Parenting and Empathic Fathers

Raising Confident Children Through Trust

person-1037607_1280“Sharp knives don’t belong into children’s hands”, “That’s not safe, let me do it”, “A kitchen is no place for kids” – sounds familiar to you? Well, that’s some stuff I had to cope with when growing up myself, and – bad enough that’s still the mantra for many parents or adults working with kids nowadays.

I just recall some playgroup situations: the parents’ response when their two-year-old picks up a plastic knife (yes, the good ones for butchering play dough) to murder a cucumber at snack time. Eyes wide open, panic mode, shrill voice: “Ah sweetie, Mummy will hold that dangerous knife for you, don’t you think?”. A millisecond later – the object of mass destruction is safe in Mummy’s hand. All other parents exhale a sigh of relief.

playground-408658_1280Another example comes from the next-best playground of your choice. Little Joe tries to balance over the climbing frame. He concentrates hard enough and works his way up. Before he reaches the top little Joe hears his Dad shouting “Oh Buddy, that’s quite high. Just watch out. Hold tight. No, not left, go right. Easy man. Not quite sure if that’s a good idea”. Smiles nervously. Dad that is. “Hang on. Let me guide you. Stop. Stop I said!” Joe loses his balance and falls off the climbing frame. “Told you to stop!”

Clever omniscient grown-ups have created a fluffy, pink, bullet-proof world of health-and-safety where we all wear safety goggles to watch the wind and face masks to breathe nature. Because…, just in case…, because we’re rather safe than sorry…, because to make sure… because. Well, just take a moment and stop breathing – just to be safe!

What has gone wrong here? Have we lost the very basic connection and trust in our children? Or, was there ever a time when we trusted them? Hmm… Let’s see. Just back in the 19th century children would have lots of responsibilities: cleaning, cooking, looking after their siblings, helping on the farm… and, yes, brutal hard labour in dark factories, ten or twelve hours a day… good that we left those times behind us (well, over here in the rich part of the world…). And, yes, many of those household chores were done by children because of living in large families or parents having to work twelve and more hours a day as well.

When World War II was over, still many children played important roles in helping their families with household chores. You could argue that this happened because out of necessity or desperation. Indeed, that’s one reason. Another one was simply called trust.

Trust and a strong bond between parents and their children. Only from the 1950’s onwards, something strangely has been happening in our society. Families started to spend less time together. The so-called classic family model, where dad leaves in the morning for his desk in an office while his wife stays home to look after house and kids, took over.

That quite artificial construction became a bit of a relationship killer. While in the past fathers and their sons, as an example, would often work and spent time together (on the field, in their business…), now children missed their father for most of the time under the week. Mums got busy in their brand new kitchen with all the latest inventions and gadgets. Kids? Go to school or your bedroom.

You see what else went on here? Skills. Not only relationships suffered, there’s a whole generation of lost skills. Cooking, working with tools, fixing and mending – you name it. Fixing something, why? Buy it new, it’s easier. Cooking? Get a ready meal. I still remember my parents’ pride when they bought the latest of modern cooking inventions in the mid 1990’s: a shiny, adorable, handsome, easy-to-use microwave! Plus 200 packs of ready-to-microwave food. Yuck! I can still sense the aftertaste. They probably spend two or three weekends in deciding which microwave to buy… I wished they had taken one afternoon to teach me the basics of cooking.

You know, I’m not the least surprised that today three-quarters of children in the UK have no idea how to boil an egg, or that 30% have never chopped veggies. I probably was 18 or so when I found out that kitchen knives have more purposes than just hanging on the magnetic knife holder. And another five or so years to get serious about cooking.

Starting to trust our children is the very foundation of a well-connected relationship. Children (and, indeed us adults too) learn by trying. They give it a go. They might fail, they might succeed. It doesn’t matter, as long as we provide a bit of a safety net in the background so that they won’t ever get seriously hurt. If they feel excited and stimulated, they will try again… and again.

cookingMy eldest, who is nearly 8 now, showed a great interest in preparing meals and cooking lunch and dinner. He’s been watching my wife and me since babyhood. When he was about three, he used a sharp knife (not one you are able to cut your fingers off with, but one that’s just sharp enough for cutting with – a bland one would be safest, sure, but equally useless and only frustrating) for cutting up an apple. Yes, he cut himself a few times, but that’s how he learnt, and nothing happened apart from some quickly dried tears and a cool plaster on a tiny wound. With four he cooked himself porridge on the hob for the first time. Yes, his first cooking session was guided and supervised by me, but I didn’t interfere. I just watched. Today his cooking repertoire includes pasta and tomato sauce, scrambled egg, various cakes and biscuits, and – hold your breath – sushi (ok, the sushi rolls can’t compete with a sushi bar, but it’s just a question of perspective and expectations. Expect a perfectly cooked and awesome looking meal? Do it yourself).

