This document is about providing physical holdings with children who are small enough to contain with safety. I assume other parenting techniques have been less than effective and the parent is in unease.
The words, “negative” and “positive” are used in this paper to describe, not to judge.
My use of the word, “parents” includes single parenting or other parenting arrangements.
The holder is often referred to as the “parent,” even though the holder may be a therapist or other significant caregiver.
ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT OURSELVES AS PARENTS
We all have the best of intentions for our children.
The goal of parenting is to explore a different way to parent in order to improve how we feel about ourselves as parents and in relationship with our children.
We cannot change or control our children but we can respond to them differently. As parents, we provide an environment that exerts a powerful influence on our children. Yet it is only one of many environments our children will experience. There are no guarantees about how our children will fare in their life, yet through the environment we provide, we can increase the possibility of them doing well.
We want to offer them the concepts of responsibility. We are responsible for our children’s safety as often as can be possible. Their job is to find out how the world works. Ours is to show them. We can be available to them. We are not responsible for our children’s behavior. They are. One of our jobs is to provide them with opportunities to learn that there are consequences for their actions. We can allow our children to make choices in order to learn responsibility, which our children can understand and remember.
We are parenting a new species of children. And some of us seem to be a new species of parents who are committed to turning out free, forward-looking children, with a positive sense of how they can live their lives, and how they can contribute to the community. Our children seem to have more energy, more creativity, more passion, and more connection to source energy.
WHAT IS A HOLDING?
A holding is the process of extending our loving center to others unconditionally. It can be offered non-physically or physically. It is only an invitation and it is up to the other person to receive it or not. There are spiritual holdings, psychological (mind) holdings, and physical (somatic) holdings.
A holding is a way of creating intimate contact between a parent and child. It can be done as a physical cuddle at anytime. It is not a consequence for unsafe behavior. It is a gesture of love, which assists the child to release stored anger, frustration and rage
A holding creates immense intimacy and reinforces the bond between parent and child.
Holdings are natural. It may be a primal instinct to hold. Many parents already do holdings naturally. For example, when a newborn screams in frustration, most parents simply find a comfortable chair, and hold, rock, and speak in soft tones, until he is done.
A holding invites your child into a controlled crisis, which, in the end is liberating for both the child and the parent.
WHY DO A HOLDING?
Children store up a bundle of negative energy inside themselves from emotional and physical repression. These constrictions are often activated by an event either inside or outside of themselves. This energy then takes over and the child acts-out in different ways, such as temper tantrums, constant whining, aggression toward self or others, even depression as if there were no control or choice available.There is a part of himself who is not getting his needs met. That part collects negative feelings and holds onto them.
These resistant experiences accumulate and, like gas, expand. The pressure grows. The feelings want out, but the child has no way to let it out, without negative consequences. So he does what he can. He whines, he argues, he is defiant, he says bad things to other people, and he starts fights. Perhaps he is physically abusive, either to himself or someone else. He does what he can, but nothing works. Such seemingly unproductive behavior is the result of a restriction to his inner flow of well-being (source energy).
Adults do the same thing. If the child could learn to surrender to this negative energy as it occurred in his life, he would not build up such an emotional bundle of negative energy. Children and adults have a difficult time releasing this negative energy in order to return to well-being. They don’t know how. The physical holding is an opportunity for the child to express this negative energy bundle until the bundle is depleted. When the release of the resistance is complete, they return to their connection with their inner being. The physical holding provides a safe container for them to express this resistance until they are able to surrender to it and thus allow it to complete itself. One feels much better after it is released.
Often when a child’s behavior is unsafe, the holding provides a loving container in which to “act-out,” without danger to himself or others.
A holding is one way of teaching our children how to move through their emotional stuck place and be more in touch with their inner flow of love.
Paradoxically, a human being has an easier time thinking of himself as independent and therefore responsible for his actions, the more he connects to his inner experience. The holding offers an experience of inner connectedness with his caregivers. This reinforces wholeness in a child.
The holding allows the safe release of all stored up and current feelings. A child’s job is to try to get everything he wants and to learn about how the world will respond. A major challenge of childhood is to come to terms with the fact that we don’t always get what we want. Holding is a loving thing to do while our child is working out the truth of that.
It helps to think in metaphors sometimes. One idea is to perceive the holding as a safe container that allows your child to the release of a dis-ease from his body and his psyche.
