Hand in Hand Parenting

The Hand in Hand approach was developed and is supported by Hand in Hand Parenting, a not for profit based in Palo Alto, California, working world wide with parents, parent leaders and professionals who support parents.

We offer practical tools with which to build an authoritative approach to parenting – offering high warmth and clear, firmly and appropriately offered limits. The guiding principles of Hand in Hand are:

  • Children need a strong sense of connection in order to function well – co-operate, reason, learn, make friends, take initiative.
  • Parents want to be close to their children, but the current circumstances of parenting – isolation, lack of financial resource, lack of good support and information – make that hard.
  • Feeling disconnected or stressed causes children’s behaviour to flare. Traditional responses to “behaviour problems” often fail to address the underlying emotional needs of children, or to take account of the state of their relationship with their parents and how that influences their ability to function effectively.
  • Feeling isolated and stressed causes parents’ behaviour to flare. When emotional stress sends parents’ behaviour off track, they need support and reliable ways to reduce the stress.

Parenting is emotional work. Parenting is also a relationship. Hand in Hand offers parents and carers tools for making sense of and resolving their own, and their children’s, emotional tensions, and for strengthening and repairing the connection between adult and child.

We offer a process, not a formula. We will not give you a list of “things to do” or “ways to respond” that will solve your problems, or your child’s problems.  There is no “magic” in parenting.  Instead, we offer you Listening Tools to

  • build on the strengths in your relationship with children, and
  • help you respond flexibly to the challenges, struggles and difficulties in your relationship with them (and other adults!)

We teach 6 Listening Tools, focusing on

Play: There is a reason that freedom to play is a right under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Play is the language of children – all over the world, under all kinds of circumstances, children play.  Play is powerful in all sorts of ways, but in particular, it is a deeply human way of connecting. When adults play with children, offering attention, approval and delight, and allowing children to be in charge of the play, strong bonds are created and reinforced.  Get down and play with a young child, and you are their friend.  Child directed play is also a powerful way to learn about and listen to a child.

The Tools – The Big Yes: The Hand in Hand Listening Tools of  Special Time and Playlistening are child-directed playtimes, where parents to follow children’s lead in play with warmth and enthusiasm without trying to teach, give direction or make suggestions, and promoting laughter where possible. These tools build the parent- child relationship, allowing the child to show their concerns, struggles and interests, and facilitate healing of fears and embarrassments though laughter. In some circumstances, Playlistening also serves as a way to set limits lightly and without harshness.  We use these Tools to build emotional safety into our relationship with our child.

Limit Setting: Is central to parenting and needs to address the underlying emotional tension driving children’s “off track” behaviour.  Effective limit setting seeks to build connection between adult and child, not damage it.

The Tools – The Warm No: When we set limits with warmth and closeness is a window into children’s deeper concerns.  Setting reasonable limits will guide children’s behaviour when they have gone “off track” or are acting in ways that are destructive, hurtful, and unco-operative.  Children’s struggles (with sharing, eating, sleeping, co-operating, aggressiveness, shyness etc) are often the result of ways they were hurt when they were very young.   Tackling those struggles is, effectively, and limit setting exercise.  They won’t sleep alone, and we gently and warmly hold out that this is possible.  They reach to hit their sister, and we warmly but firmly move to stop them doing so.

The Warm No brings connection, which is sometimes enough to bring a child back “on-track”.  But if not, we can stay close and listen to how children feel about the limits we have set.  Doing this, we can be confident that important healing is happening, and our children will return to their cheerful, co-operative selves afterward.

Listening:  To feel connected, people need to feel they have been seen, heard, and appreciated.  We listen to children through play,  we bring limits where necessary to offer “course correction”, and we listen to the feelings which may erupt.  Those feelings are what was getting in the way of problem solving and workable behaviours.

And truth be told, adults are no different than children – our feelings cloud our judgement, and we need chances to download how we feel so that we can bring our best thinking to the challenge of parenting.

The Tools – Staylistening and Listening Partnerships: Once a child starts the emotional release process, spontaneously or as a result of a limit which has been set,  adults can Staylisten. We remain close and attentive, without criticism or blame. When the child is finished, he can feel the caring we have offered, and he can relax, learn, and play well again. This empowers parents to meet their children’s upsets without feeling they must always “fix the problem” or “settle” or “quiet” their children.

Parents also develop emotional resilience and build support networks around their parenting though Listening Partnerships and Parent Resource Groups. Each adult takes an equal turn to listen to the other without interruption, judgement or advice giving. This gives parents a chance to reflect on the challenges of parenting, playing with and listening to their children. Our short talks offer parents a chance to try a Listening Partnership, and our courses are structured around the Parent Resource Group.


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