It’s a great learning curve for us parents to lower expectations and to be more prepared for a giving-it-a-go mantra. And, yes, sometimes we get pushed out of our comfort zone as well. In our family it’s a bit of a tradition to make pancakes for Sunday breakfast. Often – I admit my sins – they go with chocolate spread. This morning we had run out of the sweet treat and no-one seemed to be willing to go down to the local shop (2-minute walk) to get more. Only my nearly 5-year-old volunteered. I hesitated as I wasn’t sure whether he would manage. I trusted him with finding his way to the shop and paying for the item, but I feared the road he would have to cross.

My wife’s response was more clear. Yes, he’ll be fine. And off he went. But, I threw over my invisible cloak and sneaked after him to watch his adventure. He didn’t see me and I had a great time hiding behind bushes and trees. My main fear – the road – was quiet, he stopped, checked, checked again, and crossed. No problems. A woman stopped him (she was probably a little anxious… as me), but he carried on.

At the shop I peeped through the window (gosh, if someone had observed me they must have thought I’m a little… well, crazy) to make sure he’s alright and the shopkeeper is not calling the police or social care. She didn’t. With a great smile she scanned his jar and gave him receipt and change. I stood there – watching and with tears in my eyes. My little son, so great and independent. He skipped all the way home. Just fifty metres behind him, I – his dad, full of love, joy and trust. At home we both hugged for a long time. And, of course, we enjoyed our chocolate pancakes!

The confidence and self-esteem he gained from his independent venture was giving him a glowing buzz all day – he knows his parents trust his abilities.

Next time your little one is climbing up high on the climbing frame or tree, just position yourself, discreetly, so that if they fall, you could catch them, and just observe. Neither encouraging nor anxious, just observing and trusting (your facial expression and body language can communicate that, too!) that when they are able to climb something unassisted they’ll know how to get down again by themselves. Soon enough, they have learnt to use their body well, trust themselves and know where their limits are.

Trust your children and you’ll be amazed by what they are able to do by themselves and how their self-esteem grows each day!

PS: A few days after I published and shared this post on facebook, I had this reply:
Untitled…just awesome! 🙂

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Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Society

Am I a Good Parent? Feeling Judged by Others

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I love my children. But sometimes I seem to stop loving them so unconditionally or looking at them through this (rightly!) blurred vision of a parent when there are other people around.

I notice myself thinking: “Oh why is he doing this/behaving that way?”. Whenever there are other people around, my children seem to become these total strangers that I suddenly feel ashamed of. What’s going on?

First of all, they are so easily excitable by visitors and then act in a way that I often find so hard to tolerate. I hear myself saying “oh they are very excited” to excuse them (and let’s be honest: try and convince my guests that really it’s not my fault they are like that!). The other day our landlady came around and my four year old was hiding behind me (which he REALLY! never does), the seven year old was whizzing around as if he hadn’t had been outside for days and was on a sugar high (REALLY not true!). Immediately, I felt judged “she will think my kids are not social/behaving oddly/need more parental input/stimulation/less sugar. AND, maybe worst of all: “he is not ‘up to it’ as a dad).

I think as a parent we often feel that we are judged as people by how our children look or act. So, we try and make them do things we wouldn’t ever do at home or even think are stupid to ask of them anyway. To my six month old baby I hear myself saying “be gentle” and anxiously wonder whether she will be an aggressive child because she is playing with another baby in a way a six month old baby does (poking at eyes, pulling feet, scratching…). Later I can laugh about how my own thinking is influenced by the fact another parent is watching. Of course, she will learn that we are gentle with each other, simply because she sees us being that way with one another. And, of course, I should not judge her for being the way she is: just a normal six month old baby.

I remember with shame those days I tried to get my two year old son to share. Just because it made me feel better in front of the other parents present. Even though I knew he wasn’t able to understand that concept yet at all. His needs suddenly became less important than other children’s needs. Putting other people’s needs first (and sometimes up to an unhealthy degree) is what we adults can do, but we cannot expect that of a small child. Even though I knew that at the time the need to fit in and be accepted as a father by other parents was so great, that I wouldn’t stop myself and just say “sorry, I think my child isn’t ready to share this yet” and stand up for him.

