Hand in Hand Parenting: Why I'll Never Use Another Parenting Method
From the moment I discovered Hand-In-Hand Parenting, I've loved it. Here's why.
Before having kids, parenting looked so easy. Just feed and play with your child, find a good school for them to go to and you’re good to go.
Boy was I wrong! I didn’t realise what it’s like when your child won’t listen to you while juggling the other millions of things you have to get done. Or when you saw your child’s behaviour being off-track (yelling, hitting someone, melting down over something small) but you don’t know why or how to help them. Or you don’t know how the decisions you make as a rogue parent will affect them for the rest of their life.
I came across hand in hand parenting (have read the book ‘listen’ by Patty Wipfler and Tosha Schore and took a course on it) and it COMPLETELY changed how we parent.¹
Hand in hand parenting was our solution to helping our child navigate their problems without us having to provide the solution for them. It taught us how to EFFECTIVELY connect with our child through means which THEY understand. It helped us not feel guilty for setting limits and also how & when to carry them through. It taught me how, just like us, children need to offload their emotions so they are able to think and learn at their very best. Most importantly, it focused on MY feelings/reactions as the parents and how that affects my child.
Why Hand in Hand works: The Science behind it
This is a hand model of the structure of your child’s brain.² The brain stem is where you find all the autonomic functions of your body, ie heart rate, breathing etc. which we don’t consciously use, but is working all the time. This also changes in response to any time it senses there is a threat, for example a loud noise that alarms the child and causes their heart rate to go up. This is the ‘survival-oriented’ part of your brain.
As you move up, you reach the limbic system. This is the ‘social-emotional' part of the brain and allows the child to build social relationships with others. It is the part of your brain where you recognise what makes you feel safe, good and connected with others. It is also what is triggered when you feel unsafe, insecure and disconnected.
The limbic system performs a very important function: it is the gateway to the rest of your child’s brain. When your child is feeling safe, connected and protected, it allows for communication between all the other parts of their brain. It opens into the reasoning centre and allows the prefrontal cortex to work.
The prefrontal cortex is particularly important to us parents because it's the part of the brain that allows your child to think, reason, experiment, learn, follow through with instructions.. and it is over here where your child’s judgment will develop over time. When your child feels connected and loved, he/she is a learner.
How does Hand in Hand help my child think critically?
When my child feels any type of perceived threat, frustration or any other strong emotion - it causes her to lose her sense of connection and that ability to think. Their brain floods with emotions and shuts down.
As parents we see this all the time…say when she makes a big deal out of a small fall, or when you leave the room for a couple minutes to use the bathroom. The younger the child is the faster this sense of connection breaks. This is where we see typical ‘off-track’ behaviour such as aggression, uncooperativeness, whining, tantrums etc. When the child can’t think they’re actually doing their level best to try to connect again, they show it in their behaviour.
By effectively connecting with your child and helping them off-load their emotions, you are essentially cleaning their brain and helping it restore its process to be able to think again.
What Hand in Hand Tools Can You Use?
There are five tools used in Hand in Hand parenting:
- Special time
- Setting limits
- Play listening
- Stay listening, and
- The listening partnership
We have always seen the best results, emotionally and cognitively in Maryam, when we are able to use all five in conjunction with each other. Here is a little bit about each one and some examples of how it works for us:
Special Time is your opportunity to give undivided attention and love to your child. Set a timer and place where you will give your child special time and let the child lead the rest. As long as it's safe you go for it, and you give it your all.
There are no answering phones, cleaning, or any other type of multitasking during this time. You should also avoid giving advice to your child during special time. It’s just you and your child.
This builds trust and respect between you and your child. Once your child begins to understand and trust this process, they start to show you some of their deeper feelings about certain situations.
For example, my daughter was having trouble sleeping at night. It seemed all of a sudden that she just refused to want to sleep in her own crib, something she had been doing comfortably for over a year.
We tried different techniques like reasoning with her and talking to her about it beforehand; but nothing worked - she would cry for almost 2 hours at night.
So, I tried doing special time with her the next day and she wanted to re-enact her sleeping routine and come out of her crib whenever she wanted to. Through special time, I realised that children actually know how to help themselves, if only we gave them the chance.
Setting Limits and Stay listening
These two tools are grouped together because they work so well hand in hand (no pun intended). Children need limits to be able to feel safe, build successful relationships and learn. Setting limits in this approach is done in a respectful and loving, yet firm way. Say ‘no’ to your child warmly and lovingly, hold the limit and listen to the flood of emotions which follow.
Here, you are working with your child to heal the hurt feelings they are upset about. The strong emotion may or may not be about the limit you are holding. It’s like being frustrated about a pile of things that have happened throughout the day, and blowing up at something which doesn’t seem to warrant such a strong reaction. Once the child has had a chance to let the build up of emotion go, you will notice that they return back to their happy and flexible selves.
Stay listening is very much connected to setting limits. After the limit is set, you simply listen to the child being upset until they recover. You don’t try to solve the problem for them. You don’t offer any advice or lecture. You don’t rock them until they stop crying.
You trust your child to recover and figure out how to solve the issue themselves. They may be upset about something that’s happened at the current moment, or it may be a backlog and something just triggered it. (Note: this may not always present itself in the crying form. Sometimes the child may whine, display anger or have lots of sadness).
This will help build a lot of trust between you and your child. It's like your closest friend who knows how to just be there for you, letting you express the emotion you need to at that moment. After your child is done crying, you’ll notice them relax and become much happier and lighter again. You’ll notice a greater connection with your child. They will also know that you are there for them not only in the good times but the tough times as well.
For example, my daughter was having trouble going down for her nap (you’ll notice most of our parenting troubles come from sleep LOL). It seemed odd as we had tired her out enough in the morning and she even rejected going to the park so she could go to sleep earlier. We did our whole routine, put her in her crib and for 2 hours the child just wouldn’t sleep!