A holding encourages us to love our child during our own emotional upset, thus differentiating from our child in a healthy way, allowing our child their own uncluttered path on their journey.
WHO IS THE HOLDING FOR?
The child: to release all restrictions and return to the loving flow of source energy. Holdings are not to be considered for disturbed or challenged children only. This method works for all children. Actually, it works for adults too. It helps a person rediscover her loving center and teaches her, through the release of her restricted emotions, a way to return there.
The parent: to provide an alternative parenting option, especially when others have been less than successful. The child gets the idea that parents will take charge in dangerous situation, and can be trusted to act in his best interests, as well as their own. The holding also helps us as parents to return to our center, which is where we hold unconditional love for our child. And the best way to invite a child to connect with his center is to role model being connected to our own, as much of the time as we can.
WHEN MIGHT IT BE A GOOD TIME TO DO A HOLDING?
After determining the child’s discomfort is not from lack of food, water, pain, etc. After trying out other parenting techniques.
When the child leads with a resistant reaction to almost every event. Resistance is often described as frustrating, anger, impatience, complaining, uncooperative behavior, or any feeling of unease. We can always invite our child to cuddle a little to get things started. If they just cuddle, enjoy. If they resist, begin a holding.
Ideally, wherever we are at the time the resistant behavior begins. Many parents have held their child in a grocery store, a parking lot, or in the car on the side of the road. You can also wait until you get home and immediately do a holding whether the child is demonstrating resistant behavior or not. If you hold them and the resistant behavior has gone, nothing is lost. Set them down and thank them for the cuddle.
WHO SHOULD DO THE HOLDING?
There is a deep bonding that occurs when the holding is complete. In a therapeutic setting, I often suggest that the parent who seems to be lacking the bonding with the child do the holding. The benefits to the child will occur no matter who does the holding.
HOW LONG DOES A HOLDING TAKE?
The child determines how long the holding will take. Their acting-out is one way of letting us know they need a holding. Their connectedness with themselves and us lets us know when they are done and the holding is over. In their completeness they can make prolonged eye contact and resistance will disappear.
Anywhere from 20 minutes to 3 hours. Don’t panic. The next holding will take much less time.
The frequency of holdings ranges from 3 times a week in the beginning, to once every 3 months toward the end. Eventually holdings will not be needed again; the child will have learned how to release his pent-up frustrations and angers in a way that is physically and socially safe,
The more consistent with holdings, the less often and shorter the holdings become.
To end the holding before its completion often allows the child to perceive that he has won a victory, and the next holding will probably be much longer while he learns this is not necessarily true. No problem. Just be up to the extra challenge next time.
AT WHAT AGE SHOULD ONE BEGIN HOLDINGS?
We want to begin to teach release of resistance as early as possible. The younger the child, the more effective and permanent the results can be. The longer your child has felt out of control, the longer it may take before she learns how to release her resistance in appropriate or positive ways.
THE ENVIRONMENT OF A HOLDING
When we do a holding, we are in charge of the environment. Our goal is to provide a container of protection, which consists of safe containment, loving attention, loving physical contact, eye contact, and support. It is a space for the child to learn permission to Be.
Punishment is a consequence for doing something someone else doesn’t like. Often justified, even handed and fair, it still has the goal of changing behavior. Our attention and agenda is focused on someone else (our child). Punishment can easily take the form of retaliation or revenge and can be ways of making ourselves feel temporarily better. Delivered when we are angry and feeling out of control, we sometimes act-out of our own childhood abuse, and perpetrate that abuse onto our children. Nothing positive comes out of negative energy.
Holdings have nothing to do with punishment.
We never discipline our child when we are angry —- When we do, we are telling the child that we lost control. We take responsibility for what we are doing, even when we are messing up by losing control and acting out of anger and fear and resorting to violence.
Hitting is abusive. It teaches that, “My body is not mine. “I can be molested.” “I am hittable.” It has never worked for the child. It teaches fear of you, fear of authority, and fear of doing any behavior in which others may be disappointed.
Hitting usually changes behavior only when the hitter is around.
Children raised on fear create fear throughout their lives.
The holding is about safety. It is about responding to our child’s dangerous behavior with protection. Our attention is on the child’s behavior, and our job is to provide our child a safer way to act-out negative emotions. We teach respect for one another since I will not hurt you and I will not let you hurt you or me.