Secondly, they just adapt to other people, like I do. I need to accept they will take on a different persona when they are with certain people. One of my sons will sometimes just not answer people. So, if he is asked a question, he often stays quiet. I used to feel very ashamed that I still had to talk for him, way past the toddler years. Now, I mostly try and stay calm inside and accept it. He is old enough for us to talk about that and I tell him the impression that his behaviour might have on other people but ultimately I feel it’s his decision. I cannot make him do things, that would also go totally against our parenting philosophy. So, I will have to accept that side of him and free myself from making judgments. Tirelessly I will reject labels such as “oh he is shy/ introvert” because I don’t think they are true. He is perceived like that in this situation, but it is not a true description of his character. At home or with a different set of people he will talk non-stop and wouldn’t dream of not answering.

And when I think about it I know that I am the same. It is mostly hidden though, because I am an adult and have learnt to act differently to how I feel, but it still comes through. There are several “personas” in me for different people. I will feel more relaxed with my family and that means act and talk in a different way.

Our children are the best they can be in any situation. If they behave in a way we would like to change, then they are actually diverting our attention to a need of theirs that needs addressing by us! Not because they are “naughty”. So, if they act ‘impolite’, they might feel insecure or simply don’t know what to say. We can help them out, it’s ok, whatever their age.

I am working hard at being proud of who they are despite of how they are. I also, as my children get older, understand that they are not me, and are walking their own paths that have, in some respect, nothing to do with me. I am guiding them, but I don’t have control over their every step and they will make decisions that I might consider wrong, it’s not always to do with me.

I am working hard at being a better parent – yes, I’m talking about the best person I am possibly capable of becoming. That also means in becoming immune to other people’s judgments. This goes along with my own seeking not to judge others and becoming more compassionate. Towards myself and others. There is always a reason we and others behave the way we do and by loving my kids unconditionally I show them that it really doesn’t matter if they take up roles sometimes (as long as they do it intentionally and happily) or act out their emotions (which I sometimes, secretly, wish they would hide) and hopefully they will grow up self-confident and compassionate towards others and themselves, instead of worrying what other people think.

So, am I a good parent? The only people I will grant judgement of that are my children. The older they get, the more I have to face their irritated looks when I, again, have chosen the wrong tone ‘Daddy, you really don’t need to shout’ or come up with a stupid ‘rule’ and their reply is ‘Daddy, I can do that, it’s ok, really’.

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Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Society

Raising Boys To Become Gentle Men

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When I became a father I was full of excitement, joy and happiness. My wife and I felt well prepared as we had read dozens (it felt even more) of parenting books, we went to two antenatal courses, and we took every opportunity to sit on the sofa and chat about our baby. I hoped this would make me into one of those super-dads (because actually I was quite apprehensive about having a son and all that this might bring up, at first)!

From pre-baby time it was clear to us that we believe in attachment parenting, co-sleeping, feeding on demand and unconditional love. I always imagined me to be a gentle, relaxed and easy-going father. Today, seven years later, I can say that I have achieved some of that gentleness and peacefulness. But it was a long journey and I’m still on it.

When you believe mainstream media, it often seems harder for men to be a great parent. Too often dads are being pictured as the workaholic money machine with no or little interest in his offspring. Is that just a stereotype or a real problem?

When comparing figures, one can definitely see that more women care for their children full time or working in part time jobs to spend more time with their kids, than men. Not all fathers take time off work when their baby is born. There are various reasons for this I believe. One of the main reasons is the lack of positive male role models, taking on an active role within the family.

2014-07-09 16.16.44When I was a teenager I probably considered myself as a nice, friendly and gentle person. But, after a lot of reflecting, I now would say that I couldn’t communicate very well. I did hurt other people’s feelings and I sometimes was very mean as I couldn’t deal with my emotions and feelings. Why is that? I had never learnt to talk about them. Not to my father or another man. I had some very good female friends and it always seemed easier talking to them. I felt heard and listened to; they took me seriously. Still, something was missing.

The search for men who really can open up is not unusual for boys, young men and the older generations as well. I was lucky enough to meet one man (it’s always that one person who can change your life) who I met in my early twenties. He touched my soul and opened my heart. He let me cry and held me tight. For the first time I discovered some genuine, true closeness and real manhood. No games, no masks, no pretending. I could be myself.

