THE BLOG
01/26/2016 11:29 am ET Updated Jan 26, 2017

It's Time To Bank on Relationship: A New Way To Reach ALL Kids

PhotoInc via Getty Images

On a snowy January day, there are few things I would rather avoid more than driving on the unplowed roads at 6:30 am.

However, when my 16 year old asked for a ride, something told me to go ahead and take her, even though she still had time to make the bus. I've learned over the years that when a teen asks for something, especially when I know that it's something that is directly speaking their love language, I do my best to oblige.

I know that with my child, really all kids, every interaction is either a deposit or a withdrawal into our relationship bank account.

Today I made a deposit.

On the road, I asked her if she had any friends on the basketball team. This might be an unusual question on another morning, but after seeing the images the night before of the fight that ended the Pike High School Girls basketball season, I knew she understood why I was asking.

She said she didn't know anyone on the team well, but that the fight had indeed been the talk of the school for the days since the incident made national headlines. She even told me about the conversations that had been triggered by the fight. Things like, whether or not it's ever "okay" to fight are just the type of conversations that help teens solidify the values that they hopefully will use into adulthood. Knowing that she was indeed having these type of conversations and thoughts made a deposit for me. I have another example that she is in fact developing her consciousness of the world around her as I would hope.

I was pleased when she said that the general consensus amongst her group of friends was that other than significant threat of bodily harm, talking or saying the wrong thing was not a good enough reason to be involved in a fight.

Some casual exchanges about the slushy roads and me wanting her to dress more warmly later, I dropped her off at the door. I got a glimmer of a smile and a "Thanks mom." Hopefully, walking into the school from the end closest to her class and being warm will give her a great start to her day. One I won't give her always but nonetheless, today I made a small deposit into the bank of our relationship.

So that got me to thinking, about how we as parents, or educators, can work harder to have these types of conversations. How important it is that kids get a chance to see our humanity and feel seen in theirs. I wonder how we can better use current events like the poisoning of an entire community happening right under our noses in Flint, Michigan to inspire and empower these so-called millennials to do something with all of the resources at hand. I wonder what would happen if instead of complaining about today's kids, and blaming them for their shortcomings we spent a little more time connecting with them, building relationship. It's so easy to pretend that they were dropped on the planet by aliens, but the reality is what we have is what we've created.

As a counselor, I'm often called upon to come "fix" the troubled kids. Some that have caused the need for airport level security at local high schools, and others who are less visible, but still slip through the cracks of our battered educational system or those who are crumbling under the weight of family stress and strain. Teachers, who feel overwhelmed and under supported look to me for solutions. Parents who are trying hard and feel like they are coming up short do the same. I usually give them the advice I gave myself this morning.

Make a deposit.

In the school setting we learn all day and night how to teach children, how to work around or through their learning disability. But when we talk about every student succeeding, what does that really mean? With so much focus on data, standardized tests and grades, it's easy to forget that these numbers are attached to people. Small, developing people. People who sometimes make really bad choices. People who might have dirty water, or no water at all at home and might not be in the best frame of mind for the lesson you spent all night preparing for. Even the not so small ones who are still waiting on their emotional development to catch up to the biological development that we see before our eyes.

I know you already do it. But we need to do it more.

Every time you greet them at the door by name, you're making a deposit. Recognizing a good effort, even that wasn't successful is making a deposit. Each time you offer mercy during a misstep you're making a deposit.

Let me be clear. I'm not talking about letting kids get away with murder. Actually far from it. When done correctly, even offering discipline is making a deposit as well. Building things like empathy and self-esteem, resilience and responsibility. So many times, people want to offer tough love to the tough kids, when they've had too much tough already.

The beautiful thing about being intentional with building relationships with kids is that when either of you needs to make a withdrawal, you'll have the "funds" available to cover it. That's right, regardless of who makes the deposit, they can use what you are giving them to make it through those tough moments in the day. A really hard assignment? Withdraw. Friends not being nice? Withdraw. Mom didn't come home last night? Withdraw.

A greater truth is that for so many of our children, especially those who are "at-risk," you may be the only one making regular deposits into their relationship account. I've seen many kids walking blindly through the halls completely overdrawn, searching for anyone, even the wrong one to fill them back up.

As we prepare for testing season, feverishly trying to cram a little more knowledge into their heads. Prepping for ACT and SAT and the like. I know it can be really hard to keep a handle on everything, but don't forget to make your deposits, at the end of the day, we don't want our kids coming up bankrupt.