A dear colleague will say, “In my 25 years as a therapist, I have worked with two children.” Every time I heard her say that, I was awed by how she knew exactly what she wanted to do as a therapist, and she did it. Her clients have benefited from her focused dedication to children and families. My career hasn’t been so straightforward.

That has gotten me thinking about my own career paths and the other side of the coin. Even after getting my master’s degree in 1999, I had multiple detours. In part, this was because my husband was attending school abroad, partly because his residencies determined where we lived, and finally, partly because of his military career. Aside from all of that, there were just other things I found interesting and wanted to do. They led me to work with great people and brilliant minds nationwide.

When I finally got back on track as a therapist, I thought for sure I wanted to work with adults. I pursued post-graduate training and certification in psychotherapy with adults, couples, and families. Then, when we moved to Texas, I discovered play therapy. I was hooked. I don’t regret a single step of my winding career path or the changing demographics of my caseload. Based on my experience, here’s what I know and trust with full confidence:

  • Child mental health is one of our best investments as parents.
  • What doesn’t get treated in childhood will almost assuredly continue into adulthood.
  • Adults often work months and sometimes years to grieve and/or resolve issues from childhood.
  • An investment now is an investment in your child’s future marriage and family.
  • With your love and acceptance, your child will be OK just as they are.

That last one is the most important one. I will repeat it. With your love and acceptance, your child will be OK just as they are. In fact, they just might blow your mind. I say this, especially as a therapist working in the ever-competitive Bay Area.

One benefit of working with adults and couples before becoming a play therapist is that I have seen how many “problem” children, “failing” children, “misunderstood” children, etc., turn out. Often, they are the creatives. They are the disruptors. They are the change-makers. They are the peace-makers. They are the musicians. They are the artists. They are the authors, inventors, and top advisors.

Many of them didn’t go to college, went to community college, dropped out from college, or went to college and decided to take the easiest path possible. One client tutored others in his aspirational field but didn’t major in it because he couldn’t get the information on paper. He took a different route and was probably the most successful person from that class, if not college, ever.

Did their parents fret? You bet. They fretted. They punished. They attempted to scare. To bribe. To control. All these clients wanted was a safe place to be. They wanted love and acceptance. They didn’t want or need the shame they received instead. That shame scars. My work helped them love and accept themselves now as they wish they had felt back then.

Children are like seeds. Parents are the gardeners. If I were to plant a tulip and do my best to shape it into a rose, I would surely damage the tulip. Rather, as gardeners, our job is to offer nurture and structure. We don’t know our children’s inner potential. We do them a disservice by trying to force or mold them against their nature.

I believe that each of us has some God-given gift to offer this world. Who am I to predict or determine the gift? As a parent, my job is to discover the gift along with my child. My job is to create a safe space for the vulnerability required to grow and emerge when we really don’t know what we will reveal as our talents unfurl into the world.

I’m going to repeat it:

  • With your love and acceptance, your child will be OK just as they are.

Trust that they are enough. Trust that you are enough. You are.

My adult clients, ages 18 to 93, have given me felt glimpses into their unique, barrier-breaking, nontraditional, unpredictable life paths. What a gift that has been. It helps me in my work with children and their families today and in my own parenting.

I have learned from my children as well. My oldest son, with ADHD-inattentive type, hated high school and is thriving now. My youngest son, with severe dysgraphia, is going to be just fine despite his struggles. I see his gifts. And so do others. How can they not? I trusted and still trust that my children’s unique talents and gifts will shine beyond the paper on which their grades are recorded. Not all talents are meant to be assessed by the school. Some shine too brightly. From the heart. From the soul. All talents, however, have a healing place in this world. We need them all.

Support your child. Trust the process. Let them experience their enoughness just as they are—believe it or not, that is the key ingredient to unlocking their gifts. Trust that with your love and acceptance, your child will be OK just as they are.

 

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