From then on I could start my personal journey in becoming a better man, and yes, a better father. To me being better means more authentic, more empathic, more myself. To stop playing a role in order to find appreciation. To stop strengthening myself at the expenses of others. To be confident and clear, without upgrading my ego all the time.

Being masculine is all about hyper-competition, being super-hero-hard and strong. Men are labelled (and often it’s true) with exactly those attributes. And that’s the second key problem: our society. How can we expect gentle and empathic men when we already start treating boys as the stronger gender? Boys don’t cry, they are the emotionless super-heroes, they should “man up”, and certainly they should not play with girls (toys) or dollies. “Their” toys are action figures, fast cars, modern day heroes (fire fighters, police men), monsters, toy weapons and the like. The same stereotypes get applied to them when they turn into men: They are expected to have a lucrative and prestigious career. Men are strong leaders who will govern countries from behind their desks, go to war for our western ideologies, and they… well, they just save the planet. Right?

Yes, I know, in many ways things have changed. More and more men decide to put their families first, take longer paternity leave or even consider working part time to spend greater chunks of time with their families. (And obviously there are women now who are filling these traditional “male careers”). There is a shift in society, away from the ego-driven hard men to “new” men who believe in equality and mutual respect. But it’s still a very long way to go and a minority of men feel able to (or want to commit to) a more active role in family life.

happyWhen I stayed at home to look after our children for about two years, I painfully realised how alone I can feel. Don’t get me wrong. I made many female friends, mainly stay-at-home mums. I very much appreciated their company and I had a great time being at home with our kids. But I also longed for some other men and fathers; to share the experience and to see how they cope and feel. I also think it would do many men good to experience this role of full time carer (even if only for a few days a week); it certainly got me more connected to how I want to be and less focused on outside pressures.
Especially that time as a stay-at-home dad made me realise how important it is for me to give my sons a better start into the beauty and chaos of life. They don’t need a super-dad I pictured to be, but someone real, someone authentic, someone they can trust and talk to. A male person (or preferably a few) who loves them unconditionally – who has (lots of) time for them!

As a start I looked at the way I communicated with my sons: Am I really listening to them? Do I judge them? Are there any pre-conceived ideas I have about how they “ought” to be (because they are boys)? Will they feel respected and loved when I say x, y or z to them/are my actions communicating my love for them?

I also introduced an evening-check-in with my eldest son, who was 5 years old by then. When we are cuddled up in bed and have finished our night time story, we do a ‘check-in’. I normally start off by talking about my day, what I liked and disliked, things which made me happy or sad. I really try to name my feelings. Nothing needs to be covered. Equally important in our talks is being honest. Bloody honest. That includes to apologise. (That’s another thing many men struggle with. I can’t remember that my dad had ever apologised for anything.) I want my boys to see that I make mistakes. I mess up, I say things I don’t mean to say, I lose my patience, I’m unfair. That’s ok, as long as I do the aftermath: reconnecting and apologising. And, yes, kids are so great in forgiving.

The just-before-bedtime-talk is a win-win for my son and me. This way I learn about what’s going on inside him and he sees how I talk about emotions and feelings, that I take responsibility for them and reflect on my actions and words.

Start those talks asap. And carry on. Don’t stop when they turn teenagers. Especially then they need you and your open ear more than you might think.

world changer newI also notice how the culture we live in influences our sons. The other day on our walk through the local park, we watched a soccer match of 9-year-old boys. For many boys sport is an extremely important activity in their life (obviously same applies to girls). As we watched the game my boys and I observed those boys swear, shout, spit, push and make a fall look dramatically heroic (probably copying their professional counterparts). It left all three of us baffled by how much they seem to be putting on adult behaviour. It was difficult to explain why they were shouting so much and hurting each other, well it was nearly impossible. Equally, to make sense of parents on both sides shout and scream their heads off, in quite an aggressive manner. Sports are naturally good for physical health, but what about emotional health? What is it we are teaching boys here? What is competition, pressure, fear to fail doing to our children’s emotional development? One could argue it prepares them for the “hard” world out there, where being ambitious and competitive is valued highly. While I am all for having determination when you really want to achieve something, I believe getting to your aim without making others fail along the way, is preferable.

Don’t get me wrong, not all kinds of sports work like that, but definitely most competitive ones. The game, the joy, the fun and a good team spirit should guide our sons games. In fairness, whether they lose or win (does it always have to be one or the other?) I am confident there are teams out there, who are achieving this, we need more of them!

