The minute we got into the room, she put her head down on the table and, sighing heavily, said, “Parents are SO over-protective.”
(Hey, she’s 12. She’s allowed to say stuff like that.)
The role that she needs me to play, as I’ve quickly learned over the weeks, is to be a listener. Think about it – even as adults, all we want is to be listened to, right? Now think back to adolescence and pre-adolescence. We had people telling us we were being dramatic, overreacting, not appreciating what we have. But all we really wanted was validation. So that’s what I give her, while she complains about not being allowed to have social media accounts. She rants about the state of the government, and she talks about how “stupid” it is that people still think that girls and boys aren’t equal. (I know. She’s outstanding.)
We get through a little work. Then she groans again.
“Stupid getting dark early. The lack of sunlight messes with my pineal gland and makes melatonin at the wrong times so my sleep gets so messed up. Ugh. Stupid pineal gland. Sorry in advance if I get even grumpier. It’s not my fault.” I nod. I tell her I so get it.
We do a little more work. We get to a point where she’s going to need to read out loud. She muscles through, struggling to sound out words, struggling to scan to find the part she’s looking for. Most days she’d push through, maybe complain once or twice, but she’d get through it. But lately, things have been getting harder, and she knows it. She’s coming off a bad cold. She’s exhausted. She’s brilliant and struggling in school. And she’s 12.
On the verge of tears, she puts her head in her hands and says, “This is HARD. It’s not fair.”
“I know,” I tell her, as I tell her every week. “I know it’s hard for you. You work so, so hard.”
But this week she keeps going. “It’s not fair. I did so great in 5th grade. And now I’m doing horribly in 6th grade. Everything’s hard. It makes me feel stupid.”
We talk openly, as we always do, about her struggles in school. We talk about how 6th grade is harder. And how her IEP team, including her parents, are working to find out the best ways to help her. We talk about how even if school, particularly reading and writing, are hard, it doesn’t mean she’s not smart. She knows all of this, but we talk about it anyway. Because, how many times have you known something deep down but can’t trust it? Can’t believe it? Need to hear it from someone else? (Me? Only about every day.)
We get through a little more work and then I tell her we have 5 minutes left. She groans. “Why does time go fast when I want it to go slow, and goes slow when I want it to hurry up?” I smile. I tell her I can relate.
She asks if she can draw a picture. She tells me, “This is going to be a picture of what life is like for me.” And she starts to title it (H – E -). She pauses, looks at me, and asks, “Do I need to keep going?” Knowing that “hell” is one of her favorite words, one she usually works into our sessions at least once because she knows I won’t tell her parents, I tell her, “I think I know what you’re going to write.” She then draws the picture. Frustrated with herself for not drawing it correctly, she tells me, “This part is fire, and this part is water. Fire for the horrible and hard parts. Water for the parts that I guess are okay.”
I run with it. “So what are the parts that are okay, or even good?”
She rolls her eyes and recites, like a little performer, “I’m healthy, I have food and water, I have a roof over my head, I have a lot to be thankful for.”
OH, I so know this. Raise your hand if ever you were told those things as part of a reason about why you shouldn’t be anxious/depressed/upset/traumatized/heartbroken/etc? Yup. That’s what I thought.
I look her dead in the eye and I tell her, “No, not those things. What are the parts that each day are good? That you truly love, that make you smile? The smaller things.”
She thinks. “My family,” she starts. “And art.” Her face lights up. “Pottery. Making things.” She names a few other specific things that she loves. She looks at me.
“I’m glad you have those things,” I tell her.
The hour is up and her dad comes in. We fill him in on the work we got done, and in general terms, that we talked about how 6th grade is hard, and how school is feeling really frustrating and more and more difficult. He looks her in the eye and tells her he knows, that they’re working on it, and that they will keep working to help her. After we all chat for a few more minutes, he tells her that they’re picking up pizza on the way home. Her face lights up and as we all walk out, she negotiates for a soda, listing all the reasons she should be allowed to have one.
I just adore that kid.
You guys – when anyone, but especially a child or adolescent, talks to you – really talks, and tells you their thoughts and their feelings and their fears and their hopes – listen. They’re trusting you with their inner storm, and most likely, they don’t share it with just anyone. I promise you – they don’t need you to give perfect advice. They don’t need you to fix it right now. They just need you to listen. To tell them you get it. To hear them. To give them time. To hold space.
No different from what we want, right?