”It’s so hard to get my 14-year old daughter to open up to me,” a father laments. “The only two times she speaks with me is to ask for her monthly allowance and to complain about how her elder siblings have been bullying her.”
Obviously, this father isn’t aware that his daughter has been trying to connect with him all along. But he is not alone because most fathers (parents, in general) are not equipped to recognize their child’s bids. One of the most fundamental human needs is to belong and to connect with others, and a bid is the attempt by a person to establish that connection. It can come in different forms: a sigh, a comment, a complaint, an explicit request or a question, and even mischief. The one making the bid, in whatever form, could be looking for attention, affirmation, empathy, support, alliance, or simply a hug.
The ‘complaint’ of the 14-year old girl mentioned above is really a bid. She had a need, and it was the need for alliance. She felt alone and isolated – being on unfriendly terms with her siblings. The fact that she shared this complaint with her father showed that she believed that he was able to meet her need.
The father, in this case, can either ‘turn away’ his daughter’s bidding by ignoring her complaints, or ‘turn against’ by expressing annoyance at her incessant complaining. The better thing for him to do would be to ‘turn toward’ her bidding by listening attentively to her, empathizing with her, validating her feelings (of anger and sadness), and show his support for her. Clearly, the girl is upset and does not like how her siblings’ behavior is making her feel. If the father were to offer a solution at this point of time, he would be missing a great opportunity for connection with his daughter by approaching the matter from a purely cognitive angle. It would be wise for him to simply say “I can see that you are upset. How can I help to make you feel better?” Isn’t that what we all want – to feel better?