I want my sons to grow up to become gentle, empathic and kind men. Men who love and respect their partner and children. Men who treat other women, men and transgender with tolerance and kindness. Men who can listen and reflect before they speak. Men who are confident and strong without polishing their ego. Men who truly have something to give. As I am working on becoming one of those, I hope my children will copy and follow me into a more peaceful future.

Read further and get your copy of my book ‘The Empathic Father’

This article was originally published in The Natural Parent Magazine (June 2015)

Interested in more? Enjoy my Love-Letter video to my sons:
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Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Relationships, Society

Inspirational Blogs To Share With You

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It’s been about two years since I started blogging and writing. In those two years I learnt a lot: not only how to improve my (English) writing skills (yes, it’s still a challenge from time to time not to write in my mother tongue), but also all those technical gibberish when creating a blog or website. Many long (too long) evenings or early mornings (combined with some swearing or moaning because the supposed to be easy-to-install plug-in wouldn’t just plug-in) passed in order to get things working.

But, besides all challenges and difficulties, something extraordinarily happened as well: I met many inspirational, creative, kind, supportive and like-minded people. Something I’m really thankful for. Those people influence my writing and thinking. Those people make me laugh, dream, think, curious, and yes, sometimes even cry.

Today I’d like to introduce you to them. Take a moment to dwell in their sites and blogs. Make yourself a nice cuppa of something warm and start reading. You’ll enjoy it – promised!

eric greeneLet’s start with Eric D. Greene aka 1 Awesome Dad. Last year I discovered his blog and it took me less than two minutes to get hooked. One of his focuses is a respectful relationship, especially when it comes to parenting our children. He says: “I believe it’s time to honor our children and treat them with love and respect, as equals among the human species, not as second class citizens to be ordered around, shouted down at, disrespected and abused.” Eric writes about unconditional parenting and on how to stay calm when things get tricky. If you like this stuff, I strongly recommend joining Eric’s facebook group Peaceful Parenting Community – a lot of like-minded people who share their stories, problems, hopes and dreams.

joanna stevensJoanna Steven’s site, The Nourished Village, is all about healthy nutrition, peaceful and gentle parenting, and a positive lifestyle. My family and I have tried many of her delicious recipes and I think her ebook “The Nourished Village Cookbook” will give you a lot of creative input when it comes to healthy, nutritious food. Yummy!
Joanna’s mission is to inspire mothers (and I believe fathers as well) and make their life easier so they feel nurtured, nourished, and better able to raise children in a peaceful way. Also, take some time to read her series about peaceful parenting.

peaceful papaMany of you probably know Josh K aka The Peaceful Papa. I came across his facebook site (very busy over there) first. Josh is a strong voice in the anti-spanking and anti-corporal punishment campaign in the US. – “There is no single effort more radical in its potential for saving the world than a transformation of the way we raise our children.”
His blog is full of practical tips, inside thoughts and his personal journey when it comes to peaceful and gentle parenting. I love his honesty!

katephotoJust very recently I linked up with Kate Orson. She is a Hand-in-Hand Parenting Instructor, living in Switzerland. What I appreciate about Hand-in-Hand Parenting is their clear, easy-to-follow advice backed-up with scientific evidence. Kate gives useful tips: whether it’s how to get your kids help cleaning, or how we parents can help our children with separation anxiety. I’m so excited about her new book, which will be out this autumn.

 

unschooling kidsLehla and Anthony Eldridge-Rogers live with their three children in Italy. On their family blog Unschooling the Kids the whole family talks about their daily adventures, challenges and surprises. As my children are being unschooled as well, I often smile and nod when reading Lehla and Anthony’s stories. Best bits? When their children show in videos and posts about what they enjoy – sometimes it’s those little (science) experiments you and I can do at home as well!

 

jl-morse-polaroidThe world of my friend JL Morse is colourful, surprising and exciting. JL is an author, publisher, thinker, mother… and so much more. Her latest project is called New Days Resolutions: “If new habits are truly meant to stick, they are meant to seamlessly integrate into, and improve upon, our every day lives. Every. Day.”
Her books ‘The Family Bed’ and ‘The World of Wickham Mossrite’ have one common theme: family, respect, peace. #Simplehappy

 
Those are my favourites. But, yes, there are countless other sites, blogs and projects I would love to mention in detail. Here is a (small list) of more sites I would recommend to you as well:

The Dad Effect, Inspired Dads, OhArt!, Natural Papa, Love Parenting, MamaCravings, Stephanie Parker Blog, LadsanDadsClub

What are your favourite blogs and sites? Let me know and write a comment.