Protecting children is more effective and won’t be harmful when done from a place of love.
Setting limits for ourselves as parents protects us from being abusive to our children as well as from receiving abuse from our children.
Protection is an action enforced by LOVE.
Nothing is more important in our life than the protection of our children and of ourselves. When we protect our children, we protect ourselves.
When our children are very young, we protect them because they are basically a danger to themselves. Most obviously, we protect them physically. Young children are dangerous to themselves physically – they run out into the street, they reach toward harmful things, they don’t understand the world is full of sharp, heavy, potentially lethal objects. We are responsible for providing safety for them.
Children are also dangerous in another way. Often they are rude, loud, or run amok generally being unaware of the consequences of their behavior. They do not understand that the danger here is that annoyed humans can hurt you. They might hurt you physically or emotionally. Parents are hard-pressed to feel love towards a child who whines, cries, snivels, has temper tantrums, or displays uncooperative behavior much of the time. Other children shun, call names, and often abuse the school-aged child who acts out his frustration, in front of or even upon other people.
Holding, or providing a loving container for the release of frustration, rage and grief, begins to teach that:
Safe release of these emotions is possible,
One can release emotions in privacy,
One can release emotions in public without damage to themselves or others,
Once built-up emotions are experienced through to completion, the body provides a natural reward. Neurotransmitters bring calmness, loving feelings, and a sense of being capable of coping, among other experiences.
In the process of the holding, we are protecting our child from abusive or out of control behavior toward himself or others. When a child is unable to understand the concept of “protecting self,” we become a safe container in which our child releases his attachment to holding onto his repressed emotions or acting-out behavior.
While a holding is in process, each time the child gets free before he is done, his hope for continuing his resistance increases and the longer he resists. Consistent containment is encouraged.
Contain your child minimally. When he is physically resisting, match your energy with his in order to prevent him from hurting himself or us. As his resistance subsides, immediately pullback to match his energy.
The most powerful thing we can offer another is our positive attention. When we are in a loving place and we extend that to others, healing occurs. I, the holding, parent, give absolute positive attention to the child. Love is stronger than the negative energy in us.
We are giving our child complete attention when we match our energy with her resistance. When doing a holding, we are constantly observing and adjusting to what our child is doing.
Loving Physical Contact
We are all aware of the power of physical contact. The holding requires constant contact with the child. It is a powerful experience for the child to be held while he is resisting because the parent stays physically connected, no matter how objectionable the behavior. This demonstrates to the child that he is loved, even when his behavior is not. Great amounts of bonding occur when we do this.
Throughout the holding, the parent keeps direct eye contact with the child. Eye contact is very bonding. This is spirit-to-spirit contact and is the most powerful contact there is.
Every time he makes eye contact with you and sees your eye contact with him, the more deeply the bonding can occur.
Get comfortable. Use pillows to prop yourself up. Put a glass of water next to you, and take off all restricting items, such as belts, rings, watches, bracelets, earrings, glasses, etc.
It is best to have some external support while holding a child. Arrange to have another person who is available to us get you water, supplies and encourage you when it gets tough to see your child upset,
When feelings are experienced and released, people feel in charge and self-esteem rises. A holding teaches that feelings are acceptable to express and how to safely let them go.
Attempt not to be in a hurry to get the holding finished. Learn to love your child’s determination, and to believe in his struggle for freedom from his own repression.
It is on the other side of the feelings that people can take responsibility for themselves and move to a place of change. A person’s fear of expression of “stuffed feeling” will usually not lead them to responsible action.
It is a loving thing to help a child complete his unexpressed feelings safely.
Allow the love you have for your child to outlast his resistance.
SKILLS USED IN A HOLDING
There are a variety of skills we as parents can practice during a holding. The more practice we have with these skills, the easier the holding becomes for us.
Our child is separate from us. Remind yourself that none of the acting out behavior is about you, even if it involves you.
Learn to “depersonalize”. Do not take any of it personally. Get your ego out of the way as much as possible. Know that your child is getting more connected to her source energy.
The more self-esteem we have, the more empowered we are, and the more success we may be able to have at doing this. Find the place in you who knows how to be a loving parent, breathe from that place. If you are convinced that you do not know how to be a loving parent, then act “as if.” While the holding is going on, be with your child the way you would like a loving parent to be with you. It is my opinion that just thinking about how that might be will put you on a positive path.
