Are you Really Listening to your Child?

A few month’s ago, my ten-year old daughter was behaving badly. She is typically very restrained and is not prone to outward displays of emotion or drama. She was irritable, mean to her sister, and stubborn in following our instructions. In response, we shouted at her and applied punishments that are typically around restricting screen time or dessert.

One night, I deviated from our normal pattern at bedtime and I decided to sit with her and talk to her on her bed for about half an hour. I asked her what was happening at school, what she was worried about and what subjects she most enjoyed. I took special care not to offer solutions and to avoid passing judgement on her or anything she said. I asked a lot of questions about what she said and we had a very calm and loving exchange. As the conversation unfolded, I discovered that she was very stressed about what was happening at school.

For the past few years, she has struggled with the pace of work. She understands all of the content but she takes a long time to complete tests, worksheets and exercises in her books. This creates great frustration for the teachers because they know she understands the material and it holds up the rest of the class. At her previous school, she was belittled and humiliated by her teacher and we eventually left the school after all attempts to address the problem failed.

At her new school, the culture is a lot more compassionate and the well-being of the child is more important than finishing a maths worksheet in time. We moved both our daughters there and we feel a much better fit between our family and the culture of the school. However, my oldest is still struggling to complete work on time and the teachers are trying a variety of strategies to push her to do so. I think this brings back her negative experiences at the previous school and leads to an increase in anxiety. This further exacerbates her concentration difficulties.

The previous school suggested that she be medicated, but in having her evaluated by numerous medical practitioners, the consensus was that she is not suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In the past few years, we have tried a number of things to help her to focus and to complete her work. We have sent her to a psychologist to address her anxiety triggered by the bully teacher. We include protein in her diet, especially in the morning. We increased her intake of Omega supplements. She already has a diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables. These interventions were marginally effective but the fundamental problem persists.

I then started to wonder whether she required occupational therapy since she was quite sensitive as a baby and we did not understand its benefits until her sister needed intensive OT in her first year of school. I called an occupational therapist to ask her whether the difficulty concentrating could be aided by OT. She recommended that I investigate Tomatis SoListen. This therapy re-calibrates the auditory system, altering the neural pathways that carry the messages to the right place in the brain for processing.

I set up a meeting with a specialist in this therapy and explained my daughter’s history, including her challenges related to concentration and pace. She explained in detail how the therapy works and it appears to be a great match for my child. We have started the therapy and we are seeing some improvements already. It is a long process that takes several months to do properly. I am confident that this will be the right solution for her.

It occurred to me that we often don’t stop to see what’s happening for our children underneath their behavior. I sat with her each night for about three weeks and listened to her fears, her worries and the things that bring her joy. It’s not necessary every night now but occasionally we have a long chat if she seems quiet or unhappy. We talk in the car on the way home from school, we do homework together and we eat at the dinner table as a family. Even with those opportunities to connect, she only felt comfortable one-on-one to share what was happening for her.

I wonder how many children are struggling through issues that they don’t communicate to their parents, parents that are eager and willing to listen. I’m not sure if we have resolved this pace issue yet, but we are actively investing in a solution to support her. What’s probably more valuable is how our relationship has improved and how I’m now aware of what stress looks like for her. Instead of reprimanding her, I can now take her aside and listen to what’s worrying her.

Have you made space to communicate with your children in a way that allows them to open up? Can you listen without judgement or offering solutions so that they can find their way through difficult challenges? Do your children know how much you love them and how willing you are to support them through their difficulties?

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I am a champion for living your passion. Writing is my passion, my destiny and my calling. I am a mother of two beautiful daughters and a wife and live in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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