I have been practicing the Listening Tools from Hand in Hand Parenting for about two-and-a-half years. Setting Limits, PlayListening, Special Time, Listening Partnerships, and StayListening all work beautifully, complementing each other. I cannot imagine my parenting life (or my life in general!) without them. I’m delighted to be completing my certification as an instructor and working toward better lives for not only my own family, but children and parents everywhere.
Here is an example of Setting a Limit and using StayListening with my son, Joshua, who was three-and-a-half at the time. My husband had already tucked him into bed and I’d gone up for my turn saying goodnight. I’ll aim to give you the whole picture, including what was said, what actions occurred, and perhaps most important, the tone that was set and expressed through my voice and body language.
I walk into his room, smile, and give him a big hug and a kiss.
Me: Goodnight Joshua.
Joshua: I want my other Bob book, the Christmas one.
(His tone is cranky and cold shoudler-ish)
Me: I think I put that one away with the holiday stuff.
(I use a neutral tone and check in with myself about what is important for me in this exchange—do I have the resources to be with him through the feelings that might come up if I deny him the requested book? I don’t know where the book is, it is late and I have some reserves in me—I decide to hold the limit)
Joshua: I want it.
Me: No, I’m not sure where it is, and it’s time for sleep. We can look for it tomorrow.
(My tone is light and kind, but firm.)
Joshua: I REALLY want it! It’s so important to me. I won’t survive without it. I need it.
(He is agitated and angry in his tone.)
Me: I’m too tired to look for it. I will find it in the morning.
(My tone is encouraging. I am not annoyed. But also clear that I am not bending.)
Joshua: No, I need it. I need it so badly.
(He is whining and starts to fall apart—crying as if he is missing some essential part of himself.)
Me: That’s hard, to want it so badly and not have it.
(I am narrating. My tone is understanding—I have been there—it is hard. I know that it is good for him to express his feelings, which I am 99% sure are not about the Bob the Builder Christmas book. I hold the space for his upset. I know that it is his. I know I don’t have to change it—that he will resolve it on his own if I give him the space and time.)
Joshua: I have to have it, Mommy. Please get it for me.
(He is begging. He is crying. He starts thrashing. I know that this is all part of his offloading of the stress, tensions, disappointments, and distress that come with being three. I stay close.)
Me: Not tonight. I’ll get it in the morning.
(I am dispassionate and comforting at the same time. I keep the onus on him for deciding when this will end. I tag my flash of internal irritation: I could have probably gotten him to sleep more quickly if I’d just gotten him the book. I remember that it’s not about the book and go back to the present moment: My boy and his feelings. There are lots and lots of tears and strong feelings.)
Joshua: I have to have it right now. It’s so, so, so, so important to me.
(There is more sadness, tears, anger, and thrashing.)
Me: I know you really want it. You’re safe here. I’ll stay with you while you cry.
(I keep myself safe from his big body movements. I stay as close as possible. I do not mention his thrashing, tell him it is not okay, or that he is hurting me. I know that he is not in a rational part of his mind. I keep myself safe from injury.)
Joshua: I have to have it. I’m not okay without it. I need it so badly.
(He is adamant. I am steadfast. He is dramatic. I am calm.)
Me: That is a hard feeling. I’m right here with you.
(There are lots and lots of tears and more strong feelings. I feel myself tiring. I don’t want to give in or give up, but I’m ready for a shift. I make a small offering to see where he is, if he will take the out, or needs to express more.)
Me: Would you like me to lie with you while you fall asleep?
(This is kindly offered. There is not a trace of vindictiveness or bitterness in my voice.)
Joshua: No, I want my Bob book so badly. It’s so important to me, it’s more important than you.
(He is quiet after he says this, waiting for my response, I assume. I don’t take this statement personally. I stay focused on him. I make another offer.)
Me: I know it’s important. Do you want me to turn out the light and lie with you until you fall asleep, or turn out the light and sit in the rocking chair while you fall asleep?
(My voice is even. I am kind and genuine in my offer.)
Joshua: I want you to turn out the light and lie with me.
(He must be tired, too. He must have processed through enough of whatever was bothering him to be ready to move on and fall asleep.)
Me: Okay. I can do that.
(I let go of wanting to know the details of “what it was all about.” I know that being young and small in an adult world is enough reason. I know I can’t fix the problem(s). I remember that the best fix I can offer is the one I just gave. He falls peacefully asleep in about five minutes.)
-By Sarah MacLaughlin, Award-winning Amazon Bestselling Author of What Not To Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children
About The Author
Sarah MacLaughlin has worked with children and families for over twenty years. With a background in early childhood education, she has previously been both a preschool teacher and nanny. Sarah is currently a licensed social worker at The Opportunity Alliance in South Portland, Maine, and works as the resource coordinator in therapeutic foster care. She serves on the board of Birth Roots, and writes the “Parenting Toolbox” column for a local parenting newspaper, Parent & Family. Sarah teaches classes and workshops locally, and consults with families everywhere. She considers it her life’s work to to promote happy, well-adjusted people in the future by increasing awareness of how children are spoken to today. She is mom to a young son who gives her plenty of opportunities to take her own advice about What Not to Say. More information about Sarah and her work can be found at her site: http://www.saramaclaughlin.com and her blog: http://sarahsbalancingact.blogspot.com.