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Guest Posts, Parenting and Empathic Fathers, Relationships

How Staylistening Builds Family Connections

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Today I would like to introduce to you Kate Orson. She is a Hand-in-Hand Parenting Instructor (love, love Hand-in-Hand and their philosophy) and will be publishing her book Tears Heal: How To Listen To Children this year.
I very much love Kate’s writing and I feel inspired by her suggestions and ideas. Here she shares a great post about how Staylistening can support strong family connections. – More links at the end of this post. Enjoy!

One evening when my daughter was 9 months old, my husband came home, and went over to say hello to her where she’d been happily playing on the floor. She burst into tears, and when my husband picked her up she reached out her arms for me.

I was surprised that she’d cried so suddenly. She wasn’t a newborn anymore. It seemed as if she’d been in the world long enough to understand this was her dad, that she was in a completely safe situation. I was right next to her on the playmat too! We had just spent a lovely, connected day together. Why did she suddenly need me so desperately?

Before I learnt about Hand in Hand parenting I would have taken her back in my arms to stop the crying. I would have automatically assumed that was the kindest, most naturally thing to do.

But now my perspective about crying has changed. I discovered that there are two reasons babies and children cry. The first reason is when they have a need, perhaps they are hungry, too cold, or are in pain. The second reason, is to heal and recover from an upset that has already happened.

In our busy, modern, society, it is sadly inevitable that all babies and toddlers will experience some degree of stress or upset. It could be from a difficult birth, medical intervention, or just the daily stimulation from getting used to being in the world.

Crying is a healing process, and there are actually stress hormones contained in tears. The psychologist Aletha Solter calls this the ‘Broken Cookie Phenomenon’ that often babies and toddlers will use a safe, everyday situation as a trigger to heal from

a bigger upset from the past. In these moments all we need to do is to listen and allow this natural healing process to happen.

We can see this phenomenon at work in our own lives. For example the other day I washed my favourite woollen dress on a normal cycle, and ended up shrinking it! I started crying, and quickly realised that the dress was just the trigger for a deeper upset. It was about the build-up of stress before christmas, my exhaustion from parenting, and my work responsibilities. Now the holidays were coming, I sensed the space to let go and relax, and release some feelings.

In that moment when my daughter started crying I knew that everything was fine in the present. My daughter loves her dad, and they have a great bond. So I didn’t pick her up. Instead I moved close to her, and reassured her that she was safe with her dad, that I was there too. He held her as she cried, and we both gave her lots of warm, loving attention. This is what Hand in Hand parenting calls ‘Staylistening,’ which means simply staying in the moment and listening to feelings without distracting or trying to stop them.

After a few minutes my daughter stopped crying. She smiled, started ‘talking’ and pointing things out around the room. She was completely at ease being held by her dad. We had dinner, and my daughter tried two foods she had never tried before, potatoes and cheese! This is often the case, that when we listen to our children’s deeper upsets, they can gain confidence in many unexpected ways.

Babies, and toddlers often choose little everyday moments to ‘work’ on their separation anxiety. They may suddenly have a desperate need to be with one parent. When our baby or toddler has a good relationship with both parents, and there is trust and safety there, then often, these moments, are simply a ‘broken cookie,’ a trigger for deeper feelings. If we listen, then these feelings no longer need to get in the way of our child having a joyful, connected relationship with both parents.

Separation anxiety often appears around bedtime. When my daughter was around 15 months old, she would sometimes start crying in the evening. For example if we were all hanging out in our bedroom, and then I needed to use the bathroom. By this age, I sensed she understood almost everything I said to her. I was pretty sure she understood when I told her I was just going to the bathroom and would be back in five minutes.

I could of tried the quick-fix approach and just dashed off to the bathroom leaving her crying. Or I could of taken her with me to stop the tears. But I knew this wouldn’t help her with her underlying fear about me leaving.

For a few nights my husband and I decided to staylisten during these moments. I would gradually try to leave, and would hold my daughter in my arms, listening to her feelings, slowly waiting until she was happy to be left with her dad. Often after having a big cry about separation she would suddenly flip into laughter, crawling from one parent to the other, as I playfully tried to put her back with her dad.

Then when I told her I needed to use the bathroom she would happily let me go, as if she had forgotten that she’d ever been upset about it. Afterwards she would be in a really happy mood, playing and laughing and enjoying the company of both of us. She had got through all the separation fear, and come out of the other side.

