Here, mom Elene Johas Teener tells us how Hand in Hand Parenting helped her meet her two aggressive sons.
“Being an older parent with a fully developed career, I have experienced high pressure and stress situations. One of the most challenging jobs I had was being in charge of part of a county mental health program. I supervised the director of a small psychiatric hospital and was directly responsible for all of the services to the severely mentally ill in a Northern California county. Clients were frequently violent, unpredictable and unstable. Clients had threatened me personally with knives and stalking.
Yet this job, this high profile and politically charged and often unpredictable job, was nowhere near as hard, demanding and constant as raising one baby.
Finding Hand in Hand Helped Us Find Acceptance
We underestimate how difficult it is to raise children. Hand in Hand Parenting is one resource that can help.
In my family, my older son showed early signs of what later might be diagnosed as ADD or ADHD. Impulsive, with not much ability to control himself, he had a hard time following verbal instruction and often seemed to pay no attention to what was being requested of him.
He is very attached to his father and me and was experiencing extreme fear of separation into kindergarten. His emotions were so intense that if we tried to hold him while he was fearful he became physically violent with me, his father and sometimes toys or whatever else that was nearby.
Hand in Hand Parenting Turned My Son’s Aggression Around
He was biting his fingernails to the quick and crying and having tantrums every day.
I had seen Patty Wipfler’s work and Hand in Hand previously in a parent participation preschool, and their materials were invaluable to my understanding of how young children express themselves emotionally and behaviorally when they are having difficulty. The techniques and basic philosophy do a wonderful job helping parents understand their children’s emotions and behaviors, and provide effective interventions to bring parents and children closer.
We worked directly with Hand in Hand as my older son entered kindergarten. We knew his separation anxiety and resulting experience was a normal response to who he is and what was being expected of him, and we did not want him labeled as pathological in any sense.
Hand in Hand offered us the exact support we needed to let him be himself, go through his development and support us in this intense and difficult time.
I learned that my son was a normally developing boy – active, creative, physical, verbal, sensitive and loving. Now, it makes me sad when I consider how many boys are diagnosed and treated medically when the Hand in Hand techniques can be used so positively.
As Parents, We Had All We Needed
We discovered that in fact no one was better equipped and motivated to help him than his father and me and to that all we needed was:
- An understanding of what was happening in our son’s world
- Tools to work with him.
- Support for our own feelings, which were intense and on the surface from constant emotionally discharge from him, as well as the parenting patterns we’d picked up in our own childhoods.
- Ongoing support.
Hand in Hand Parenting gave us all of those.
This Tools Helped Us Support Our Aggressive Son
We learned the importance of spending Special Time together to continually strengthen the bond we had with him. We got the support we needed when we would want to control him and punish him rather than listen to him. It was too easy for both of us to want to fall back on negative parenting patterns from our own childhood when our own uncomfortable feelings were activated by his defiance or inability to listen to us.
The constancy of his distress at the time was one of the hardest aspects, wearing down any intellectual veneer separating us from our own emotions.
To be able to parent Noah – to listen to him, to attend to him – we had to deal with our own emotions. I knew that we were the only people who could help him, but we needed to understand our own motivations when dealing with him to really be able to listen.
Our older son was the lead in his kindergarten play this past year. He loves his school. Life is ongoing and there is a lot to do and feel and he is doing great. PLI was and is a fundamental part of helping us help him become who he is.
Why We Returned to Hand in Hand Parenting with our Second Son
Our second son was separated from his birth mother during his first months and has tremendous fears about being abandoned again. Although we had professional access to many forms of support for him, choosing Hand in Hand was a deliberate and conscious move on our part. Hand in Hand was the one resource that could fully appreciate both his emotional distress and needs and provide my husband and myself emotional support so that we could assist Benjamin.
When we began working with Ben he couldn’t tolerate much direct eye contact, sustained physical contact or closeness. He had night terrors, would scratch himself raw, and began pulling his hair out.
When he was distressed he looked like a terrified baby, arching his back, screaming, trying to push away from us, kicking frantically for sometimes an hour, other times crying uncontrollably, or waking and crying off and on all night.
Imagine dealing with a baby like that for just one week, let alone months. Imagine having little sleep and dealing with the daily needs of yourself, the rest of your family and this uncomfortable baby.
We felt that there were really two options of handling it. We could try control, by avoiding, distracting, subtly punishing, spacing out and not attending to his signs and distress … or we could try to help him.
When we began working again with Hand in Hand, Ben was about ten months. We learned the profound disappointment a baby separated from his family would feel and what that looks like and we came to understand what behaviors signaled that he was becoming distressed, like the maniacal, nonstop movement we often saw.
We strengthened our connection with him by spending uninterrupted and focused time playing with him, and we set limits. We lovingly hold him and reassure him while he re-experiences, in his upsets, those early losses and terrifying fears.
Benjamin still has a way to go but he rarely pulls his hair and doesn’t scratch himself at all. He enjoys a lot of physical contact and is becoming more independent now that his dependence is more secure. We can see he is very attached to both my husband and myself and is a delightful little guy.
Change Parenting, and You Change the World
Hand in Hand Parenting has helped me to see my children for who they are: complex human beings, developing and maturing with the full range of human emotions and experience. It has given me a context that allows me to perceive my own and my children’s experiences as a normal evolving and developmental process. That process is inclusive of very complex human emotions, coupled with a continual internal push towards development and maturation and the external natural learning that goes along with living and growing day to day in our world.
Hand in Hand is a place that normalizes humanity. It helps parents understand that signs of distress in children are a normally occurring part of being human and that behavior labeled negatively may actually be distress. And in dealing with that distress, parents can help both their children and themselves.
Parents can and do benefit from these techniques as much as their children!
I believe the work of Hand in Hand is truly revolutionary; it is changing a long-held paradigm of parenting that has dominated human evolution since we proclaimed the notion of sin.
We are changing our beliefs about children and what they are telling us. Therefore we have the opportunity to change the human condition. To lessen and really respond to suffering, to normalize every emotion, behavior, and distress.”
– Elene Johas Teener
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