Precious time

Whilst counselling and parent support services are essential and does transform individual lives, in order to transform our entire nation we also need to focus on prevention. As the problems facing children are growing worse and far more prevalent we continue our series confronting the issues we see and exploring how we as a nation can care for the 12 million or so children that are growing up in a complex and risky world.

Having previously looked at family breakdown and setting boundaries (particularly online), I want to spend a few moments looking at spending time with our children. Whilst you may think this uncontroversial, the opposite to giving our children focused time is neglect…and the effects of this neglect is rife in every school in the UK. Last week I received this disclosure from a counsellor which upon further exploration neglect was found to be to be the underlying cause.

Child X, 14 years, was referred for counselling at school. He was always tired due to the amount of time he spent online, often late into the night, gaming with other people who may or may not be children of his own age. He had stopped playing football with his friends, which he previously enjoyed. His mother was reluctant to challenge his behaviour, as he became verbally abusive, and frightened the other children. At first he was unable to talk about anything with the counsellor, but as the counsellor consistently offered a safe therapeutic relationship, the boy has shown great courage in beginning to trust her. He has began to tell her about the violent rows he witnessed his parents having before they split up. The counsellor explored with Child X his feelings around his parents turbulent relationship, and discussed ways to express his anger safely, and how he could keep himself safe online. As a result he has been able to reduce his dependence on online relationships, and has begun to spend more time with his friends, playing football again.

Tips for initiating precious time with your child

Precious time with your child is about the child taking the lead, so it is a good idea to ask them what they would like to do

If they are not sure, give them a few choices. If they are little and are not used to playing with you, just start playing with a toy and they will join in with you. Don’t ask them questions about the play, just comment on what is going on. Rather than saying, “what colour is the car?”, try saying “look the blue car is behind the red car.

If you have older children, precious time might be a hot chocolate, or a car journey to football practice. It is a time when your child leads the conversation, not a time for questioning by a parent, but a time in which they initiate the conversation. Don’t be afraid of silence if it’s a slow start. It needs to be when they are not attached to their phones, if this means going out for a dog walk or coffee once a week, then make time for this.