Hello to you all,
I’m new to the Parenting Club but have been practicing Parenting by Connection for a number of years. In recent years, for one reason or another, it seems we fell off the wagon with listening time, and have now found ourselves faced with some pretty challenging behaviours that we feel are over our head. I often feel like I don’t know what to do.
As the boys have gotten older (6 and nearly 7) the dynamics have changed and I feel lost with it all. They do a lot of talking and rationalising and negotiating, and we get drawn in by this which I find infuriating!
I have an LP (I had two for about 4 years, recently gone down to 1) but I don’t seem good at really knowing where I need to go with things. Perhaps getting my thoughts out on this forum will help me to focus in the LP sessions and use my time there well.
Anyway, My nearly 8 year old has been at school since the beginning of the year and has become very disconnected a good deal of the time. It seems he’s always had some pent up emotions from his early years. I had some (self-diagnosed) PND and wasn’t a good new mum (I say this matter-a-factly. I have given myself a lot of compassion over this and done a lot of grieving, but the truth is, my boy suffered some trauma in his early life).
And it went on for some years, on and off. I’m in a much better place these days but now I feel overwhelmed with all that needs to be done.
I’ll get to the point!
He is always disconnected first thing in the morning…always has been. This morning I stayed close, gave him lots of eye contact. I’m trying to think exactly what happened…he’s generally just angry with me a lot of the time these days. I think I tried to move in with play and he growled and told me to go away, or something (it seemed not so long ago that he was MUCH easier to reach…it’s always been quite easy to get him laughing – he loves to laugh but is a lot more serious the past 6 months).
I think I’m procrastinating…
So he punched out at me when I told him I was going to stay close with him. So I moved in and tried to restrain him. This is where it often gets messy and I begin to doubt everything that I’m doing (it was SO much easier when he wasn’t so strong!!). So the battle was on…that is what it always feels like. Just a struggle. The room we were in meant that I needed to try to hold him – no doors to sit in front of. If I didn’t try to hold him he would just run away into his room (SLAMMING the door, of course).
To hold, or not to hold has always been an issue with me. I never, even when he was young, seemed to get to that point that Patty speaks of, where they are completely relaxed and happy…there always seemed to be more! I know it was helping, but I also wondered whether the holding was adding to the trauma in some way as well – due to me not doing it right.
So this morning we struggled, he kicked and cursed and pulled hair (gotta hate it when they get a handful…oww!). He told me he couldn’t breath and why wasn’t I listening to him. I kept reassuring, I’ll make sure you’re safe, I’m not going to leave you while it’s hard…
He didn’t cry but there are always tears close to the surface these days, so he shed some tears but mostly just anger.
I realise we need to build up the safety and just writing this is highlighting that for me.
So, I suppose what I’m needing to hear here, is whether it sounds like what happened during this listening session might be helping him, or not.
Apologies for the scattered post – I think it’s going to take some time to organise my thoughts. My plan is to write at least one post each week for the next 12 months.
Thanks for being here and listening to me!
I look forward to any responses.
It is so great that you are here! What an awesome Mama – both because you’ve been listening so well to your boys AND because you know you need more support. I hear you! My son just turned 13 and over the last couple of years, I’ve reached out to fellow Instructors with older boys, to avail myself of their wisdom and support.
I’ve learned a few things – both from those who’ve gone before me and my own son. I hope some of these ideas will help…
Yes! It’s true. No longer do they melt down and no longer is it clear that they can’t think. What comes out of their mouths seems somewhat connected to reason. So, it’s easy to get sucked in by all those words. I’ve learned to regard much of what my son says as part of the emotional release. It’s not tears. It’s arguments. But if I’ve answered him once or given him ONE reason and he keeps trying to negotiate and argue. I have to tell myself he CANNOT THINK. Patty’s advice to set limits early and often is doubly true as our kids get more verbal. It’s EXHAUSTING to negotiate and make agreements and then have them not be able to keep the agreement, because they COULDN’T THINK anyway!!!
The other thing I’ve learned is to set ONE limit at a time. Particularly when you get all those words and/or my son starts to throw things around, I would then try to set a new limit. Again, the words and the throwing things around are part of the emotional release.
Because our kiddos are out in the world more now, they are learning really quickly that they need to have a harder crust in order to survive. When I am getting all that hateful talk spewed at me or my son starts to throw things and slam his door, I have to think, “Wow, sweetie, you are showing me how isolated you feel and how much you are hurting”. So, I hang in there and listen as he throws things and listen through the door when he slams it.