I tried talking to her, leaving her door open so she didn’t feel isolated, and doing my work in her room so she could feel me close by but to no avail.
Finally, I realised I needed to set a limit and tell her that I am going to leave her room to give her a chance to sleep… and then came all the tears. She started crying and crying and asking me to stay. Finally, she asked for her dad(he’s usually better at reasoning with her than me).
He started talking to her about needing to sleep and suddenly she mentioned an incident that happened that day at school(which she loves) that she was upset about. He talked her through it and shortly thereafter she was able to go to sleep! It was like she just needed a good cry to let go some of that tension and she was able to solve the apparent issue on her own.
Play is the cornerstone of child development. It's the way they learn and express themselves. Play listening builds connection with your child through laughter while simultaneously building their confidence. It can help your child overcome situations they find challenging or scary while having laughter in the mix all at the same time.
The key to this tool is that your child is the one in charge and there is laughter. The laughter is healing for them.
What does this look like?
My daughter is a very cautious child. She will only climb on something if she is confident she can do it and often choose the safer option when given a choice.
I was playing with my daughter and all of a sudden I tripped over something. She found it hilarious! I stumbled back up pretending to lose my balance and tripped again, pretending to not know why I was falling.
She laughed even harder. We kept doing different variations of this until the laughter stopped. I realised through this that she has fears of falling and getting hurt. While this didn’t solve the issue immediately, doing this a few times gave her the confidence to climb the rock wall at the park, which she refused to attempt before.
This tool focuses on how YOU, the parent, feel. Parenting is a challenging and draining experience. The listening partnership helps to deal with the stress that comes along with this title. It's a simple tool, yet when used in the right way can offload tension for you as the parent.
All you need to do is exchange listening time with another parent. You decide what you want to talk about - it can be those instances that trigger you day after day, the challenges you feel may never get better, or your feelings about certain situations. It could even be something that made you really happy… anything.
The key is that your partner listens with warmth and respect, knowing that you have tried your best as a parent. No judgment is passed and no advice given.
I had a really nice experience with this when I had some listening time with the instructor of the Hand in Hand Parenting course I took. It was 20 minutes of listening time, but maybe it was because I could sense how genuine she was that I felt I could really open up. I didn’t end up talking about my daughter at all but whatever came to mind. I found myself laughing about things that I realised I found really funny but don’t usually talk about. I talked a bit about my past and some other really random things too. The effect was incredible.
I literally felt 1000 pounds lighter after that conversation. I also felt I could stay listen so much better with my daughter because my emotional cup was filled.
Just like our kids, we also have an emotional reserve which needs to be filled. Often times what triggers us is something which is unresolved for us. For example, we may feel overly upset when our child doesn’t listen to us because we don’t feel heard ourselves. Or, it may be a restimulation from our past which often ties back to our childhood. For example I feel particularly triggered and overprotective when I see my daughter around other kids because I was bullied at school and don’t want her to go through the same thing.
Realising that our reactions actually often having little to do with the child was a profound realisation for me. It shows me exactly what areas of my past I need to work on in order to overcome those feelings/emotions and let go of that ‘unwanted baggage’.
A little more about how Hand in Hand looks like in real life with a toddler
Before I came across Hand in Hand, I felt like it was really difficult to get my daughter to do things without bribing. I felt like her whining/crying was ‘bad behaviour’ and just wanted her to listen when we were outside so that I wouldn’t look like a parent who couldn't control their child. I wondered if it was this difficult to get her to co-operate now, what will it be like when she older? When I spoke to other parents, I realised things like reward systems, time outs and sticker charts don’t really work - it doesn’t change the children’s behaviour because it isn’t dealing with the root cause of the problem. So when I started implementing the Hand in Hand tools, what did that actually look like?
For us, it looks like filling her emotional cup before wanting her to do something like get ready to leave and then watching that process go a lot more smoothly. It means listening to her when she is upset and express her emotion without trying to ‘shush’ her to tell her it’ll be ok. It means finding those things that cause deep laughter and doing them again and again. It means not jumping to solve issues for her, rather seeing the creative solutions she’ll come up with herself once she’s offloaded that emotion. It means working with her to handle situations she finds difficult, watching her become more and more resilient. It means giving her set times where she feels like she is in control and watching how that often displays when she is really feeling on the inside to us. It means giving us confidence, as parents to set a limit and hold it, not feeling guilty when they feel upset about it and that you aren’t being unfair by doing so. Finally, it means respecting the child as an actual person for who they are, rather than what we want them to be.
How is Hand in Hand Parenting DIFFERENT?
In the past, parenting used to be that everything needs to be shown to the child and they need to be taught exactly how to work through different situations. Or it was the complete opposite whereby emotions were not something to be acknowledged. Or that every ‘bad action’ was given a punishment.
While fear-based parenting may give the result you want in the short-term, it ends up causing defiance, withdrawal and distance in the relationship later on. Ideally what we want to do is teach your child to intrinsically want to do the right thing, and work with the child instead of against the child. This is exactly what hand in hand does.
What this system showed me is that when my child has a meltdown or isn’t behaving in the ‘ideal’ way, it’s not that I’m doing anything wrong. Rather, they are just looking for connection. This was SO important for me to realise and took the stress of ‘not being a good parent’ off of me. It also helped me understand where the emotion is coming from when I feel triggered in certain situations and respond more appropriately.
Finally, it also made me enjoy being a parent so much more - I was able to soak in the beautiful moments that come along with having a strong connection with your child.
- Wipfler, P., & Schore, T. Listen.
- Photo taken from: https://drlizangoff.com/2020/06/04/the-moment-of-a-meltdown/