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... read more

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... read more

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... read more

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... read more

Fear (published in JUNO winter edition)

FEAR_Issue_52   There is an insidious undercurrent that can seep, unbeknownst to us, into our children’s hearts, affecting their behaviour and their confidence. It can alter their thinking, posture and shake their enjoyment of life and bigness in the world.   When the baby is constantly crying and squirming, refusing to nap more than 40 minutes a day. When our toddler won’t let us out of sight, or when children are picky with their food. When siblings become aggressive, a child is clingy or passive, or needs a lengthy bedtime routine to be able to fall asleep, we assume these are typical kid things. But what do these seemingly unrelated behaviours have in common?   Fear.   Fear can accumulate in good children, who have good parents. It weighs on them and causes their world and the opportunities available to them to become restricted. It prevents them from feeling relaxed enough to eat or sleep effortlessly. Fear makes a short separation from mummy feel life threatening. It signals such desperate alarm in challenging situations that they are prone to strike out or bite or lose bladder control. It drives them to answer back or appear defiant as a defence. Fear creates anxiety, restlessness and rigid or compulsive behaviours. Fear causes some children to quietly retreat from things they love. The good news is we can help our children recover from fear!   It is guaranteed for children to experience frightening situations, no matter how well we love and care for them. It’s certainly no-one’s fault. We don’t always know when fear set in. It may have been during a... read more

It takes a village…do you have one yet?

If you are based in Frome you are already part of one of the most cutting edge towns in the UK. Last week George Monbiot reported on revolutionary community measures against isolation that are cutting the rates of hospital admissions in this progressive town.  Frome is known for its community. You may be enjoying the benefits of this already. Or – and especially if you have young children – you may be feeling more isolated than ever. Why is community so important? And what role does it REALLY play in raising healthy kids? As humans, we are such social creatures that our brains don’t actually exist as individuals. Unbeknownst to our conscious awareness, our brains are constantly searching out ways syncing, moulding, adapting, and mirroring our brains with those around us. We do this spontaneously, unconsciously and completely naturally – it’s part of our in-build survival mechanisms.   It’s an attempt to form and participate in a ‘hive mind’ – something greater than each of us.  We are group animals; built to survive, thrive – and raise children – in a tribe. So a good portion of our energy and nervous system activity is allocated to constantly assessing how well we belong, how socially acceptable we are. And yet:  if you are a parent you might be experiencing one of the most isolated phases of your life. So many of us are living geographically far (or estranged) from our parents. If a couple is going to break up, the most likely time is within the first year of our child’s life. And even if we do stay together, with the pressures of nuclear... read more

New sibling jealousy

“Help! My daughter is 2.5 years old and does not listen at all, she now has a little brother which she is jealous of. Sometimes her behaviour is out of control. What can I do?”   Ah bless you, this sounds very normal to me and so challenging for you when you are trying to meet the needs of a new baby. It’s very common for children to become a bit ‘wild’ when a new sibling comes along. Some children will be aggressive towards the baby; ‘accidentally’ squeezing too hard or being passive aggressive.  Some children will be loving towards the baby but become difficult in another area. Your sweet girl isn’t trying to make life hard and when she doesn’t listen it’s because her brain chemistry means she literally CAN’T hear you. You’ve probably noticed how children are sometimes naturally co-operative, kind and flexible. This happens when they feel connected to us, they feel our attention and warmth in a way that feels like we ‘get’ them. Often our attention gets unavoidably interrupted, causing small breaks in connection and our child’s upset feelings about that accumulate. And sometimes things happen in the family to create a bigger break in connection. Maybe one parent goes away on a trip, or you move house or get ill. Having a new sibling is a bigger break in connection. The unconscious, emotional part of the brain registers it as a threat. It questions if there will be enough love and attention to go around. With bigger breaks in connection, sometimes your child can’t feel your warmth and attention even when you are... read more

20 Things To Say To Your Child Instead Of “Don’t Cry”

What if every time your child cries or tantrums, they are actually doing something highly worthwhile? We don’t always appreciate it when our children begin to cry, but what they are actually doing is making use of the body’s innate recovery system. When we get hurt, physically or emotionally, instead of storing it all up in our bodies as tension, we can make use of crying, laughter, raging or trembling. This is how the body processes and releases feelings. Most of us don’t do this often, having being told “Don’t cry” since we were small, but our children still have their recovery system intact. The best news is that all of our children’s difficult or ‘off track’ behaviour is driven by emotion and when they get to use your good, warm attention to dump out these feelings, you get your angel back. By actively encouraging our children to cry when they need to, they not only get to shed hurt feelings, they end up feeling more connected to us as well. The way we listen can either shut feelings down, or help children to feel what they are feeling more fully. Here are things you can say to listen well. General reassuring phrases: 1. I’m right here 2. I see how upset you are 3. I’m sorry this is hard, Love 4. I’ll be with you while you are upset 5. I’m not going anywhere 6. You are safe 7. There’s nothing more important than being with you right now 8. I’m sorry… you lost your lamby/your friend said that/you dropped your ice cream 9. I hear you Sweetheart... read more

How telling your story can help you recover from a difficult birth (Practicing Midwife July 2016)

When women are impacted by birth trauma it can stay with them for many years, influencing their mental health and sense of self. The work of Mary Main et al (2005) in their Adult Attachment Interview demonstrated that a child’s attachment status can be predicted with 85% accuracy by their mother’s state of mind. It is therefore vital that mothers be supported towards emotional health when their wellbeing has such a profound significance for the next generation. This article will look at the what we have learned from running workshops for postpartum mothers, using an approach we call ‘After Birth’ and how midwives might bring elements of it into their practice. We will always be grateful for the day we sat together at Binnie’s dinning table, drinking tea and co-creating After Birth, honouring and resolving the birth of your baby. Both of us had worked (Binnie for many years) with women who wanted to process their birth trauma on a 1:1 basis, but we were inspired by the concept of women coming together to support each other to release the feelings they had been carrying and being able to see their experiences in a new light. We created a structure that allows women to share their story in an environment of deep listening and total acceptance, by encouraging them to notice specific aspects of their story related to personal power, connection and fear. The workshop also includes psychospiritual processing work and visualisation and other techniques from hypnotherapy. Our experience has been that through this process, women have been able to release emotion, appreciate a new perspective and come away... read more

Receiving Love (JUNO Magazine Spring 2016)

Roma Norriss reflects on the basis for an ecstatic birth I’m all about receiving love when it comes to birth. Receiving love is a bold, rebellious act; as it counters deep-rooted feelings of not receiving enough during birth and infancy. Receiving all the love and support that is there for us, is what allows us to step out of any place that is victimised by the process and choose to be present and powerful instead. This is not an easy task; it goes against the very grain of our conditioning. Last week a mother did a beautiful thing. She let me love her so fully that she literally melted into my body as she laboured. She absorbed the support and safety I could offer and said the only thing she was aware of throughout the process was her dear husband and I. Amazingly, she remained oblivious to the chaos and fear emanating from the paramedics and midwives that piled into the bedroom. Despite being commanded many times to lie on her back, her insurgent body somehow neglected to take heed and she persisted, warrior-like, leaning into me or kneeling at times and relishing the tight hold I had on her pelvis. She filtered out all the support she didn’t need and instead spaciously focused on receiving what was safe and nourishing. It was an inspiration to see. Preparing to receive is a fundamental and unacknowledged part of birth preparation. If we learn to release blocks to letting others in, we can let go and surrender to the process and allow ourselves to be held. Binnie A. Dansby, pioneer of... read more