Play Helped When My Child Acted Helpless

My daughter was a very capable girl at eight years old. She was smart, strong, clever, and so resourceful. But at the same time, she sometimes acted helplessly.

As a single parent, it would drive me crazy when she needed help with the most basic of things. Sometimes, she would demand that I help her with walking down the stairs, brushing her teeth, or getting up in the morning. I didn’t have time for this!

It would send me through the roof the moment she acted helplessly like this.

I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t seem able to control my anger around it either. It felt to me like she was doing it on purpose. I was also confused about whether I should fill her need or set a limit around each incident.

The first step was to get some listening time around the issue.

I found I had a lot of things to work through:

  • I shed tears about the times in my life when I felt helpless and I really wanted someone to step up.
  • I cried about the times people disappointed me.
  • I felt the shame of the times when I gave up and couldn't be there for someone else or even for myself.
  • I looked at times I fell short.
  • I also raged that my daughter required so much work.

I focused in my Listening Partnerships on these issues for months. They were deep and difficult issues.

At the same time I started to see more clearly my daughters cry for help. I didn't have a clear plan on how to help her, but I started to see her helplessness in a different light. She was really asking for support to heal the moments in her life when she experienced emotional overwhelm and helplessness.

This shifted my perspective dramatically.

My new perspective allowed me to spontaneously respond to her helplessness.

Once, my two children and I were on a camping trip in our camper for a long weekend. The first night, my daughter started asking me to help her with simple things. She wanted me to put her pajamas on and brush her teeth.

I lovingly helped her in those moments, hoping my patience wouldn't run too thin.

The next morning when we all woke up, we lounged in bed for a bit and then I got up to start preparing some breakfast. My daughter swung her legs over the bed so they were dangling and said, “Mommy. Down. Down. Help me down.”

She only had about 3-4 inches to jump down and I was about 10 feet away from her.  Suddenly, out of the blue, I had an idea. I started moving in slow motion towards her, leaping up in the air and exaggerating my arm movements (think Bionic Woman). I said very slowly, “I'll save you. I'll get you.” I kept moving towards her in these exaggerated leaps, although I wasn’t getting very far.

She perked up and looked at me in a funny way. She started to laugh. Following a child's laughter is one of the key ingredients in Playlistening, so I kept going.

Just when I got close to her, she suddenly jumped down. She wouldn't let me save her! I said, “Oh no! You did it? I wanted to save you.”

She thought it was so funny. She wrapped her arms around me and giggled at her cleverness.

My daughter's sense of helplessness has not completely gone away. When she gets stressed, it comes back sometimes. But she has come a long way.

Playlistening has been a way for her to find her strength and capability again.

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