It makes so much sense. Of course. I look back on my life, and see how I have grown, become more resilient and confident, and then bloomed when I have felt safe to express myself, share and release feelings without shame or blame, or unstick bound up energy in my body. I’ve had to learn that my brain and body naturally know what to do when I’ve been able to experience safe connection with another. Given support and trusting connection, there’s an in-born healing process in all of us. This has been true for my clients, friends, and in workshops.
It’s true for kids too. Bunched up feelings inside don’t need
to be about a major problem. It could be difficulty adjusting to a change, something someone said at school, or the normal daily stuff that creates rough edges and upset.
It comes naturally for parents to reflect how a baby is feeling, “You’re upset…you didn’t want to get into the car seat”, and be ok with connecting with eyes and heart to the fussy child. We know how to be with a child who has been hurt. In recent years, there has been more parenting emphasis on the value of recognizing feelings of children.
Wipfler and Schore take it a giant step further. To “Listen” means to become the anchor for the child who is upset. Upset can look many ways behaviorally, and can be labeled as “rude”, “out of control”, “mad”, “acting out”, “brooding”, “full of too much energy”, “crabby”, “non-compliant”, or “manipulating”. It’s a time when the child is not able to collaboratively connect with herself or another.
The authors see the parents’ role as keeping the situation safe by clearly communicating limits to unsafe behavior, while close by deeply connecting and relaying caring to the child, whatever the child’s response.
The authors call this process of “being” with the upset child “Stay Listening”. It’s the act of stopping unsafe behavior, moving closer, and offering connection as long as is needed. The “holding space” in proximity of the child for how the child is feeling and releasing shows and resonates deep caring when the child is, in one way or another, communicating intense feelings.
Hand in Hand Parenting’s Listening is a blatant reversal from the time outs or “go your room until calmed down” approach. Humbled, I re-evaluated times I thought sending children to rooms to calm down was best. I remembered the corner my mother used to use. The authors point out that sending a child away to calm or shift attitude interrupts a sense of connection, safety and resonance with an adult, and, in turn, teaches the child to stuff and hide feelings.
The authors give example after example of parents, who, in every variety of public and private daily life, experiment, learn, make mistakes, and succeed. They increased emotional connections with their children and used the tools no matter what the behavior. Initially, Stay Listening took them extra time and commitment. In the end, it clearly saved time and they felt much closer to their kids.
One could easily ask, “How it is humanly possible to avoid the unconscious triggers that make it really difficult for us to be around certain behaviors and attitudes?” Stay Listening is made possible by –
“Listening Partnerships” are committed to support the emotional clearing needed to help parents look at the situation and engage in a clear way. The partnership enables parents to get in touch with stored up feelings and beliefs from their own childhoods. Parents learn to hold space for each other’s need to vent, laugh, cry, shake, and appreciate, so that they can release their emotions and can return again to difficult situations with clearer minds and hearts.
Knowing how to keep limits on unsafe behavior.
“Special Time” is a designated play time when the parent helps a child feel seen by letting the child choose what to do while pouring presence, love and attention toward the child. Along with Play Listening, Special Time helps maintain deep connection with children, making Stay Listening easier.
“Play Listening” is non-tickling being silly, playing, laughing, and enjoying each other, while connecting to and listening to the child.
It isn’t just about parenting. Wipfler and Schore remind me to engage, have bursts of fun, and to deepen my listening skills. It’s also about self-listening and making choices about what to do with my feelings. Do I keep them in or find safe ways to release them? I recently saw a wonderfully powerful and realistically violent movie. In the past I would have followed the cultural norm and stuffed down how I felt. Deciding to do it differently, I was aware that I was very tense, and, after the movie, shouted, talked, stomped, shaked, and pushed against another to release the charge I picked up during the movie. I felt clearer and I could sleep.
A global level of change is possible through parenting. Although we often don’t see the ripples to others and the world, they are real. Listen encourages parents and those who work with children to development leadership through day to day life with kids. “We need fresh, cooperative, inclusive ways to wage peace, share resources, guide and nurture our children, ensure human rights, care for our planet, build caring communities, and work for justice of all.”