I became a mom for the first time in 1999. Three kids and nearly 14 years later, I have used many ineffective parenting techniques. Time-outs turned out to be one of the least effective. Especially with my youngest, Sammy, time-outs turned into a real battle – a losing battle – and MOM was the loser!
I have found new and helpful ideas in many parenting book and have attended the occasional parenting lecture over the years. However, while I was stuck in the losing time-out cycle with Sammy, I decided to attend a parenting class and then individual coaching sessions with Cynthia Klein. Her approach has been influenced by Patty Wipfler, founder of Hand in Hand Parenting. What I learned transformed many of my ideas about parenting and dramatically improved my relationship with my son as well as my daughters.
Learning a new way to respond to Sammy’s emotional upsets was a huge insight for me. I grew up learning that strong emotions were not acceptable and that I should be alone to “cool off” and “calm down” when I had an upset. When Sammy was emotional and uncooperative I just wanted him to stop. I wanted to control the situation. Time-out was my solution.
Cynthia teaches how the brain actually works to help parents understand and connect with children. The brain’s limbic system (the emotional brain) needs to form an emotional connection to feel safe before the rational pre-frontal cortex (reasoning and cooperation) can be activated.
In the context of parenting, this means that we need to listen with empathy when our kids are having an upset, with the sole intention being to reestablish a connection with our child. Until the upset is over it is useless to appeal to a child’s rational brain (or to an adult’s for that matter!). And sending kids away to be alone while they are experiencing strong emotions does not help to reestablish a connection and engage their cooperation.
I started sitting with Sammy when he was having an emotional upset – staying with him until his emotions calmed without saying much of anything or trying to stop his outburst. Instead of telling myself he is wrong to be so upset, I recognize that he has bad feelings that he needs to release so that he can be connected and cooperative again. Over time, the frequency of his upsets has decreased, I feel less anxious about his upsets, and I feel more connected with him.
If you’re looking for fresh parenting insights and support, here are a few resources. All of these are headquartered in the Bay Area and offer a range of parenting classes, parenting workshops, or one-on-one parenting coaching.
- Bridges 2 Understanding
- Parents Place Online
- Hand In Hand Parenting
- ChallengeSuccess.org (part of the Stanford Graduate School of Education)
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