Techniques of Depersonalization
Create a congruent verbal affirmation that keeps you neutral.
Use a visualization to protect, deflect, amuse, and distract yourself from taking it personally.
Say to yourself “I am not taking this personally, it is not about me, my child really needs my love right now.”
Give Verbal Loving Contact
Verbal messages of love and acceptance will be offered throughout the holding.
Make statements of acceptance and love.
“I am going to hold you and love you until you are safe.”
“Take your time. I am going to hold you and love you until you are done.”
“Take your time. I am going to hold you and love you until you feel better.”
“I love you just the way you are.”
“I love being close to you and nothing you are doing is keeping me from loving you right now.”
“I love you. Your feelings and thoughts are ok with me.”
“Let your feelings out. It’s okay. I will make sure nobody gets hurt.”
Be a coach. Say soothing statements.
“You are doing just fine. Keep it up.” “All right.”
“That was a good one. Let it out.” “Oh yes, let it go.”
“Good going. You will soon be done.”
“You are working so hard to be done with these hard feelings.”
Say what you are hoping for.
“I will be so glad to let you up when you are finished.”
“I will be holding you until you are through with these uncomfortable feelings.”
“When you are able to relax, I will let you up.”
Be Prepared for their Resistance
Children will try anything to get you to let them go. Their resistance needs to win at all costs. The will be angry at you, accuse you of abuse, spit, pee, physically struggle, scream, call you names, threaten you, bargain with you, try to make you feel guilty, accuse you of hurting them, be rude, go to sleep and most likely demonstrate everything you are afraid they will become.
Holding Phase Expect from the child Expect from self What to do
Preparation Non cooperation
Manipulative behavior Take charge firmly and lovingly
Feeling angry Get support Remove sharp objects Get comfortable
Bargaining Not taking it seriously
Making fun of the process
Teases and jokes Taking it personally
Repeat loving verbalizations
Constrain as necessary
Anger Verbal threats
Attempts to evoke guilt
Pretense of being injured
Physically acting out
Going to sleep Feelings of fear
Feelings of guilt
Feelings of fatigue
Wanting to stop the holding Depersonalize
Repeat loving verbalizations
Maintain eye contact
Constrain as necessary
Keep the child awake
Prolonged eye contact
Loving attitude Feeling relief
Sensing resolution Keep eye contact
Engage in another activity
In order to endure, a parent needs to have more persistence than the child has resistance.
Share your experience with your child during the holding. “I am a little worried, afraid, unsure what to do, and/or confused right now, …..and I am still going to hold you and love you.” “I like being close to you.”
“I love, want, care, suggest, ___” Avoid making statements about the child.
Avoid all Engagement, Argument or Debate
Our children are often smarter than we think they are. They will try to engage us in the illogic, wrongfulness, and uselessness of what we are doing. Say, “Thanks for sharing.” and go back to your loving verbal messages as described above.
Remove any sharp or hard objects (jewelry, rings, watches, earrings, shoes, etc.) from yourself and your child. Get comfortable. Get support if possible.
Let the child know you are seeing behavior that means they are having a difficult time right now and that you are going to hold them until they feel better.
Place them in the holding position, one of her arms cushioned behind your back, head cradled with your arm and containing her other arm, other hand cradling her legs, direct eye contact.
Now prepare to hold them with loving contact as necessary to match their resistance.
Prepare for their acting out resistance. Depersonalize as the holding progresses.
Make eye contact. Verbalize your loving statements. Share. Use “I” statements. Avoid discussion or debate.
WHEN IS THE HOLDING COMPLETE?
The child melts. All resistant behavior stops. He makes prolonged eye contact with you. He is joyful and you can see a glow around him. She is flowing pure love, which you can feel. Once you have experienced the power of this moment you will never want to stop short of the completion of the holding.
If you are unsure that the holding is done, you can put her down with the explanation that you will be holding her again if she is not finished. Watch for any resistant behavior. If there is, continue the holding.
When the child is done, spend some time being intimate and communicative with any other activity. Let him know you love him.
Children often say, “I feel good.” “I feel better.” “I love you.” After you have done a number of holdings, it is not unusual for a child to come to their parent and say, “I think I need a holding.”
CONCERNS ABOUT THE EFFECTS OF A HOLDING
I am afraid that I will physically hurt my child.