I actually do not contain my son unless he is about to hurt something of value and/or he is trying to hurt me. Then I have found tri-fold kids’ mats and blankets to be very useful. I can hold the mat in kind of a semi-circle and let him pummel the mat, or I will throw the blanket over him and then often, it turns playful. I have found play to be far more effective with my snarky 13 yr old that directly setting a limit and staylistening. For example, the other day he asked if he could go to the after school program. I said, ‘no sweetie’. He started in with ‘why?’ I think I told him the reason (homework) but he kept asking ‘why’, so I broke into the Carpenter’s song “Why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near? Just like me, they long to be close to you..” It got him laughing and protesting, ‘stop, Mom’. Dancing does the same great thing as singing. Gets us reconnected and gets him unstuck.
The other thing I’ll say about containment is that Patty says, we absolutely only do it for safety, and we try to contain them with as much kindness as we can. So, when I could contain my kiddo (he’s 9 inches taller now), I would get behind him, try to take us to the ground, gently and put my chin in his shoulder, so that I could put my cheek next to his. When he would howl in protest, I’d say, “sweetie, I don’t want to hold you. If you can stop hitting and we can be safe, I’ll let you go”. Of course he’d agree and I’d let go – being prepared that he might go for me again. If he came at me again, I’d have to get behind him. But often, he’d then direct his attention to throwing things. I’d have to judge… is this part of his release or do I need to bring a safety limit. Most of the time, I’d then go for the blanket or pillows to try to dance with his release.
I could NOT do any of this without LISTENING TIME – almost daily!!! I have had to rant, rave and cry almost every single day about how hard it is, how much I hate my son, how I no longer want to be a parent (I’m a single adoptive Mom), how there must be some drug – for either him or me….etc. I’ve also had in person listening partnerships where my partner has thrown pillows at me, wrestled with me and just stood in front of me towering over me (as my son can now do). Bringing ALL of it to my LPs allows me to be clear on what ONE limit I’m setting (although a SAFETY LIMIT trumps all), be clear if I need to set a safety limit, think really well on how close to get, how playful to get, when to get playful… I need regular LPs in order to not take his behavior personally. In order to see that he is GOOD no matter how crusty he gets. And every once in awhile, I have a day like today when I’m just loaded for bear and I’m the stinkiest Mama on the planet.
So – get a bunch more LPs – this is a great community of parents where you can find several. Be easy on yourself. See your boys as GOOD – I know you already do – Keep giving them lots and lots of SPECIAL TIME to increase the safety and keep posting!!!
Your courage and commitment is inspiring to us all! Let us know if any of this helped and let us know how it goes…
Peace & Smiles,
HAND IN HAND PARENTING
Follow me on Facebook: Parenting by Connection with Kathy Gordon
I’ve been absorbing all your helpful words! Thank you so much for your very detailed reply! And I really want to continue the discussion, I’m just waiting for some time where I can sink into it.
I’ll connect again soon,
Thanks again for your very detailed response. It really did make a difference in the way I’ve been interacting with him. But a few things jumped out from what you wrote that I’d love to discuss more.
Firstly, you mentioned that you have come to regard a lot of what your son says as part of the emotional release, whereas I thought I recalled Patty saying that unless they got to tears, it wasn’t really helping? I must say that hearing you say that has made things a little easier for me. I’ve found myself being able to relax more about anything that he’s doing and whatever way he’s expressing himself…just been available to him.
We’ve been experimenting with allowing them to watch more screen at the moment than they’ve ever watched before. In some ways I think this has helped our relationship…they really seem to love having choice around it – but in other ways they are more disconnected. I just get so sick of saying no all the time!!
I wonder Kathy if you could explain more about what you’ve written here:
“The other thing I’ve learned is to set ONE limit at a time. Particularly when you get all those words and/or my son starts to throw things around, I would then try to set a new limit. Again, the words and the throwing things around are part of the emotional release.”
What do you mean by you would try to set a new limit? And at these times would you try to stop your son throwing things?
I think one of the hardest things with my son is that his off-track behaviour comes out in talk, and what I notice myself labelling it in my head as ‘silly’ behaviour…just that impenetrable disconnected silliness, with disconnected laughing. It REALLY triggers me. I’ve tried talking about it in LP’s but I don’t know how to even go there! It just makes me feel yuk!