Staylistening has helped my daughter to be happy to be put to bed by her dad or to spend time with him while I work during the evenings and weekends. I can leave guilt free, knowing there’s no feelings of upset hiding beneath the surface. Most times I need to leave her, she’ll give me a big hug, and a smile. We’ve given her the space to be heard.

katephotoKate Orson is a writer, and Hand in Hand parenting instructor. Originally from the UK she now lives in Basel, Switzerland with her husband the author Toni Davidson, and their 4 year old daughter. Her book Tears Heal: How To Listen To Children, is now available to pre-order here  https://www.waterstones.com/book/tears-heal/kate-orson/9780349410104

You can follow her on facebook here https://www.facebook.com/ParentingByConnectionWithKateOrson/

 


 

 

Parenting and Empathic Fathers

Whose Needs Matter More?

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My sons race around the house, jump up the sofa and down again, while shouting something to each other. I decide to go to the other room. Hey, it’s nice they are playing imaginative games and have fun together, right? I, however, feel incredibly tired, the night was broken by far too many “I need the loo’s” and “I can’t sleep’s”…for the hundredth of times I wonder “WHEN will this child do this basic thing of just SLEEP at night?” My tired thoughts are broken when my sons come racing into my “quiet space” continuing their game around me. This is the point where I lose my patient- and-“oh they play so nicely”-feeling. I at first ask them, really nicely, to play their game somewhere else. It takes a while to get through to them, finally I succeed. They go into the other room, but sure enough, a minute later I am made part of the game again, a game I don’t want to play!

So, here we have it again: my needs (peace and quiet…if only for 20 minutes!) and their need to get rid of that energy and well, just play (in summer time we could go outside, but it is dark and rainy and I know I can’t get them outside now…). I become increasingly angry at their ignorance of my needs and they are becoming more and more agitated because they cannot live out theirs. In no time their game will turn into fighting with each other and then when worse comes to worse we are all shouting angrily at each other. Everybody is suffering here.

So, what to do? How can we make sure everyone gets what they need?

From my perspective, I as the parent, already lowered the expectations of getting my needs fulfilled to the basics. But those I need to keep sane and be an “as good as possible” parent, which is what my kids need (they really don’t need perfect by the way! Which helps!)

In many situations where one need has to be fulfilled at the expense of the other’s (siblings and us adults needs included) I ask myself: who is suffering most here now? It’s not always easy to answer this question, but sometimes it helps to see the picture more clearly. For example, if someone’s basic need is waiting to be fulfilled then they usually get this fulfilled first. You can’t be cooperative with an empty stomach for example. So, let’s have a break, have something to eat and then we find a solution. Or one child has had a difficult time/an illness etc. and needs his needs for attention for example fulfilled now before I can give attention and time to the other.

I decide that I need to stop the situation spiralling into the worst case scenario and say “let’s go and look at all the winter lights outside” or “shall we have a snack first?” I relent, but I have hopes… that when we come back they are more content to spend some time playing, without needing me, so that I can sit and have that cup of tea (hot, actually, you know, really tastes better, that way!) and daydream a bit, just switch off and get my energy levels up again. 🙂

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Guest Posts, Parenting and Empathic Fathers

How To Create A Straightforward Approach To Losing Your Angry Dad Voice

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I very much enjoy reaching out ot other (dads’) blogs, parenting websites, and parenting coaches. Today I would like to introduce to you Ian Hawkins. Ian is a coach and teacher from Australia, and he supports “…Dads to rediscover their passion and to inspire their own children to be their best.” Here’s a post by Ian with an intersting take on how you can lose your ‘angry dad voice’. More links and info at the end of his guest post. Enjoy!

A few years ago I had reached a point in my life where I was not happy with where I was at. I was always feeling tired and frustrated, and I was bringing this frustration home to my wife and kids.  Not only was I impatient but when I snapped it was often with an aggressive tone which no matter how soft, felt like yelling to my kids. Even when I was trying very hard to talk quietly, they told me to stop yelling. My angry voice was more than just my voice. It was my body language, it was the look on my face and even though I was trying to talk quietly and calmly there was an edge to my voice that was not sounding kind or loving to my kids. I no longer wanted to see the sadness and pain in my child’s eyes and face after I had overreacted with my angry voice.

