What CAN You Do?
I often see young people at my therapy space in Hertfordshire who have been brought along by their parents because they (as parents) are worried about their progress in some way – be it academically, socially or emotionally. It makes perfect sense to me that when a human being lands on planet Earth because the stork flew in and dropped them into our lives, that they are incomplete and that it’s our job, as parents or professionals is to fill in the missing pieces of information so that they too can go on to become successful happy adults.
The thing with that is is that it causes us, as the professionals here to look at the person, the little person, the tiny human that we have in front of us and to ask ourselves ‘what are they not yet doing? How are they still incomplete? What information is missing? What skills are missing? What do I need to work on to get them to be a functioning adult with information and is able to lead a successful life?’
We are continually asking ourselves questions like that, almost like a sat-nav which is saying ‘are we there yet? are we there yet?’ until we reach our destination. Our brains are wired to fill them up with the skills and information that they need to be able to succeed and it starts immediately. Straightway there’s a tiny baby and you go think to yourself, ‘it’s not feeding yet so I’d better crack on and get it fed’ or ‘oh it isn’t sleeping through the night yet better get a routine in place to get them sleeping through the night’ or ‘it isn’t eating solid food yet so I had better make sure that we start doing that weaning process soon’.
It continues from that point onwards right the way up and until we throw them out of the house or they leave school or whatever it is that happens, where we decide that now they’re an adult they can figure the rest out for themselves. But along the way we are predisposed to ask ourselves the question ‘what can’t they do yet?’ so that we can then do our fulfilling role of making sure that that skill gets learned and that the gap gets filled with the right source of information to enable them to do it.
The challenge with this mindset is that it causes us to really fine-tune and zoom in on the missing pieces of this young person life skills and sometimes we can get very fixated, particularly if there is a delay in them reaching the same milestones as everyone else within their peer group who might have already reached them.
Particularly if it is a skill that we really want them to master then we can become very fixated and a little bit obsessive about the fact that they’re not yet where they should be according to our opinion. This is a problem in that our young people can then feel under pressure, they can then feel rebellious towards doing the thing that we want them to do, we will feel stressed, we will feel anxious and they will pick up on that stress and anxiety and it could potentially throw the result that we’re wanting them to achieve.
Although this is an innate natural ability within us to be looking out for the ‘what can’t they do yet?’, it’s also really helpful to make a conscious effort to ask ourselves ‘what can they do? What are they already doing? What have they mastered? What are they good at?’ It is good to give them and yourself a little praise around the fact that there are things that they have already mastered and things that they can already do. Sometimes we should say that out loud to them, to remind them that they are highly skilled individuals, that there was a time in the past when they couldn’t walk and now they can and that’s been amazing.
Sometimes it can be beneficial for their ego and their confidence to hear that you are noticing their strengths, their skills and abilities. It can make a difference to the things that they can’t do because suddenly they’ve got some confidence and now it might lead them into doing some of the things in the areas that they were lacking. It’s also good for us too because it reminds us that we are making a difference, that we are contributing to something that changes them on a daily basis.
When you look at it on a daily basis you don’t notice the shift but overall that input that we’ve had over time has made a change and that change has been significant to them and their life. Sometimes it’s useful to look back and notice where it is that you’ve got to during that period of time. Challenge yourself over the next couple of weeks to focus on what they can do and to bring that information into the forefront of their minds, and yours too so that we can start to appreciate the contribution that we have made and also the skills that they have already got.
By Gemma Bailey