Owning your own business is no small task. You're always on call, there's a never ending list of things that need to be done and it's easy to just work on something whenever you have a free minute. Multitasking becomes a necessity. This works great for some people! Who it does not work well for is my 2 year old. The other day he was playing and talking to me while I was doing something on my phone. He stopped what he was doing, calmly walked up to me, took the phone out of my hands, gently set it down out of my reach and just looked at me. Not as a challenge. Not as a "what are you going to do about that?" He looked straight into my eyes and without saying a word the message was clear: "Notice Me!"
Part of me was impressed. The other part was heartbroken. I'm a play therapist, I should know better. I know how to play with my son, and I love doing so. But I get caught up in life just as every other parent does. So I've tried to make a conscious effort to be more present when I'm with my son. To reflect more on what he is doing, what he is playing with and to make sure he knows that I hear what he's saying (even if he's said it a million times - it must be important to him!). I noticed at the park that I am not alone in this problem of being present. Many of the parents I saw had kids playing on the playground, and even though they were with them, they were doing something else. A dad pushing his daughter on the swing while on a business call. A mom scrolling through something on her phone and looking up every now and then to say, "Yes, I saw you! Good job!" But are we really seeing them?
Last week my husband and I were talking about yet another tragic school shooting. He asked me, "Why is this happening so much more now? Kids have always had access to guns if you think about it. What's different?" I didn't really have a good answer for him. Maybe violent video games? Maybe tension filled households? Maybe we're just not paying attention. I hear so often after a tragedy like this that "he seemed so quiet" or "she was from a perfectly "normal" family - how could this have happened?" But as the pieces start to come together we see how we failed as a community to hear what these children were trying to tell us. Often, when kids don't feel heard they either withdraw into themselves or do something to make sure they are heard.
One of the fascinating things that I see in play therapy is when kids do the same thing over and over again. Week after week. As a therapist, I start to wonder if they're stuck, or if they're purposely choosing an easy target to avoid talking about the bigger issue. But I have to remind myself that this is how children process things. Repetitive actions are a part of early problem solving. And having someone that is paying attention to what they are doing and verbally telling them that they see what they are doing, that they hear what they are saying, is what gives them the sense of empowerment they need to move through what they're working on. They know they are being heard and that their actions are important enough to pay attention to.
It doesn't matter if you are a stay at home mom or if you work a gazillion hours a week. When you are with your kids, make sure you carve out some time that is just for them. Put the phone away, wait another 15 minutes to send that email and just let your child know that "I'm here. You have my full attention. What would you like for me to know right now?" It sounds simple, and it really isn't all of the time, but it is worth it.