“Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.” Catherine M. Wallace reading
Wow, I love that quote. You may have heard it before, but it is such a good and important reminder. All children are hungering for the same thing… to be noticed and to be shown that they matter.
I can’t get away from this new concept I am exploring in counseling with my clients, and in my personal relationships. Relationship expert, Dr. John Gottman, has worked in the field of counseling for over 40 years researching and studying the ins and outs of emotional connection. He developed a concept referred to as a “bid.” Very simply, a “bid” is an attempt made to get acceptance, affection, or attention. It is an invitation, an offer, a wish to make meaningful connection.
Some bids are very obvious, such as- “Will you play Legos with me?” or “Can we color together?” But, most often you will find that there is a subtext or “hidden message” that we, as parents, need to be on the lookout for. Subtle bids might sound like, “Do you like my princess dress?” The “hidden message” here might be, “Am I pretty? I need you to validate my beauty.” Or how about this one, from a recent session with a child client of mine, “Today really sucked.” The subtext here could be, “I am feeling sad and hurt. I need to be comforted.”
What your child needs is a positive response to their bid. To respond positively is to “turn towards” them, and to “make a deposit in their emotional bank account” (to borrow Gottman’s language). One of my favorite Proverbs is in chapter 16, verse 24- “Kind words are like honey- sweet to the soul and healthy for the body” (NLT). Reading
To miss a “bid” is to miss a chance for connection. To respond to these little gestures with attentiveness, enthusiasm, concern, and warmth is to affirm, validate and build relationship with and confidence in your child. A child with a fuller emotional bank account is more likely to treat themselves and those around them with kindness and concern. Children who are experiencing emotional debt make negative bids for attention such as screaming and misbehaving. We all desire to nurture a more intimate and deep connection with our children, no matter how old they are, and for our words and actions to feel like “honey- sweet to the soul.”
Another expert in the field, Dr. Markham says, “If what you want is connection, don’t start with correction.” We must train ourselves to respond to any and all bids with empathy and kindness, initially, then followed by correction if necessary. For example, let’s say your child comes home from school and throws his backpack at the wall. Though it’s nonverbal, if we read between the lines we hear, “I had a bad day, and I am angry.” Instead of reacting with anger and correction: “Christopher, pick up your backpack right now. We do not throw things in this house.” What if, instead, you responded by going over to your child, getting on his level and: “Wow, Christopher, it seems like you had a tough day, huh?” Respond to the bid with intentional compassionate statements and invite your child to share. After some conversation and time of connection with your son, there will be an opportunity for that important statement of correction.
Let’s choose to be more intentional, to set aside distractions, and to resist the temptation to ignore or dismiss “the little stuff” because, “to them all of it has always been big stuff.” read
Kind words are like honey-
sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.
Proverbs 16:24 NLT
What are some barriers that keep you from noticing your children’s invitations for connection?
By Kegan Mosier, MA, LPCC
Husband to Mikelle
Dad of one daughter, Reese Noel
1 Corinthians 13 Parenting Team Member
Mental Health Counselor at Cornerstone Christian Counseling,
Worship/Creative Ministries Pastor at Passionate Life Church