Special Time and Staylistening

by Sandra Flear on March 4, 2013

An article I wrote for Masters Channel on Parenting by Connection a while back just got published. Here it is below. Let me know what you think! You can also go directly to the article here.

There is a way of parenting that doesn’t rely on rewards or punishments, which is what most parenting systems advocate. It works with our children’s instinctive need for connection – the foundation of their ability to feel secure, happy, and able to cooperate. It’s called parenting by connection.

Parenting by connection was begun by Patty Wipfler 30 years ago, through an organization called Hand in Hand Parenting. Hand in Hand focuses on the essential need of children to feel connected to adults because children need a warm, safe connection with their parents and caregivers in order for their brains to develop and learn well.

Feeling disconnected from parents and caregivers puts children into a state of emotional emergency, which can sometimes even feel life-threatening to a young child. Feelings of disconnection or fright may come about through small events such as a dog barking too loudly, through to being with a distracted parent overloaded with responsibilities, all the way to situations of neglect and abuse. It’s not possible to avoid experiences of disconnection at times, especially in a busy world with not a lot of support for parents and families. It is possible to heal from experiences of disconnection though, and children know how to do this.

If a child has enough warm attention from the adults around them, they will offload the emotional tension of disconnection through crying, trembling, perspiring, and tantrums. We have all seen children do this, but most of the time we have also experienced children being distracted or scolded away from expressing themselves in these ways.There is a way to support children through emotional moments though that does not stop this natural healing process, and I will go through these ways in this article and in subsequent ones.

This approach is much needed by hard-working mothers and fathers.

Parents can only offer respectful attention and high quality care to children when they themselves are supported, and have the opportunity to be listened to fully by other adults on a regular basis. The cornerstone of the parenting by connection approach is listening, both to children and parents.

Parent to parent listening is done through:

1. listening partnerships between peers

2. listening to children takes place through one of four listening tools. These are:

- special time

- staylistening

- setting limits

- playlistening.

I’ll start with special time and staylistening in this article, and go on to explain the other parent to child listening tools in subsequent articles, as well as listening partnerships for parents.

Special time

This is a short, defined period of time, during which there will be no interruptions – no telephone, door, or siblings to be tended. You can use a timer if you like. The parent chooses a time where they are as free of worries and fatigue as possible, and focuses their warm attention on their child.

During special time, the child is in charge of what you do. The parent follows the child’s lead, within safe limits, reversing the usual balance of power between parent and child. The parent lets their affection, interest, and approval radiate. Through this process over time, your child’s trust in you will grow and they will start to show you the areas in which they are struggling. They may start showing you how they feel scared of you sometimes, or feel worried that they’re not smart enough, or they may start to get upset over slight things – like a small hurt or the ending of special time. This is good! These are feelings coming to the surface that have been there all along, which just needed some trust to be able to come out.


This is what a parent does when a child is upset, whether the child is crying, having a tantrum, or feeling afraid. The parent stays in close contact with the child, offering their warm attention and presence, keeping their child and others safe while their child is too full of feeling to be able to think well. They don’t try to fix the feelings, but instead stay with the child, offering a few words of caring, until the feelings subside.

Depending on how big the upset is, this may take a short or long time. After the child has had a chance to express all that they feel, they often feel much better and go back to being their more flexible, sunny selves, able to cooperate and to think well.

Stay tuned for the rest of the tools and techniques!


1. Cry.
2. Cry some more, especially with people who love you or, barring that, at least with people who will listen to you.
3. Talk about it.
4. Talk about it some more.
5. Tell the story as if your life depended on it, because it does.
6. Get mad.
7. Get spitting mad and let all the hateful things you hate about life, and every stupid person who doesn’t have to go through this, be said… also hopefully in some kind soul’s presence.
8. Find some people who have experienced what you have, and find solace in the shared experience, and feel understood the way only those who have experienced it can understand you.
9. Lie around in a depressive stupor not believing it will ever get better.
10. Read about still more people who’ve experienced what you have, who have even gone on to live lives they like.
11. Cry some more.
12. Take far longer to grieve than you will be told you’ll take.
13. Eventually, with your raw, still aching self, start to connect again to life, and the things you love.
14. Be tender with yourself. More tender than you think you have to be.
15. Become softer, more accessible and kinder than you’ve ever been.
16. Get way stronger, too.
17. Sleep, eat well, and take in all manner of nourishment, human and otherwise, that you can gather.
18. Find some way to have faith, whatever that means to you. Nature, art, human kindness and spirituality may help.
19. Get comfortable with not knowing why, but know that life is strange. Stranger than you’ve been taught, and may even make sense.
20. Learn to trust yourself.
21. Become someone you can actually trust.
22. Become bigger than whatever sadness you carry, because it may not ever go away entirely, but you can be and feel lots of other things, too.
23. Know you aren’t alone.
24. One day, life will seep back into your bones, because that’s what it does, and that may give you hope, as it does me.
25. Be grateful for life. Because even though it seriously sucks sometimes, it is achingly beautiful, too.


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