Listening to Our Children

The Power of Really Hearing What They are Saying

Listening to Our Children

"I don't want to go to dance class tonight, Mom" my daughter cried, "Please don't make me go."

We have heard this many times from our daughter, but as the conversation went on last night, both my husband and I knew we were hearing her differently this time around. My daughter is now ten years old, and has been dancing since she was three. She was born with sensory issues, low muscle tone and motor planning challenges, which required us to teach her (with the help of an occupational therapist) how to roll over, sit up, crawl, and walk. Back then, the OT strongly encouraged us to keep her in activities such as dance, swimming, gymnastics or martial arts that would both strengthen her and challenge her motor planning abilities. As a result, in addition to dancing since age three, she has also been on a competitive swim team since she was five. (About three months after joining the swim team, she finally had enough core strength to take off her bike training wheels, something that we had been trying to do for three years.) She has gone through phases where she liked being on the swim team more and liked it less. But over the years, her love of dance has become less and less as her awareness of her abilities in the class has increased. Last year, she really did not want to continue with dance, but I was able to arrange for her to take a ballet class with her very good friend this year, hoping that would help her to enjoy the class more. It turns out that this has had the opposite effect, as her friend is one of the best dancers in the class (and one of the most beautiful and graceful ballet dancers I have ever seen).

In talking with my daughter last night through her tears and angry looks, we discovered that her friend had gone home sick from school and would not be in class last night, so we at least understood where her insistence on not going was coming from. She ended up storming out of the kitchen crying and ran up to her room. Before I went up after her, my husband and I quietly talked in the kitchen. He pointed out what I had been feeling - that dance is making her miserable and though it might be good for her physically, it was becoming something that was starting to impact her self-image, which is not good. So we came up with a plan and I headed upstairs to talk to her.

When I entered her room, she did not want to look or even talk to me. I gave her a minute or two and then I began by telling her that I was not going to make her go to dance. Her eyes lit up as she looked directly at me. I told her I understood that she was going to enjoy dance even less with her friend not being there, and that she could stay home. She then told me that after this year's recital she really does not want to dance again next year. (I loved that she wanted to see dance through this year to her recital without me even mentioning it.) I told her that Daddy and I had both agreed that we would support her decision to stop. She looked at me bewildered but happy. I did remind her what the OT's had told us when she was a baby, and that if she was going to stop dance, she was going to have to either add a day of swim practice, or we could explore other activities. She said she wanted to try recreational soccer next fall, and I suggested she might want to try the track team. She seemed excited about both of those ideas, and throughout our conversation, her mood continued to improve.

When I dropped my son off at basketball practice last night, I took her with me and we stopped at the library on the way home. As we walked in, a lady who was sitting with some friends stopped us and asked where my daughter's hat was (it was bitter cold last night). A little startled and expecting to be taken to task for not dressing her properly, I pointed out that she had a hood on her coat. This wonderful lady then asked my daughter if she would like a hat, and then promptly pulled about ten different ones out of her bag. It turns out that this woman is part of a crocheting group that meets at the library. When she told us about their group, my daughter said she would like to come to the group with the women and learn how to crochet. So I asked when the group met and guess what? They meet the exact same time every week as my daughter's dance class.

This was a huge message that I heard from the Universe — it is time for us to let go of dance in my daughter's life and open our minds up to exploring other activities that she might like to try. While crocheting is not exactly a physical activity, I still understood the message that I need to release my control of the situation and open my mind to the vast possibilities out there. Who knows what activities, physical or otherwise, that my daughter might gravitate toward. It is time for us to begin to explore some.

I hope my story helps you to be aware if there is an area of your life where you might need to step outside of the routine and the familiar and see what else is out there, but I also share it to illustrate that even someone like me who is a parent coach and a conscious parent practitioner who teaches, writes and talks about this all the time still needs to continue to work to stay open to what is in front of me, and to really listen to my child and hear what it is she is trying to say. The relief in my daughter's voice, body language and overall mood was the reinforcement I needed to remember that this is the way I want to parent always.