And I see the same thing from other Dad’s every day, in the street, on the train, at the shops and particularly at children’s sports. They have unrealistic expectations of their children and have lost focus of what’s really important in their relationship, having that loving connection that your child craves and that you crave. Your angry voice has a negative impact on the happiness and wellbeing of your child and can damage your relationship with them. Should you continue this way as your children grow older, you will end up fighting more and more and worse still, they may end up with a similar issue with anger as they grow up.

Here’s what I have learned. There is another way. By making some changes in your life and by changing the way you approach situations with your children, you do have the power to be able to stay calm and speak in a loving and kind way to your children every single time.

If you get this right you will develop a calm that allows you to speak to your children with a smile and a kind voice, even after the most challenging day of work or play. Your children will love your new approach and be more likely to respond to your requests. Your children will model your behaviour and develop the ability to stay calm and speak in a softer voice as well. As time goes on this calm response and kind voice will become a natural response that comes out with little to no effort and as your children get used to your new approach, you will be pleasantly surprised at the massive improvement in your relationship with your children and overall happiness in your household. 

As with anything that you want to achieve in your life, the best way to reach that goal is to have a plan. It can be very challenging to change a habit and I believe the best way is to have a process to follow so that you know exactly what to do every single time. This process will be specific to you personally so you will need to create one for yourself. The good news is, right now I am going to give you the framework to do just that. Create your own process using my steps below as a guide:

1. Deep breaths.

The first step in your process should always be to pause and take 3-5 deep breaths right into your belly. Step away from the situation for a minute if that helps too. You may need to intervene if there is the potential for something to get broken or someone to get hurt, but most of the time you will be able to take 10-60 seconds to calm yourself first. Also as I have mentioned in previous blogs, deep breathing helps you reduce stress and can immediately stop your natural “fight-or-flight” response. You will be less likely to react with frustration and more likely to stay calm.

2. Be the observer. 

Also in this 10-60 seconds and after you have taken some deep breaths and stepped away physically, mentally step away as well. Be the observer for a second and look at the situation from the outside, as if you were looking on at someone else in the same situation. That is, take the emotion out of it. If you had to suggest the best solution for this situation to yourself, would it involve you using an angry voice, or staying calm and connecting with your child? And further still, is what your child is doing really a problem at all? They are only kids – are they just testing the boundaries or have they made a small mistake or are they just looking for attention?

3. Positive emotion. 

Next look for a positive emotion in your child. You are far more likely to get the result that you want when your action triggers a positive emotion in the other person. This is your child so this will be something unique to you. For example, you could smile and say something that will bring out that positive emotion or even laughter from your child.

4. Aim for connection not aggression.

Think about the type of people you are most likely to do something for. The ones who talk rudely to you?  Yell at you? Or the people who are really nice and speak in a calm and non-threatening way? Instead of towering over your child with an aggressive or grumpy tone, crouch down to their level and speak how you would like to be spoken to by someone you love.

5. Empathise with your child. If they have made a mistake, done something they shouldn’t have or are just plain upset, it is not a time to punish or speak aggressively. Empathise with them so they feel understood. “I understand” is a great way do to that. Tell them that you understand whatever they are going through. For example – “I know you don’t want to stop playing now and you don’t want to go in the shower” OR “I realise you are feeling upset”. And do so with clear boundaries. “I see that you don’t want to go to bed yet. I can also see that you are looking tired, it is your bedtime and you need to get a good night sleep so you are full of energy tomorrow.”

As I mentioned, use these 5 steps as a framework to create your own process to follow. You know your child better than anyone else so create a plan that works for you and for them. Go into as much detail as you need, but not so complicated that you won’t be able to follow the steps in a real life situation. Write it down and don’t be afraid to refer to it as required until you change the habit or are at least until you are comfortable you have committed your process to memory. Good luck, be patient with yourself and remember…..

”Change is hard at the beginning, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end.”Robin Sharma

 

ian hawkinsRead, what Ian says about himself: “I have a passion for personal growth and inspiring others to reach their full potential. With a background as a trained teacher, years of leadership as a sportsperson and coach and over 10 years as a manager at Fox Sports Australia, I have a unique ability to bring out the best in others. After my own growth through the last 5 years of personal development, I decided I wanted to help other Dad’s to rediscover their passion and to inspire their own children to be their best. I pride myself in helping Dads through their transformation into high energy, calm, patient, loving and very happy individuals.”

Connect: http://www.inspireddads.com
http://www.facebook.com/InspiredDads
http://www.twitter.com/InspiredDads