Do you ever get kinda hunkered down when it gets to bedtime, on a slighted fixated mission to just get the kids in bed? I do.
My kids were doing the usual multiple procrastination stunts and I was fielding them, on autopilot; herding the kids into bed. No you can’t have a snack you just ate a huge supper. No I’m not going to read another story. Finally they settle and I sink into a hot bath.
My 11 year old’s face appears round the door. ‘Can I get in the bath with you?’ he asks and immediately I’m telling him to go to bed, that I’ve still got another hour of work and I can’t go to sleep myself until I’ve finished it. And suddenly I interrupt myself, noticing that he obediently walks away, shoulders hunched. I’m so caught up in my own frenzied to do list and tiredness that I miss him reaching out to me for CONNECTION. He wants some time just with me while his sister is in bed. And of course I feel like the worst mother and shout after him to join me.
It’s easy to miss as our kids get older. They seem so much more independent and they reach for us less often. And when they do it can be easily missed if we are preoccupied.
Here are some of the ways I’ve noticed they reach out:
- Asking you to do something for them they can do by themselves
- Asking to climb into your bed/bath/come with you on an errand/hang out with you and your friends
- Telling you about a game or something you’re not so interested in
- Telling you about something at an awkward time, that you ARE interested in but might rather hear about another time (this often opens into a more vulnerable expression of their feelings/concerns and because they tend to bring this stuff less and less often, it’s good to stay with it when it comes)
- Protesting homework or chores or complaining about dinner, being ‘unnecessarily’ arsey/blaming you for things going wrong/ranting about something they’ve got fixated on (this is particularly easy to miss because it looks like they are being unco-operative, but what they are really doing is asking for your attention while they work on some FEELINGS)
- Demanding things urgently (‘did you get the thing I asked you for’ or ‘I need to look something up right now’)
- Doing annoying/goofey/nonsense things that bother you or their sibling
- Withdrawing into technology, staying at the park too long, leaving their phone behind etc. We think this means leave me alone but actually it means ‘Are you gonna come and get me?’
- Along the same lines: Batting off your affection (it doesn’t mean I don’t want your kisses, it actually means I want you to try even harder to get to me)
I often find myself surprised by how much our bigger ones still need connection and how simple it actually is to give them what they need. And I continue to find it surprising how challenges that feel impossible and unrelated can be remedied by addressing the connection. What can you do today to ladle on some extra delight, despite the eye-rolls and snarky comments?
You can work with me to increase connection with your older child. From a recent client working on school refusal with her teenager:
“What drew me to you was that you specifically write about issues regarding older children. I often find it difficult to adapt Hand in Hand tools to my eldest. I am so happy for him that he managed to do all this as a result of the work we’ve done! Thank you so much for the advice and for all of the brilliant thinking!”