Feel like you are struggling with Hand in Hand?
It’s not you. Really.
I remember walking into my first Hand in Hand class. At last, I thought. Someone was going to give me some simple but effective tips for sorting out my kids.
I’d skip out of there a couple of hours later and head home where I would apply these previously unknown tricks consistently, my voice would magically always sound like Patty Wipfler’s always seems to, all calm, clear and loving. (Watch her in this video for an example of what I mean).
Parenting would be a breeze forevermore.
Turns out the reality is not quite that simple.
I DID get some super simple and extremely effective ideas.
And, in a good week, I apply them.
Occasionally, to my amusement and astonishment, I notice I’m channeling Patty, and calm authoritative words flow from my mouth when faced with the worst my kids can summon up.
And on days like that parenting really is a breeze and these tools feel like magic secrets.
Other times, I’ll be honest…
It’s a hurricane.
I love my kids deeply. They are awesome, funny, enthusiastic and kind as well as ‘sparky and energetic’ which some days means ‘a ton of fun’ and other days is a euphemism for ‘really hard work’.
They are also human. As am I.
It turns out that this ‘being human’ thing means that, for most (all?) of us, using the tools consistently gets a teeny bit tricky.
Many of us find it hard to be consistent about even basic things like exercise or healthy eating for ourselves. Why on earth would we imagine that when it comes to parenting – so full of emotional trip-wires and unexpected twists and turns – that just knowing the right tools would mean we’d suddenly be able to apply them perfectly all the time?
I’m not for a second implying that the Hand in Hand tools don't work. They do – fantastically. For me, part of the brilliance of this approach is that when I DO use the tools ‘as prescribed’, life rapidly becomes much easier and simpler.
When I do manage to do enough Special Time.
When I bring play to a difficult situation and it lightens right up.
When I step in and set a warm limit the first time I see off-track behavior rearing its head.
When I manage to simply listen supportively as my child offloads all their woes.
But as I said before, we’re all human, and sometimes lack of sleep, yet another piece of lego embedded in my foot or just the everyday juggle of 21st century adulting gets in the way and sends me offtrack.
Struggling with Hand in Hand? Don't stress, you aren't failing, you aren't alone, and here's why
We all come to parenting with a backlog of unresolved feelings from our own childhoods, expectations about motherhood or fatherhood from our lived experience, and things that are hard about our lives now.
And since parenting is generally HUGELY unsupported there is plenty that’s challenging to all of us, even for those who are privileged enough to have basic needs met for safety, food and housing, and more besides.
This means that, especially when you first start experimenting with a new approach to parenting, you’ll often find yourself reverting back to your previous patterns. You'll hear yourself saying things you had vowed to stop saying. You’ll feel like you are struggling to get it “right.”
You will yell, or be harsh with your kids when you have vowed to be a gentle respectful parent from now on.
You’ll have days when you are tired and can’t figure out how the heck to be playful or calm and resort to threats and bribes because sometimes, you just need your kid to go to bed already.
And, the likelihood is that when you do these things, you’ll beat yourself up about it later, and add shame and blame to the inner dialogue about wanting to do things differently, or better.
Please know that none of these things means you are a bad parent. Trying, and not quite being perfect, taking the odd day, week or even month ‘off’ does NOT mean you are any kind of failure.
Struggling with Hand in Hand is not failing at Hand in Hand. Struggling with parenting is not failing at parenting.
Learning to do something new takes time, practice, and support. It never happens overnight.
And there is no pass or fail.
So many of us feel like we're struggling – and that’s OK
As a Hand in Hand instructor, I often hear parents ‘confessing’ that they haven’t ‘done any Hand in Hand stuff’ for ages. They struggle to use the tools consistently but some days they just can’t. In the daily swirl of unfolding events, playfulness deserts them, or they find themselves raising their voices rather than listening or bringing a warm limit.
I want you to know.
This happens to all of us.
In my case, Playlistening is by far my weakest tool. It was the last one I learnt to use well, and is always the first thing to go if I'm under-resourced. But these days I am WAY better at it than I was initially. Sometimes I even amaze myself when I notice that I’m bringing play to a tricky moment without consciously thinking about it!
And sometimes, I just can’t.
When I’m tired, or the situation really triggers me, some days the play just isn’t there, and out comes grumpy ineffective Mama once more.
