Hand in Hand parenting
Quality youth work by connection, listening
There’s a lot of talk in the association lately about quality youth work through connection. So we decided to write a few lines about how this came about and why it is important for us.
WE SHOULD START WITH THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON: YOU DON’T HAVE TO MAKE THE SCREAMING CHILD SHUT UP.
You know the feeling when you get upset about something and want to scream?
You come up against injustice, or aggression, or just something that really hurts you so much you can feel it in your stomach? Or when you finally get home, and as soon as you close the door behind you the tears start falling? Well, the same thing happens to a child (both young and old) only they can’t delay that reaction yet. They get desperate and it comes out right then and there. There is a strong expectation in our society not to scream, cry or get hysterical in public, maybe only babies are an exception – although I did get told on the bus once, trying to get home from a vaccination with a few-month-old baby crying very much, to shut that child up. So we usually want them to stop crying immediately, because that’s the expectation, because that’s how we were brought up, because it’s embarrassing, because it’s not appropriate on the street (shop, playground, school, kindergarten…). Because we are disturbing others. With our pain.
Now actually you don’t need to do this! You don’t need to make the screaming, fussing, raging child quiet! Instead of that you need to give them love and acceptance, stay with them and listen to them. Hold them when they can’t handle their difficult emotions, when they’re overwhelmed and all their pain and frustration is bursting out. Connect! As parents of two beautiful young children, when the wonderful symbiotic phase ended, this information was an actual salvation for us. Of course, it’s not that they are hungry, thirsty, or hurt, and I’m not trying to help. It’s that I’ve tried everything and they’re still screaming, raging, lashing out, no kind words, no amount of pleading helps (between ourselves, this is when threats come in – we’ll threaten to do the most cruel things if they doesn’t stop screaming right now, especially if the number of disapproving looks keeps growing). Instead it’s actually enough to just be there with them and allow them to cry it out or rage it out there and then. Since the part of their brain that could control this, like in adults, is not working yet. The frontal lobe. Pfff! Well, I didn’t know that.
We tried it, and it works. And it’s an incredible relief not to be a “shitty-mom” because I can’t shut him up, I don’t have to distract him (or her), force him, beg him, yell at him to end the situation. Instead, I just need to stay in it, remember how much I love him and stay with him until the end so he can safely release what’s on his heart. Believing and trusting that he is working on it now, he will get to the end and get better, and my reward will be to have my cooperative wonderful little angel back, who was eaten by this little devil I am holding in my arms right now.
Listening, one of the five amazingly simple, understandable, applicable tools of Hand in Hand Parenting, a tool that is also at the roots of quality youth work by connection, is based on pure psychology. Giving your attention and your time to the other person – be it a child, partner, friend or colleague. Because it helps if we can let go of the distressing, painful, difficult things, as we need this as adults too, even if our frontal lobe already makes us capable of behaving in spite of our bad feelings. We can control our temper when somebody steps on our toes on the tram – well, most of the time. It’s become an increasingly common topic in the association in recent years, not just because many of us have become parents over the years, but also because it’s very useful in our work: it helps us look after ourselves when we’ve had enough of things, it helps us understand what’s going on in someone who’s not well and we can see it on their behavior, it helps us be present in a way that’s really helpful.
It also helps to ensure that one of our key target groups, the people who work (and live) in the foster care system, can safely share distressing experiences so that afterwards they are ready to think about solutions again, and to notice their successes and progress. But most importantly, it has helped us to understand what happens when children in the camps freak out, even in situations when everything seems to be going well and they are having a great time. Growing up without parents, they have an especially large bundle of difficult feelings, pain and insecurities, and in the supportive environment that we try to create in our camps, it is easier for the bad feelings that are usually suppressed to surface. In the hope that they will be tolerated and accepted – and this is what children crave: acceptance, love and security.
If you would like to know more about it, feel free to read: