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...
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...
New sibling jealousy

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...
Cuts, bumps & scrapes

Cuts, bumps & scrapes

My daughter was playing with a gaggle of kids the other day and they decided it would be fun to all pile into our small sauna. In the scuffle, one of the other kids was closing the door and accidentally caught her finger quite badly. On hearing her shriek, I ran and lifted her out. She was screaming, very distressed and for a while I didn’t know what had happened so I took her to sit down and just held her. I could see she was holding up her finger and that it was squashed and bleeding. She was besides herself with heavy sobs and wailing and I just said simply “Your finger got trapped” as she heaved and tried to tell me the story. I stayed close as she shuddered and shrieked and told fragments of the story and just offered simple observations such as “That really hurts, your finger got caught” and letting her know “I’m with you, I’m so sorry that happened.” After about 10 minutes her crying started to die down and I suggested “Shall we have another look?” She looked again at her finger and once more started bawling. I wanted to help her stay with the feelings of upset so she could release them fully from her system and recover from this mishap. I continued encouraging her to keep looking at the finger and crying more. When children cry after small bumps, the intensity of emotion can often feel disproportionate to the level of injury. We tend to want to appease them with plasters or medicines or stop them crying through reassurance that...