Thoughts from the Therapy Chair with Joe Martino: What Every Child Really Wants

Joe’s wife, Erica is the author of this month’s article.

This week, I explained to a client that the most magical adrenaline-filled moment I’ve ever experienced was the day I became a mother. The emotions that surrounded that moment took my breath away. Little did I know I was about to start a journey of the unknown. How do I take care of this little girl? What do I want her to become? How do I help shape her will? Fast forward 19 years and this young lady that made me a mother is now a beautiful young lady, and I realized most of her life I asked the wrong questions.

I often said to my husband in moments of panic, “Did they come with a manual?” I feel like every parent has asked this question once or twice, right? Is it not just me? Have you had the moment in the grocery store where your child is pitching fits, throwing cans on the floor, and running around like a feral animal released into society for the first time? What about the days the house looks a tornado ransacked it while children ran around screaming, rolling around in ketchup, acting like nap time was a thing of the past? Fast forward past the preschool years, when you think the back talking, lying, manipulating, and fit throwing is over to only enter the preteen years followed shortly by the adolescent years. It only gets better, right?

It does. I promise you. For most of my years as a new mom, I was trying to figure out how to get my child to behave and act appropriately. I was a stay-at-home mom attending college while caring for my family. I was exhausted most days and overwhelmed. I felt like my days were spent putting out one fire after another and often wondered if it got easier.

During one of my graduate school classes, I felt like my professor was talking directly to me. I swore he had cameras in my home. He asked a simple question, “Do you know the one things every child needs daily?” I thought this was a trick question. I mean, they need food, water, things to play with that stimulate their brain. Was I missing something? He said they need time with you. Time with me? Was it that simple? Was he messing with me? He went on to say that children’s cups are often filled after 15 minutes of undivided attention daily. That was the best news this young mom could hear! I felt less overwhelmed and more empowered. I can do this!

I have 15 minutes a day to give.

I did it! Every day I spent 15 minutes reading them a story, hearing about their days, playing games, snuggling up watching tv. The time looked different daily, but I gave them what they wanted most; my time. As they got older, their time began to look different, but they still needed it even though they often acted like they didn’t.

My girls are all teenagers now. Guess what? They still love our time together. Most nights, when I get home from work, one of my girls or my son is waiting to talk to me. We talk about funny stories from their days, teachers, crushes, or the latest happenings on social media. Whatever is on their hearts and minds we talk about, and this has changed everything.

As a clinical counselor, I work with many children and teenagers. Amongst all of them, a common theme emerges repeatedly; they feel alone, unseen, and unheard. They want to be known. To be known, children will often throw fits, lie, manipulate, while teenagers isolate, run, push you away or struggle with suicidal ideation. These behaviors are clues they need time with you. Just 15 minute’s a day or even a couple of hours a week can change everything. If you have small children, read them a story, play with them, snuggle them. If you have teenagers, engage them in an activity they enjoy or spend time talking about things that matter to them. Spending time with your child is the biggest thing they need from you, and that time with them can become a life-changing for everyone involved.

Joe Martino is a counselor with Joe Martino Counseling Network.  He has locations in Lowell, Grand Rapids, Greenville, and Grandville.  For more information about Joe and his business, check their website or Facebook page.  He and the rest of the counselors and staff are eager to help those in need.

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