Is the house on fire? A tool for parenting emergencies

Is the house on fire? A tool for parenting emergencies

In those moments when we’re just about to lose it with our kids and we don’t really want to blow up at them, it’s good to learn how to de-escalate. It often feels way more urgent than it actually is. Start by asking yourself “is the house on fire?” And if it’s not, here’s what you need to do instead of freaking out. Stash your kids somewhere safe for 5 mins (if developmentally appropriate). If they are squabbling, separate them. If they need entertaining stick on an audiobook or get out a special toy you hide except for in these moments, or occupy them with a much coveted foodstuff. Go where you feel safe and ideally not overheard. Lots of folks use the bathroom or car if nowhere else can work. Call one of your Listening Partners. If you do not have one of these we suggest rectifying this immediately, but in a pinch point 4 can be done alone (or at least with pillows and a baseball bat). Scream/rant/cry/make some noise/thrash about. Catastrophise about how much the house is DEFINITELY burning down. Blame everyone whose fault it is. Swear like a rabid, Tourettes ridden creature. Tell them exactly how much you want to throttle your two year old and abandon your 12 year old at boarding school. Be NOT fine. Just for 5 minutes. Go back to your life with a miraculous capacity to keep holding the shit together. We call this taking EMERGENCY listening. Unlike your regular Listening Partnerships, (where you schedule a preemptive time to exchange listening regularly, with the intention of pouring out the build-up of feelings to...
Endurance stress or Connection stress?

Endurance stress or Connection stress?

A guest post by Alice Irving Pretty much all of my (yummy) clients are stressed. Most of them are doing too much. But that’s not really why they’re stressed. What’s causing their stress isn’t the volume of work they’ve got, it’s the feeling of fear and anxiety about what will happen if they don’t do it.  I can feel the internal roar as I write that: we’re also quite attached our stress, these days. It’s what makes us who we are, and that’s all part of the story.   Good stress: Endurance Stress   This is the stress which your body experiences when you’re running hard, dancing hard, thinking hard, working long days or otherwise stretching your ability to perform. It builds muscles, both physical and neurological. Endurance stress is what gets the job done: it’s the extra hour of humping.  It releases feel good hormones which help us recover physically and emotionally.  Endurance stress builds resilience. On its own, endurance stress is responsible for the great feats of human achievement. The freediver fishermen. The minute mile. Anyone who looks after small children. Endurance stress is great! (But if you’re burnt out already you need to go very gently with this stuff). When you combine endurance stress with the second kind of stress it leads to overwork and burn out: and that’s what most of us “stressed out moderns” are experiencing.   Bad stress: Connection Stress   Humans are wired for connection: we need each other, we need to feel in synch with each other. The prospect of being out of synch – because of conflict or disapproval – is really,...
When a stranger is losing it

When a stranger is losing it

I’m packing up our tent and the screams from the van opposite are escalating and it’s all sounding just a little bit too aggressive for my liking. I can hear a very distressed child, who sounds quite young and her mother, getting more and more irate and shouting at her. I debate whether to go over. One of my friends says leave them to it, the other says… go help them! I have a policy of intervening in fraught situations between parents and their kids if I’m feeling resourced enough, but as I approach this angry woman and her hysterical child, I’m actually a bit frightened that she might attack me.   As she sees me she turns to say (in a back-off kinda way) “It’s alright she has autism and ADHD. This is normal.” I can see I’ve got her defences up. I make my body language as unthreatening as I can. “It’s ok I’m a mum, I got one like this. Just wanted to see if you needed some support.” “Are you coming to take her off me?” I shrug and smile “Sure if that’s what you want me to do” “Don’t worry, we’re fine, she’s like this every day” Except she doesn’t look at all fine. She looks overwhelmed and furious and now she feels like she’s done something wrong. “I just wondered if I could listen for 5 minutes.” When she realises I mean listen to her, her expression goes from hurt/defensive (‘why would it be ME that needs listening?’) to incredulously delighted (‘Goodness… someone is willing to listen to ME?!’) She edges out of...
Guide to a connected summer festival with kids

Guide to a connected summer festival with kids

We’ve all been there. You’re supposed to be taking the kids to somewhere you can all have fun, where they can get plenty of freedom to run around and make friends; where you can engage in festival fun en famille; where you might even get some time to yourself. And yet so often festivals end up feeling fraught. Our children get overtired and hysterical and the more we give them, the more unreasonable they become. It doesn’t make sense that they should be so upset when we’ve moved heaven and earth (or at least  the entire contents of the house) to give them a lovely experience. So what is really going on and what do our children want us to know about their core needs when festivalling? We need connection! Sometimes in the busyness, the packing and the non-stop activity, the connection we usually offer to our children gets interrupted. Try offering Special Time (one on one focused attention, where you set a timer, say ‘I’ll play whtever you want’ and delight in them without distraction) when you arrive after a long journey, rather than rushing to set up the tent. Our peers are not a reliable source of connection! Often when our kids are off playing with new friends for hours, we assume they are having fun and receiving connection. The kind of connection that lets the emotional part of your kid’s brain know they are safe and cared for and that someone in the world gets them, needs regular attention from an adult. Try checking in periodically with the focus on play and delight. If your child...
When children are anxious or explosive

When children are anxious or explosive

“You’re KILLING me, I can’t BREATHE, I’m HOT, let me go! You’re hurting me. What kind of MOTHER hurts her own SON.”   I look down and check. My hands are so loosely around his 7 year old wrists. Admittedly, I was holding him pretty tight a few minutes ago but now it feels like he just needs an impression of being contained to thrash against.   “I’m right here Angel, I’m not trying to hurt you, I’m going to let you go as soon as you can stop hitting and breaking. I see you breathing. Yes, you’re getting hot.”   This routine on repeat was how we lived our lives for several months when my son was suicidal, wetting himself, had many explosive, aggressive meltdowns a day, was so anxious he couldn’t fall asleep and woke several times in the night. He would roll out of bed screaming some mornings, he’d hurt or throw his sister around if we got there too late or try to bite/slap/wet himself or headbutt the floor when he got distressed. Some of us have these intense kids. So beyond just keeping everyone safe, what measures can we apply to actually remedy this level of distress in the family? I’ve wanted to write something on helping children with anxiety/aggression/OCD/self-harming type behaviours using these therapeutic, trauma informed parenting tools from Hand in Hand and based on my experience as a mother, because I know they are many others out there enduring this level of stress in family life. And none of us tend to talk about it too much. Some of our kids show...