The same is true for all the other tools. (Click here to learn more about my hurdles with Special Time, for example)
This process, this dance of two steps forward, one step back, is the natural ebb and flow of life and learning.
Recently, my daughter became upset at an ice cream farm. We were both tired and a little overwhelmed by the busyness of the past few days but in my head I was doing a great job, staying close and calm, listening lovingly despite being out in public (Gulp!).
It wasn’t till she angrily demanded that I ‘STOP GIVING ADVICE’ that I realised I’d been making a constant stream of suggestions to fix her dilemma and bring it all to a close as fast as possible rather than… you know… actually just zip it and Staylisten.
Once she called me out on it, (and kids who are parented this way are often GREAT at telling us where we are going wrong!) I was able to step back and make a change. And what do you know? When I switched to actually Staylistening fully she made good use of my attention, offloaded those big feelings and quickly returned to her sunny self, able to be flexible and enjoy the rest of the day.
It was a small mistake, and one I could easily course-correct, but these kinds of experiences can help us notice where we can focus our attention and practice a little more.
In a message to a newly pregnant mother asking for advice, Kirsten Nottleson, certified instructor, said this:
“I have made oodles of mistakes. You will. But as Patty says, we are a world wide organization founded on mistakes. You will catch some of your mistakes, and do your best to correct them. When your child gets old enough, they will catch some of your mistakes, and will be happy to let you know. You will miss some mistakes and they will have the ability to cry about them later. The world will dump some of their undealt-with mistakes on your child and on you as you parent. And you both have tools to deal with them. “
You have the tools to deal with mistakes, wherever they come from.
You really do.
What can you do when you are struggling with Hand in Hand tools?
But maybe you also have times where it all feels too hard. When you wonder how to get back up and try again each time? How to keep moving forward when sometimes it’s just so difficult?
The answer lies in getting decent emotional support for yourself. If you’ve been around Hand in Hand for any time at all, you’ll likely have heard of Listening Partnerships. This is our tool for parents, where we exchange support, by taking turns to listen to each other without judgment or advice.
This tool is a whole wonderful squeeze-bottle of a not-so-secret sauce!
For me, committing to regular Listening Partnerships every week, over an extended period, has absolutely been the critical factor in becoming ever better at using the tools, reducing my triggers and also increasing my compassion, both towards my children but also towards myself when I mess up.
In my Listening Time I’ve realised that when I hit a new sticky patch, I often feel like I’ve gone back to square one, with chaos all around me, but that this process of learning a new and better way to parent is actually more of a spiral.
Each time, I realise that I have better tools than I did on the previous occasion. My capacity for play and listening well is greater, there is more calm and clarity in my voice. I recover quicker. Having another parent listen to me while I offload my frustrations is a key part of this, and by listening to them in turn, I am reminded again and again that it’s not just me.
We all have times when we struggle, and that we can all keep moving forward, one baby step at a time.
Getting back up to try again is what matters the most.
Giving your kids the growth mindset gift
I’ve discovered that my children are remarkably forgiving of the times I mess up, if I have the courage to apologize, explain and try again. Rupture and repair is an important part of any relationship and growth mindset is a key facet of emotional intelligence. And our children learn these valuable skills too, as they watch us try and fail, make mistakes and say sorry.
Over time as we learn and shift and grow, our children absorb important lessons about how we can ALL change, throughout our lifetimes, that we ALL deserve support, and that growth is ALWAYS possible.
So, to all the parents out there who are having a hard day, week or month, to everyone who has ever tried, and failed and wanted to give up parenting the way you truly want to, we see you.
All is not lost. Yes, you may feel like you are struggling with the Hand in Hand tools. But remember, it’s a practice. You have been building your skills, bit by bit, and maybe for a while you needed to pause.
Remember. Your kids still love you.
There are still people out there who can support you—a whole community of like-minded parents, cheering you on as you embed this approach firmly in your family.
There is still time.
The tools will always be here, ready for you to pick up and use, whenever you are ready.
Get tools to handle ALL the hard behavior
This class demystifies your child's loud reactions and big upsets. You'll get practical science-backed tools to work through them—even if you're frustrated and feeling like you've tried every parenting tip out there.
Decode what's causing your child's defiance, whining, crying and more and know how to stop squabbling, power battles, complaining and testing limits from escalating using just five simple tools that are kind AND effective.
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