“Mum, I think Charlie must have had a really big cry!”
As my 7-year-old, Charlie and myself had all been together in the garden for the past 20 minutes and Charlie HADN’T cried I was a bit confused.
“What do you mean Jimmy?”
“Well, Charlie seems all…light.”
Oddly, I do sometimes use that phrase when talking about the benefits of letting children show us how they’re feeling. Even when it’s not that comfortable to witness; crying, shouting and growling aren’t the delightful images we dream about when contemplating parenthood. It’s more the smiles and laughter we’re after and frankly the gratitude for all the daily sacrifices we make for them!
BUT when children (and adults) have a safe space to have ALL their feelings heard, not just the nice ones, they often come out the other side “lighter”. Sometimes they look physically lighter, like they could dance across the room, sometimes they have an air of peace and calm about their face. Sometimes their eye contact seems warmer and more piercing. They can smile more freely, see the funny side of a situation, or be spontaneously affectionate and warm.
My son, having experienced this lightness after I had listened to him, could see and feel it in the 18-month old he was playing with.
What he hadn’t spotted was WHY Charlie was suddenly lighter.
I am a childminder by profession, and I have been for over 9 years. In the past 3 or 4 years I feel my job has changed a lot. I still care for pre-schoolers whilst their parents are working, I still provide stimulating, developmentally appropriate activities and experiences. But since learning about Hand in Hand, and training as an instructor, I now see my job slightly differently. And because of that I get so much more out of my job.
Today was Charlie’s first day in my care. Charlie and his mum had been on a few playdates, met my children and spent time exploring my garden, but this was his first day on his own with me.
My focus nowadays, for those first few days in my care, is all about building connection with the child themselves as well as with the parents. I have no other agenda than being with and connecting to the child. I am not too concerned with establishing a routine, working to a schedule, or observing what a child can or cannot do. I simply make as much warm eye contact as possible, delight in whatever the child choses to do, and listen to whatever feelings come up for the child.
That afternoon we had gone outdoors to get some fresh air. Jim had grabbed Charlie’s attention by pretending to fall over a small ball that was laying on the ground. I don’t think he was trying to be a clown, he just did it, and Charlie laughed. Seeing Charlie laughing, he did it again, bigger this time, falling on the floor in a melodramatic fashion. Charlie laughed again, even louder; a full belly laugh. Jim did it again and again and again. Each time Charlie was delighted, those big, delicious toddler giggles bursting out.
Jim had far more staying power than me, I can usually Play Listen like this for 5 mins or so, Jim easily lasted 10 that afternoon. When the game came to an end, they moved together into a different space in the garden. Charlie engaged Jim with another simple game, which was when he noticed Charlie’s new found connection, which he felt as a lightness.
I explained to Jim that good laughter, like that which he and Charlie had just experienced, was sometimes as powerful as good cry. That by playing as he had, taking the less powerful role (as someone who keeps falling over all the time) and letting Charlie laugh about something that probably happens to him all time (as Charlie was still getting to grips with walking), he had got rid of some of the yukky feelings and frustrations about falling over, and made him feel close to Jim.
Playing like this is what Hand in Hand call Play Listening, and is a tool we teach to deepen connection, help children shift uncomfortable feelings, overcome light anxieties and build confidence.
I was so touched that my child knew the real benefits of having his feelings heard, and that he could then gift another child so generously.
Charlie has continued to love playing with Jim, and continues to become more connected, more comfortable, and grows in confidence and resilience about being somewhere without his parents.
That’s what my job is now.
I have 2 Hand in Hand Starter Classes running from Monday 9th November 2020, at 10am and 8pm
Click here for more information on my Starter Class
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