About the slamming bedroom doors…when they do this and start kicking the door from the other side, what do you do?! I often say if you keep kicking the door I’ll need to take it as a sign that I need to come in – I can’t let you kick the door. If it’s my younger son, he’ll generally keep kicking! So I push on the door a little, just to provide enough resistance so he can’t kick anymore. Does this seem ok? Or should I never force my way in? I wonder how you’re able to listen to your son throw things around without feeling like you need to get in there to stop him form wrecking the place! I think I would find that really hard! You’re amazing!!! And as I read more of your post, about all that you and your son must have been through, I know that you ARE amazing! And that you get almost daily listening time…wow!
When you do hold your son Kathy, in the blanket things you spoke about, does he ‘get’ what you’re doing? Does he use the time well or does he just seem like he really wants to get away?
I love this paragraph too, and would love to know more:
“Bringing ALL of it to my LPs allows me to be clear on what ONE limit I’m setting (although a SAFETY LIMIT trumps all), be clear if I need to set a safety limit, think really well on how close to get, how playful to get, when to get playful”
Could you give me an example of what setting more than one limit might look like (in case I am doing it and not realising!) and then how a safety limit trumps all. I’d love it if you could put all this into a scenario!
One thing I’ve realised since he started school is that, although in many situations he does tends to be quite good at letting other kids know if they’re doing something he doesn’t like (even if it’s in an emotional way – upset and also angry), there seems to be times when he seems extremely vulnerable, ready and willing to do whatever other kids suggest – this frightens the hell out of me.
I’ve just started on with ST again…only usually 10-15 minutes at a time (I have the two of them) but I want to do it daily. I feel sure this will help, even if he generally wants the screen.
Tonight it all feels too hard. We went out to dinner and he had a horrible incident with some other kids in the play area. He was being trapped by them in some way. I looked in and saw, and I kind of screamed out to them to let him go. And I felt so scared, and so devastated that he hadn’t called out to me for help. I’m sure had this happened 12 months ago, he would have. I think it’s since starting school. Our relationship has really taken a dive. I’m working on my own school-days stuff but there’s lots.
You are asking such wonderful questions. It’s clear that you are working very hard to support your son well. I’ll try to answer your questions one by one. Feel free to let me know if I’ve missed something…
No tears = no release. I’m not sure the context of this comment from Patty. It’s possible that she was talking about the deep sadness and fear that many of us, particularly boys have deep inside. It is that sadness and fear that drives the aggression and lashing out. But that sadness and fear is covered over by a hard crust. In order to break through that crust it requires:
1) that we get tons and tons of Listening so that we can see them as GOOD no matter what, and we can let go of any agenda about if/when they ever get to the tears.
2) lots and lots of Special Time so that they feel safe enough to let feelings bubble up through the crust
3) lots and lots of rough n tumble play where we take the less powerful role
4) lots and lots of LAUGHTER which increases connection, safety AND laughter IS the release of light fears
Human beings release feelings 5 ways: laughter, tears, trembling, sweating, yawning
Whenever we have an agenda about what anyone’s release (either our child or our LP) should look like, we compromise the safety necessary for any kind of release.
Then you asked some great questions about setting only ONE limit at a time and all the other stuff that might come after that limit. As I’ve said, I need a ton of Listening Time to be able to think well around what comes after I SET A LIMIT. For example, he’s off-track and he’s chosen dinner as a PRETEXT and is refusing to eat what I’ve fixed. “I’m sorry sweetie, this is what we are having for dinner”. Then, YES, I keep in mind that “dinner” is the ONE limit I’m setting and everything that comes afterward is part of the release or rather, his feelings trying to break through that hard crust. Then I get to be present – even on the other side of a slammed door- and LISTEN as he trashed his room, throws things around, kicks the door, etc…. If he is hurting himself or breaking something of value, that becomes a SAFETY limit. Otherwise, it’s just noise and it can all be cleaned up together at another time.
If I do need to set a safety limit, I have found it useful to set it playfully by throwing a blanket on my son. Often his fury turns to giggles as he keeps trying to reach things to trash or reach me from under the blanket. I don’t tell him what I’m doing. I TALK VERY LITTLE WHEN I LISTEN. I don’t tell him to stop doing things. I don’t name feelings or needs. I don’t explain. I don’t tell him to calm down or promise something if he calms down. I am simply PRESENT (in my good moments. when I’ve had enough listening time)
As for you being triggered by his silly talk – GREAT! ask your listening partner to be silly, silly, sassy and give you lots and lots of back talk. Rant and rave at your LP and tell them all the horrible things you are going to do to them if they don’t stop that silly sassy backtalk – duct tape their mouth, put their head in the toilet, wash their mouth out with soap… The more outrageous your threats and punishments during your Listening Time, the more relaxed you will be able to be when your son gets silly and threatening.
