“Are your parents strict?” was once the only question that seemed to define parenting. Now we have dozens of labels, from gentle and calm parenting to authoritative and authoritarian. We have tiger moms, positive parents, peaceful parents, even unparents.
Hand in Hand’s approach is based on connection. But what is that?
“Your child has a unique and wondrous mind. But to function well, her developing mind needs a sense of close connection with you as surely as she needs food, shelter, cleanliness, and sleep,” Patty Wipfler says, in the opening chapters of her book, Listen, Five Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges. In the book, Patty, Hand in Hand’s founder, presents five listening tools that are the hallmark of the approach.
Outlining the brain-science that informs it, Patty explains how the developing brain relies on close connections to grow. “Every positive interaction helps a child reach her full potential today, and for decades to come,” she says.
Hand in Hand’s tools foster that support, interest, and close connection. Regular sessions of Special Time and playful responses do much to build connections and avoid large meltdowns.
When Connection Cracks
But when a child acts out, when he throws things, or bites, or whines “It’s not fair!”, that’s dis-connection. He’s asking for your attention, not to anger or disrupt but to help him back on the path to a safer place. Off track behavior occurs when a child’s connections get broken, caused both by big trauma as well as life’s daily stressors. At that point the brain enters a “fight or flight” state and thought processes shut down, so logic or reasoning, no matter how earnest, goes unheard.
So, Hand in Hand’s approach avoids punishments, shaming and threats, because what does feel unfair is asking a child for compliance in times of upset. Instead, we’d encourage the child release tension, through play and humor, or by allowing a tantrum to play out until the child gets calm. After that, the brain recovers and reasoning can happen.
To some, these responses seem to be as revolutionary as to be impossible. But, after 40 years using them, we know that they are remarkable to apply and amazingly transforming.
Take a closer look at how they work in action.
Q: What does Hand in Hand think about time outs?
A: On the surface, time outs seem sensible. They give everyone a chance to calm down. Supposedly, they teach kids a lesson. But any child can explain to you that timeouts ARE punishment, not any different than when you were made to stand in the corner as a child. And any time you punish a child, you make him feel worse about himself. Off-track behavior happens when a child feels disconnected, so the best way to nip it in the bud is to spend time connecting regularly.
Which tools help? Special Time gives you regular moments to reconnect and listen to your child, with the pressure off.
Read more in What’s Wrong with Time Outs for Children
Q. How can you help a child that hits, bites or is aggressive if you don’t do time-outs?
A: An aggressive child is a frightened child. Aggression is the associated “fight or flight” response that leads a child to act out. Unless there is an immediate threat, the fear most likely comes from another incident from some time back in the child’s past – perhaps something that happened when they were just an infant. But when we offer caring toward a child who hits or hurts another, we’re not condoning aggressive behaviour. Far from it! We’re finding ways to ensure no more aggression gets spilled out on any child – or adult.
Which tools help? Playlistening uses humor to relieve light tension. Setting warm limits may give a child what he needs to resist against to release his emotions.
Read the full story here: How to Help a Child With Aggressive Behaviors
Q: Does that mean Hand in Hand is a permissive parenting approach?
A: We are an authoritative style, where connection is highly valued and limits are set with compassion. In fact, we believe in limits so much that setting them is one of our core five parenting tools. “Kids need boundaries and limits to feel safe,” says Sarah Maclaughlin, a social worker and child behavior specialist. But limits do not need to come with threats, bribes or consequences.
Read this to find out how to set a warm, firm limit that stops off-track behavior straightway
Q: How can I manage tantrums and crying without consequences or punishments?
A: Tantrums and crying signal a child’s need for help. Tantrums come with the territory when you have children but most of us are taught to try and keep children quiet when they cry, by shushing or otherwise. Unless a child is obviously hungry, hurting or tired, Hand in Hand sees emotions as a welcome and necessary release, a time to offload tension and stress. The most helpful course of action is letting these tantrums play out until the child is able to calm and as a caring parent stays close by to offer support. Unfortunately for parents, these outbursts often happen at the most frustrating times – when we are rushing to pick up groceries, as you attempt to serve dinner or at bedtime.
Which tools help? Staylistening is your go-to here. Staying close and giving occasional words of comfort until your child is feeling better. Parents see a radical change in their children’s attitudes once a tantrum reaches its natural conclusion as kids regain their brightness and keen willingness to please.
Read more about emotional release in Your Ultimate Guide to Tantrums
Q: Your Staylistening tool encourages crying. Isn’t that the same as Cry It Out?
A: Hand in Hand does not support CIO strategies, where parents leave their children to cry and ‘cope’ alone. Stay very close to your child when he is crying, but listen for about 75 per cent of the time he is upset, adding sprinklings of warm words and comfort now and then. This allows him to blast off big feelings that are weighing heavy, knowing he can be his full and uncomfortable self in your loving presence. The message here is that you will always be there, not that you will only be when he is happy and coping with life well.
Read this excellent article about what to say and do during Staylistening.
From the Hand in Hand Toolbox:
Discover how your child’s mind really works in Do Children Manipulate Their Parents?
Need help with biting, kicking or aggression? Read this