5) wait while stopping any irrational behavior quietly, physically, gently and firmly.

      And you listen to the child who may start saying, “I don’t want to! I don’t like you! Go away!” and you listen to their crying or tantrums until s/he stops (or until you need to stop).

      What often happens after such listening when an adult pours in connection and a child pours out “emotional poops” so to speak is that a child looks lighter and is more loving and cooperative. This is a very simplified account of Listening Tools called Setting Limits and Staylistening. There are more to be said and parents need support in listening well to children, so I hope you will explore the Listening to Children booklet set, and/or classes Hand in Hand offers.


  1. I agree with Jenni. I would love to understand how to actively listen appropriately. Are there certain cues I should look for? Are certain words more receptive than others? Can you give us more information on the actual process methodology?

  2. This is a lovely story. Thank you for sharing. I’m wondering though, how one does this when you have multiple children and no one else home to see to the others? If I stay in a room with my daughter when she is “passionate” she can continue for hours, no joke. If I remove myself and tell her I can takl to her when she is as calm as I am it usually takes less than 30 minutes. I don’t have hours to sit with her when I have other kids who need me as well.

    1. Having multiple children makes us think harder about how to divide our already scarce resources. And we are so stretched that it’s not uncommon to regard time for connection, listening and play mere luxury we can’t afford. But it may surprisingly help parenting situations.

      Here is why:
      a) Listening often works like investment; when a parent listens to a child’s emotional outbursts earlier in the day, for example, then later on, there are returns as the child becomes more cooperative.

      b) Listening often works like a tension release valve in a sibling situation; when a child’s cry is fully listened to, then there is less tension among siblings and they can work better together. Usually the tight trouble instigator is signaling that s/he is starving for connection and needing to let off steam.

      That’s when we use other Listening Tools such as Special Time and Playlistening to proactively listen to children by joining in their world, following their laughter and reversing our roles.

      For example, Special Time mentioned in this blog goes like this:
      1) tell your children when they will each get a one-on-one time with you,
      2) arrange so you can spend one-on-one time with one child at a time,
      3) name the time so the child can ask for it later when his/her “cup” is empty (“Special Time” or “Mommy and me time,” etc.),
      4) when the promised time comes, start the Special Time by saying, “I have x minutes for Special Time and we can play whatever you want! What would you like to do?” with extra enthusiasm and warmth,
      5) set the timer for the promised amount of time, but mentally set aside another chunk of time for listening to the child’s feelings about ending the Special Time. For example, if you have 20 minutes to play with your child, then promise 10 minutes of Special Time and set the timer for 10 minutes.),
      6) play with extra eye contact, smiles, touch and delight no matter what your child chooses to play unless it’s obviously unsafe,
      7) do not multitask, or teach, or give advice during Special Time,
      8) when the timer goes off, end warmly saying, “it’s time to end our Special Time. That was fun! Let’s do this again in a week.”
      9) if it’s hard for your child to end Special Time, you Staylisten.

      Again, this is bare bone steps of Special Time and there is more to be said so I hope you will explore Hand in Hand resources. As for a child crying for hours, you may be surprised to see her come out of it on her own and it may not take hours.


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