Using the skill of loving containment suggested in this procedure, there is no way physically injury can happen. You are paying loving attention, adjusting the contact continually and staying in a loving space for them.
You are not hurting them by supporting their release of emotional unease and physical illness.
What do I do if another child is watching?
Invite him over to take a look. Show him how you are holding her. Point out that she is not getting hurt. If appropriate, ask him what he thinks about this. Keep on holding.
I am afraid that I will kill my child’s spirit.
Holding helps children get through their resistance and back to a connection with their spirit.
The child’s resistant behavior is a disconnection with spirit. We are more likely to suppress a child’s spirit with fear, threat and abuse, the tools often used to control behavior, than with an enthusiastic approach and a safe place to “vent.”
The terrible things my child is saying to me are true. I am a bad parent.
This holding is about your child liberating himself from resistance. Telling his perceived truth about you is part of that procedure. Learn to depersonalize as described earlier. You may have done a lot of things in the past that were missed opportunities, and, right now, in the holding, you are being the loving parent you always wanted to be.
When I make soothing statements during the holding, it does not calm my child down.”
And it is not designed to do that. Our job is to provide a way for the resistant behavior to move through the child’s psyche to its completion, not just to get the holding completed.
I just can’t stand seeing my child suffer.
Your child is resolving his suffering right now. Not to have a safe place to release resistances is real suffering.
Won’t I be reinforcing my child’s negative behavior by rewarding him with this intimate attention?
I suppose you would be if this were the only time your child is held and loved. You can be physically and emotional intimate with your children at times other than the holding. Children are glad to be finished with their emotional frustration. They may request a holding at some future time.
Isn’t it against the precepts of behavior modification, which is to ignore negative behavior and reward positive behavior?
When you are dealing with dangerous acting-out behavior, it is more important to participate in the completion of that behavior than to worry about whether it is reinforcing or not. With the holding, we are not giving the negative behavior any attention; rather we are loving the child through their negative behavior. When the holding is complete, there will be plenty of positive behavior to reward.
Isn’t this dangerous if you have previously lost control and abused your child?
You are not re-abusing your child here. You are being loving, attentive, and positive towards your child. The child may use past abuses in an attempt to scare you out of a holding. If you are concerned you will not be able to hold it together, make sure you have a witness, another adult in the room with you. You are not likely to get into trouble by providing a loving container for restricting your child’s abusive behavior.
I do not want to contain my child’s expression of feelings.
Absolutely not. That is not what we are doing here. You are restraining his restraint. You are restraining the physical resistance that has been keeping him from safely releasing his feelings. You are creating a safe place for him to release the expression of those feelings to completion. You must now be ready to accept and hear their truth from them
I want my child to understand what I am doing while I am doing it. Can I explain?
No. This often leads to a debate, which the child might win. It also places you in a defensive position. Use the loving verbal response skills during the holding and explain the process afterward, if they ask. Children usually figure it out themselves and have no need for our explanation.
Isn’t this just for children with special needs?
No. This method can be very effective with all children and is encouraged as a bonding and loving experience shared by both parent and child. This can lead to wellness in all children.
Won’t my child become afraid of me using the holding on them?
Holdings lead to intimacy, trust and the expression of truth. Your children already know this. They may use what they know about your fears or doubts in order to manipulate you until you begin to mistrust yourself, or perhaps because they want to hang on to their acting-out behavior a little longer. In fact, trying to intimidate one’s parents is a good example of acting-out pent-up frustration and rage and is a good indicator that this might be a good time for a holding.
Why do I feel so hesitant and afraid when I do the holding?
What is being expressed for our child is the repression of past negative emotions. This exposes us to our own past repressions and fears, especially around anger.
When I completed a holding with my granddaughter, she sat up on my lap and said, “I feel good.”
An upset child came to her mother and said, “I think I am going to need another holding.”
A child said to her upset father, “It looks like you could use a holding right now.”
A parent reported, “Before the holding my child was irritated and impatient about everything that was happening. Afterward she was so accepting. She was like a different child.”
After saying to her daughter, (with irritation in her voice), that her daughter’s behavior suggested she needed a holding to keep herself safe, her daughter said, “Or is it to keep you safe, mommy?”
A child (in a family where holdings were common) said about her brother who was beginning to annoy her, “Mommy, Frankie seems to need a holding right now. Can I do it?”