I’ll side-step to say a word about SCREENS and limits. Setting Limits on screens is very tricky because of the addictive nature of electronics. They put our brain in a passive state – like a DRUG – and when we set a limit, we get a double whammy . The brain can go right into fight/flight because of the drug withdrawal and all the feelings that were being tamped down by the drug come roaring up and out like a tsunami!!!!!! Just know that about screens so that you can be prepared. It’s great that you are doing more Special Time and I would highly recommend limiting the times that you do a screen special time. Once you’ve established a good habit of regular Special Time in your family. It is OK to save certain kinds of Special Times for once a week or once a month. It’s also ok to set a limit if you sense that there is a certain rigidity or anxiety about the activity your kiddo is choosing for Special Time. You didn’t ask about screens. That’s just my take on them. I think this anecdote could be helpful, and there are a lot more on our website. http://www.handinhandparenting.org/2016/07/tv-limit-led-to-play/
Lastly, Bel, a really good thing for you to explore deeply in Listening Time is what does my son’s behavior mean about me? I say that because you mention he seems to love you more since you allow more screens and because a big thought you had about the play area incident was that he didn’t ask you for help. When we equate our kids’ behavior with our worth, or even equate it with “how our relationship is doing” it is very, very difficult to listen to them unconditionally. and nearly impossible for us to intervene playfully. So, I’m so glad that you are working on your feelings. Good for you. You are an awesome Mama and you are figuring this all out.
You can trust in your warm presence. You can trust that you are enough. You can trust that you have the capacity to listen to whatever happens after the limit. You can trust your goodness and your can trust that your son is good.
I hope me elaborating was helpful. Keep your good thoughts and questions coming!!! You are helping us all learn.
Peace & Smiles,
Hand in Hand Certified Instructor
Conscious Child-raising Creating Cooperation and Peace
Follow me on facebook: Parenting by Connection with Kathy
“If we are to teach real peace in the world, we shall have to begin with children” – Gandhi
Thank you so much Kathy. Your responses are so very helpful!
So, what I’m hearing is that the aggression and fighting without tears is (if I’m able to just be there for him through it) building trust…is that right?
And about sweating as a release Kathy…I wonder if you have any thoughts on night-sweats. My son very often sweats a lot in the hours soon after he goes off to sleep, whether it’s hot or not. I wonder if it’s all part of it?
And I love this Kathy “…get tons of listening so we can see them as good no matter what”. That just sounds so freeing! And to let go of any agenda…I so wish I had known this well when they were young. I TOTALLY had an agenda about helping them to cry. That’s ok, I know now and I can help them from here on in…
And I can see now how having an agenda could compromise the safety necessary for any kind of release!
And thank you so much for going into detail about setting only one limit. I do believe I haven’t fully understood this up until now, and have indeed set more than one limit at a time!
In the example you gave about the dinner limit and then slamming doors and throwing stuff…this could have been my story!
And in my version of the story it might have gone a bit differently in that when he (either of my sons) was on the other side of the door kicking it, I would likely try setting another limit about kicking the door. Ahh what a relief to finally get some clarity on all this! It really is about the questions you ask, ha! And it’s taken me a long time to get clear on the questions I’ve needed to ask.
Thanks for the suggests about my own listening time…I’ll try to set this up for myself.
Screens, yes…I do know what you mean when you talk about the double whammy that comes after setting a limit. It’s ferocious! And it totally triggers me, and I usually try to set another limit about not slamming fists into the top of the computer!! (just so I can understand clearly, does a second limit lead to too much thinking, or simply removes the safety?)
And just to clarify Kathy, are you saying that it’s ok to have no-screen ST often, and then allow screens some of the time?
Thanks for the link to the article…it was helpful.
And wow Kathy, you hit on something really deep for me in that last paragraph. My relationship with my oldest son is definitely different to my younger son. I don’t know what it is…I know I don’t NEED to know, either. But it brings up a LOT for me. And what you wrote here:
“When we equate our kids’ behavior with our worth, or even equate it with “how our relationship is doing” it is very, very difficult to listen to them unconditionally. and nearly impossible for us to intervene playfully.”
…so accurate and offers such a light-bulb moment. Thank you for the opportunity to see this with more clarity!