I am so pleased you will be joining us on our next series of Support Calls, or as part of the Starter Class or Parent Intensive. I wanted to give you a bit of information about how the Calls are structured, and some guidelines that will help them go well.
You’ll find a wealth of information on the HandinHand web site, but I highly recommend reading the “Listening to Children” Booklet series. You can purchase a digital version or a hard copy. You may also find the book by Patty Wipfler, “LISTEN“, helpful.
If you are the parent of an older child, I recommend having a look at my resources for parents of pre-teens and teens.
How Our Calls are Structured
These Support Calls have two purposes:
- To offer guidance using the Listening Tools in your family, with time for you to ask questions and share your experiences.
- To provide is some Listening Time for each person in the group.
Listening Time in the group
At these times, there is one “primary listener” (usually the Call Group Leader – me) and everyone else pays attention and listens without interruption. This means that when it is your time to be listened to, you can count on the magnified attention of the group but you only need to be concerned to interact with the primary listener. In group Listening Time, I will mute everyone except the person whose turn it is, to block out background noise.
Even though you are muted at these times, your presence as a passive listener is very important. Knowing that the others on the Call are giving us their full attention, even though we are not interacting with them directly, is part of what makes it work. This magnified attention is very powerful.
In this Listening Time, I try not to offer you advice, but to help you tell your story, help you work through points of tension, and give you space to think for yourself.
Everyone has an equal turn
Everyone needs a chance to tell their story. Some people like to talk a lot, and others may feel like they have nothing to say, but with good listening, every person who cares for children will find something they want to talk about. In Support Calls, we divide the time more-or-less evenly, and in general we don’t shorten the time.
What to work on
Especially at first, it may feel a little uncomfortable and you might not be sure what to work on. If at first you can’t think of anything, tell your life story. As we do this kind of listening more regularly, we start to notice more things we want to talk about and can use our time well and with ease.
Keeping confidentiality is one of the most important aspects of what we do together. We will talk about it in the Call, and it will come up throughout our time together.
It is very, very important to know that your story will not be spread around, commented on, judged, or mentioned by others later. This makes a safe place for us all to talk about the real challenges of parenting. It can be very disconcerting (even distressing) if someone else brings something up that we have spoken about in our own Listening Time.
Please keep confidential the details of what people say in the group – whether it was said in their Listening Time, or just in other discussion which happens. This means not mentioning it in discussion afterward, or to anyone inside or outside the group.
Sometimes, very rarely, I will ask you if I can refer to something you have said in your Listening Time. If I ask, you are always free to say that you would rather leave things “inside of Listening Time”.
Because Listening Time is different from a conversation, it takes a while to build new habits while we become familiar with the listening process. If we make mistakes I’ll correct them as we go. This may feel a little uncomfortable, but overall, it keeps things safe.
Other Things to Keep in Mind When Listening
Let the person you are listening to choose what they will work on
You, and the respectful attention you offer, are a very wonderful gift to anyone you are listening to. With warm attention, I’ve found that people gain new perspectives on their challenges, and what to do about them, for themselves.
When you are listening, there are many things you can do to help a person tell their story, but the basic guideline is to focus on listening, doing your best to make it clear that you care and have confidence in their capacity to work things out for themselves.
Don’t give advice or helpful suggestions
As you learn more about the listening process we use in HandinHand, you’ll notice that we generally don’t offer advice, information, opinions, judgements or helpful suggestions.
As Call Leader I will offer coaching/mentoring (mostly outside of formal Listening Time) and I usually don’t structure the Calls to allow general discussion. Partly this is because our time together is short and I want to focus on the rare opportunity to give everyone Listening Time with the magnified attention of the group. Also, general discussion often slips into unsolicited advice-giving, which is something we try to avoid in HandinHand.
On the Calls, there will be plenty of opportunities for you to talk about what you have learned and for you to share your experiences and understandings. These are often really helpful for others to hear. But when you are on these Calls, or listening to someone one-on-one or in a group, we ask you to resist the temptation to offer advice, helpful suggestions, or information in response to what someone else has said, even if they have not said it inside of formal Listening Time.
When someone else’s story reminds us of our own
Sometimes, listening to another parent can bring up our own story. This is fine, and to be expected. You are welcome and encouraged to talk about you own experience in your turn, but when you do so, please don’t do it by referring to a story of someone else in the Call Group.
On our calls, if possible, plan to be on time, but please don’t stress!
We have a short time together on the phone, and we want to make the most of it. It is helpful if you can be on-time for the Call and if you are going to be late or for some reason can’t attend, if possible please try to let me know and I will make sure there is time for you.
But please don’t stress about it – I’d rather that you got to the Call late than not at all! Even arriving in the last few minutes of a Call would be fine – thought it really helps if I know you are coming.
I understand, too, that parenting is full of unplanned and unscheduled challenges. I record all the Calls, so if you are late or miss a Call, we can send you a link so you can catch up.
I know that life is jam-packed and this might sound impossible! However, you will get the most out of these Calls if you can give them your full attention. You make a difference – your attention, added to that of the other parents in the group and the Call Leader, contributes to building the trust and safety that will allow each person to use their Listening Time well. Try not to multi-task!
Your lovely children
It will also help if your children cannot hear you while you are on the Call. I know child-care can be a challenge, so even if all you can manage to organise is 10-15 minutes of child-free time during your own Listening Time, that will be good. I really do want to offer you a space where you can say just about anything – and your children do not need to hear all of that! Plus, you will learn a lot from being able to put your full attention on the other parents on the Call when it is their turn. Sometimes it can be tricky to find a private space at home – lots of parents do Calls from the car! We can work around it, however, if your children are about – let me know if this is the case.
Please feel free to get in touch if there is anything more you want to know. I’m looking forward to our Calls – it’s one of my favourite things to do.
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© 2018 by Madeleine Winter.