Letter to Kate
by Kate Andersen, M.Ed.
I have a nine-year old daughter who is spirited beyond
belief. She has all the high maintenance traits and more,
the more being that she is highly verbal and very demanding.
We have had no end of trouble with her discipline-wise.
We took her to a counsellor, a well-known psychologist,
and were very disappointed with this professional's lack
of understanding of the challenges we face with our daughter.
He pretty much said we had a communication problem with
her and that we needed to learn to listen better. Listen!?!
That's all we do!
Don't get me wrong. I have read at least twenty parenting
books and gone to countless workshops. We have had charts
and stickers and the whole nine yards. We do all these
things and more but they don't help that much. We know
about active listening and validating your child's feelings.
We listen and she says "Oh, now you're going to say
'that must be hard'" or "Now it's time to read
my mind again". Once she even said: "You listen
and listen and listen but your faces are ugly, anyway!"
Communication problem? - I feel so frustrated at getting
such simplistic advice. What should we do?
Mother With RED Ears
I am so sorry that you were the victim of what I call
"auto-pilot" in counseling. There are far too
many professionals out there who just hand out advice
that comes out of a textbook and bears little relation
to what is going on. Or perhaps this person is correct
but one aspect of good counseling is showing your clients
how you reached your conclusion. You and this professional
(and your daughter!) need to get some shared understanding
before you can develop a plan of action to change things.
Why not go back and state your frustration and try to
get some clarification?
It is difficult to know what is wrong. However, it seems
that your daughter is extremely frustrated about something.
When a child of her age (and even older) is struggling
with something, perhaps peer relations or a learning problem,
she relies on adults to 'fix' it for her. At least, a
child whose parents are involved and concerned is likely
to expect that of you. The problem is that there are many
things we cannot fix for our children. We keep trying
(reading books, etc.) and, when we fail, we sometimes
convey to our children our sense of helplessness. Paradoxically,
that can feed into their worry that adults and the world
are out-of-control. Telling you your faces are ugly suggests
she is very angry with you. Perhaps this is not because
you are 'bad' parents at all but because you are trying
so hard and not getting anywhere. Maybe she thinks she
needs you to change her teacher, or make her slimmer,
or something very difficult and important like that! If
there is something important that needs to be changed
(and can be changed), try to get it done as soon as possible
without making a big deal of it. And help her move on.
If problems do not have solutions (such as changing the
fact that she has to wear glasses), sometimes the best
starting-place is best to admit your powerlessness to
YOURSELF. When you do that, you may feel freer to enjoy
the delightful aspects of your daughter that I am sure
are there. Your relationship with her, and your pleasure
in her, are far more important than using any techniques
out of a book and may even be more effective than counseling.
If you find you are unable to relate to your daughter,
try to explore the reasons for this. Are you just plain
burned out? Do you just not have a good fit? Maybe you
need to hear someone in authority validate the reality
of challenging temperament traits. Temperament is real and
challenging traits are very, very real. (See the interview
later in this newsletter.)
Again, letting go of hoping for the impossible may free
you up to find something good in the situation. Love your
daughter and let her know it in words. Remind her, but
not too often, that you are there to hear what's going
on and to see what can be done about it. Tell her stories
about difficulties you had in childhood and how they were
resolved. Remind her that children do grow up and that
things often get better. Be sure that these conversations
are natural ones, without any psychoanalysis or probing
on your part. Forget about "active listening"
for a while and soon you may find yourself really hearing