I was meeting with a friend at Starbucks, and as most moms do, we were talking about our kids. She shared how sad she felt when her daughter was graduating high school because she realized that it was too late. I was confused by that statement, too late, but she continued to share that she noticed many missed opportunities that she will never get back. More specifically she remembered how often her daughter would reach out to her and call in distress to talk through a situation. My friend would answer the phone when her daughter called, but her response to “hey mom, do you have a sec?” was “No, I really don’t right now, let me call you later.” She continued to say that when she called her daughter back, most often she would get a “never mind,” as to indicate that her mother missed the opportunity to be there for her. Even though she felt the fear that she missed out on many occasions in the past with her children, she stopped to notice how this felt and decided to be there at that moment going forward.
I was so excited to have this conversation with a mom and friend who got it! You may be wondering what I am referring to, the moment a parent gets it is when they see what their child needs and then makes the conscious decision to stop, and sacrifice what they are doing, or rather be doing to be available for that moment.
Working with kids and families can be rewarding and difficult at the same time. When a child feels safe and comfortable in my office during their therapy session, they share things because they have my non-judgmental, unconditional, positive regard. Of course, when anyone goes to therapy, that is how it is supposed to be, you pay the person the listen to you and use their expertise to help process with you. But when working with children, I feel there is another component to helping them that is different when working with adults. That is, teaching the adults to see life through their child’s eyes.
After most sessions with a child, I have had the opportunity to see their life through their eyes, and no matter how trivial, can see how big and deep it was for that child. When my friend’s daughter heard her mother say she was not available, I can imagine all the anticipation and hope she had that her mother was going to help, just dissipate into hurt and disappointment, and possibly into anxiety and panic.
Many times, when someone is not available, we come up with another way to get through, and as time passes it may make it easier. I think many of the times where her daughter said “never mind” when her mother called back, was because she was so hurt by the initial conversation, she got help elsewhere or that so much time passed it was no longer important. Either way over time, a child may feel that the person they consistently reach out to are not a reliable source to depend upon in a time of need.
So how can you be there for your child?
- Listen to what your child in saying
I mean, really hear what they are saying verbally and non-verbally. Pay attention to what their tone, eyes, and body is telling you, and then respond to that, not just the words. Pouting, pacing, high pitched tone, rapid speech, all of those are important to the story they are telling as you can see the state of emotion, they are in.
- Ask them to tell you the whole story
This is difficulty sometimes, as some children can get off on a tangent or tell a very long-winded story but think about it…if they are talking non-stop and explaining, then that is what they needed and you took time to listen (#1). Now if you have that child that doesn’t give much information and it’s like pulling teeth… then (you must be creative) you ask more questions. Like; “Start from the beginning, no before that, okay then what, and what happened then, wait back up I think I’m missing something.” These statements help them to see that you are interested and get them to also learn how to tell a story.
- Lastly, and this is important, ask them if they want you to respond with advice, or just listen
This is so important because there are times where we as adults just need to vent to our friends about kids, work, spouse, traffic, etc. When our venting is over, and our friend starts to solve the problem and give advice, we don’t always need that or want that at that moment. Children are the same way. Maybe the school day was, to them, just terrible and they need to vent, but if you give advice like “your day was not that bad” and start talking about how bad your day was, you missed #1. They just need you to listen and be there. A good response to that day could be, “Wow that was a lot going on.” Or something like that.
Over time you will see changes, but you must be willing to make changes too. I’m glad my friend noticed that she needed to make a change, she and her daughters are just a little bit closer now 😊