Book Review: “Listen” by Patty Wipfler

by Tracy Poizner  |  07.04.17 | 0:36
Book Review
Listen, Patty Wipfler and Tasha Schore
Hand In Hand Parenting, 2017
This may be the best, and certainly the most revolutionary book of practical parenting tools I have ever read. After enjoying the material available on the website handinhandparenting.org, I decided to get the book and read it all at once.
Patty Wipfler has distilled her decades of experience working with children and families into these five behavioural tools that ought to transform parenting as we know it. Most parents are disturbed at some point to find themselves replaying the way they were disciplined and treated as children but feel helpless to do it any other way.
There is another way, and you can learn it by reading this book and applying these techniques. The author’s philosophy, tried and tested in thousands of families, shows that misbehaviour is an opportunity to help kids actually grow over the fears and hurts that drive them to misbehave in the first place. The authors have included dozens of examples written by parents to illustrate specific situations and how they applied these tools in their real lives. These are followed by a short analysis of what was happening and why the technique worked.
Special Time is the name coined for regular one-on-one play that is announced and timed, anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. The child is the total director of this play, and the parent must provide full, uninterrupted and loving attention while participating in whatever activity the child wants. This has been shown to very quickly but effectively fill a child’s almost bottomless need for connection. A strong feeling of connection with a loving adult is the foundation of what every child needs in order to be able to think and to behave the way they actually want to.
Playlistening is a similar strategy, but it can be more spontaneous and often involves very physical, even roughhouse play in which the parent plays the weaker, silly or incapable role and the child gets to be the winner and to exert playful power and control. Being able to play at being the stronger one or to even act out aggressions is a way to overcome their fears and is very effective if done in the theatre of a parent-child connection.
If it seems like this is a parenting style lacking in what you know as “discipline”, you are mistaken! Setting Limits is a tool that should be used early and often. Children need to know their limits (and yours!) and often use their frustration with not having their desires met as a way to spark some crying. It’s important for parents to realize that such emotional outbursts are a mechanism the child’s system uses to offload stuck emotions, mainly from other situations where they could not express their fear, hurt or sadness. Limits can be set playfully or sternly, but it’s important to be firm but loving in holding your ground. Some limits are set for obvious reasons of safety, time, etc., but you might use setting a limit to actually provoke this kind of release if your child is going off the rails and you have the time and patience for the next task, Staylistening.
Staylistening might be the most controversial aspect of this group of techniques but it makes so much sense to me because it has a definite resonance with homeopathy. A homeopathic remedy is a dose of a ‘similar’ disease in artificial form, causing a brief ‘aggravation’ as the system works to let go of the real disease. In Patty Wipfler’s understanding, children react to small ‘similar’ or artificial hurts such as not getting to hold the remote or having their toast cut the wrong way with an emotional meltdown. This is a sign that their system is working to discharge an old emotional hurt or fear stored from long before. The parent is encouraged to stay beside them as they rage and cry, shake and perspire, for as long as it takes until it’s all gone. Of course, this would try the patience of even the most saintly mother or father, but the many parent anecdotes throughout the book show how this often results in a big leap in maturity and cooperation. The key to success here is support for the parent in the form of a good Listening Partnership.
Listening Partnerships are an essential support for parents wanting to succeed at this work because hearing our children cry or tantrum is so completely triggering for us as individuals with our own life history and our own emotional lives. A Listening Partnership is an arrangement between two people who may or may not have any other relationship outside of this work. Together they decide to spend equal amounts of time just listening to each other offload their concerns, fears, hurts, guilt, memories, and whatever else comes up during their allotted minutes. The listener agrees to just listen, and never to offer any advice or other commentary, aside from encouraging the talker to elaborate or to continue. It is touching to read the testimonials from parents talking about how much it means to them to have this kind of support and how effective it is in helping them heal the old hurts that keep them from bringing their best selves to the job of parenting.

 

I encourage everyone to read this book, and to visit the website mentioned above for more articles, videos and links to courses and live coaching in order to bring this extraordinary method into your home. I am certain you’ll see the benefits with your family!
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