After noticing last month that I know Ingrid less and less well, I’ve made an effort to connect again. Not by doing anything special, really… mostly by listening more – and better.

I make sure to not brush her off when she appears to be complaining about trivial things, or when I really would rather be doing something else. I am super cautious about objections, and very careful with questions so she doesn’t feel interrogated. I refrain from offering advice and solutions. I am re-reading the excellent How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.

Surprisingly often a conversation starts with a complaint about something trivial, but when she gets that out of the way, it turns out that there was a bigger issue behind it, and maybe something even larger behind that one.

Ingrid may start by complaining about a hurt toe (or something of that magnitude), then grumble that it feels like everything has been going wrong today, then go on to describe a quarrel she had with a friend at school, and end up telling me about how kids mock others at school for not being like everybody else.

She is very sensitive to others’ opinion about her, and especially to being mocked or made fun of – far more than I had realised. For example, I now know that she stopped borrowing Daisy Meadows books from the school library because one (one!) boy once (once!) told her they were “wimpish” (töntiga). That was in spring. And she hasn’t tried again since then.

When something bad happens during the day (like a quarrel with a friend) and doesn’t get resolved, the bad feeling can remain with her all day. It’s difficult for her to let go of worries and negative feelings. It’s most noticeable at night when it’s time for her to go to sleep: when the world is quiet around her and there is nothing to distract her, all the day’s worries come back. That’s also the time when she is most likely to talk about things that are on her mind. I wonder if that’s part of the reason why she always wants to be so busy: so she won’t have to think about her feelings.

Recently I’ve also noticed her being unusually sensitive to criticism, especially if it makes her feel stupid. Sometimes she is even hurt by what she interprets as criticism from Adrian – who is half her age, often gives very little thought to what he says to her, and whose opinion Ingrid normally doesn’t care much about at all. But all she notices in that case is that someone thinks that she is no good.

Sometimes it’s OK that criticism makes her feel bad – sometimes I really am angry with her and criticise something she’s done because it was a stupid thing to do. But other times all I want is to suggest a different way of doing something, or remind her about something she’s forgotten to do, and in that case I have to be really careful about how I express myself.

She feels insecure and vulnerable (which makes it extra hard, but also extra important, for her to talk about her “bad feelings”). She says she likes falling asleep in our bedroom because she feels more secure there. Not that she’s afraid of the dark – but she doesn’t get as many “bad thoughts” there.

She says she doesn’t like going to town, or taking the train. I tried to winkle out the cause, and it seemed to be that she doesn’t like the feeling of so many people around her, looking at her.

She says she wants things to be “the way they usually are”, som det brukar vara. And at the same time she appears bored with things always being the same. Some novelty is good, but the foundation needs to stay secure.

I wonder how much of all this vulnerability and insecurity is a recent thing, and how much of it has been there for a while and only just become more visible now that I am making an effort to listen and see. There’s definitely some of both.

Random facts:

  • Ingrid is discovering the social side of the Internet. Favourite game: Animal Jam, an online game with the usual pets-homes-and-accessories theme. Her best friend M introduced her to it and (because this is an online game) they have been playing it together, while talking on Skype.
  • She was interested in ballet for a short while. We looked up some beginner tutorials on YouTube, she tried a few positions and steps, and talked about ballet lessons. But the interest passed, and ballet lessons were not interesting enough to drop any of her current activities.
  • Same with playing the guitar.
  • Latest favourite purchase: a large plush horse. It is not just a toy but has also served as book support, iPad support, and a helper for maths homework where she had to estimate and then measure the length of things.