Hargun Gujral‘s essay: Listening From The Counsellor’s Desk

Early in the morning, while queuing up to punch in the identity card at the school gate, a seven year old who’s seen walking in, in the most leisurely fashion is hurriedly stopped by the guard “I-Card dikhao” (show me your I-Card) he says. Much to his amusement, his response, “dekh lijiye, kal jaisa hi hai”! (it looks exactly the way it did, yesterday)

In the attempt of this little one to contest authority with his creative response, I wonder what happens to it while he walks into class and the drill begins… Get ready for prayers, open your book, rush to have breakfast but be back in time. It’s the Physical Education lesson after and you “have to” be fit. Also what about the homework that was due today?

The same child who walked in humming a song sometime back is now quickly straightened up and must put up with the multiple instructions that come his way. The burden of the shoulds and the musts are so heavy that the imagination to stay with the whys and the how’s of any of it, begins to slowly fade away.


An hour later, I have a parent of an adolescent in my office who’s visibly stressed with the fact that the child just doesn’t “listen” to her. This makes her try harder to reach out to him. She mentions at length how as a working parent, she’s done it all. Be back before her son arrives, check on his meals, ask him how the day went and if there is any home-work he needs help with. The list of chores planned for him continued. A question in my head pops, I wonder, how does one reach out to “listen” to the child? Is there a space for the same? Or do we in our attempt to make sure that they receive adequate support from us are only spending time to “get things done?” The question that then arises is on what premise do we build our relationship with our children? Does in the race to “catch up” again with that which we must and should, the space to “genuinely connect” get lost?

The parent here I believe is not at fault. As part of a larger system where you only receive validation when you are “useful” or rather “productive”, somewhere we as adults only begin to see the same versions of ourselves in our children. This in turn so many times shows up in our own sense of failure or being not good enough when our children miss that mark of expected achievements!


Another day in school, and I see two young boys having got themselves into a physical scuffle. While the one who has been hit is catered to the infirmary, the other is placed in a separate room to be dealt with later.

Visibly scared and with no one to talk to for the past half an hour, I walked in to hear him say repeatedly,” I didn’t know that my push could be so hard, I didn’t mean to”. Seeing him acutely anxious and trembling I asked “Are you worried if he’s doing fine? The nurse is there to give first aid and he’s okay.” His hands stop to shake.

The question in my head only becomes stronger “Are we listening?”


The children try to talk to us every day and clearly, they won’t in the way we’d like.

How many times do we often find ourselves checking our mails while the child in the background is talking to his/her toys and often sharing so much about his/her day?

How many times, that tale about a child about his/her friend’s talk is missed in our attempt to know what substantial work was done at school?

How many times do we find ourselves asking our children “Have you thought up about what you want to become in life?” but miss listening to their confusions or even allow them to stay with it. Better, allow them to develop a thought process that opens their imagination around it?


In this ever-changing world, wherein their realities are any way so different from the time we grew up in, are we developing a culture of communication which is devoid of how and what we think is necessary to pay attention to?

Do the conversations only have to be tended to when they “make sense” or if there is a space for our kids to “wonder”- I wonder!

Most times as a School Counselor, I often have kids coming in, only to talk and sometimes they go on to describe things that matter, that worry, that they dream of, that they believe in, that they are scared of- for over an hour!! What did I do? Just listen. What did they get? A sense of semblance and that their voice was heard.


Children are not necessarily always looking for solutions from the adults in their lives, instead what one has learnt in my little engagement with them is that they are the most resilient beings on earth. Their capacity to bounce back from situations that we as adults tend to overthink is beyond compare but are we as adults present to facilitate that process? Is it possible for us to imagine a possibility wherein we allow ourselves to be safely trusted by them with concerns that they anyway feel so conflicted with. And at the same, without very quickly resorting to redeeming them of their misery or fixing what might have gone wrong, we slowly at their pace, as a scaffolding agent actively find for constructive resolutions.


How often do we as adults open up to them as who we are, not as someone whom we’d like them to see us as?  Adults- who are equally clue-less and have their own set of vulnerabilities to be dealt with!

How seamless a process it may become if only we began to “listen” to each other. Not to respond. But to only experience this art of listening- I wonder!

Hargun is a professional Counselling Psychologist and Expressive Arts Based Therapist , who mostly works with school students. Between her sessions with the different thoughts and expressions of those young minds, she loves to keep a book to gather her thoughts and express them through a story made with images.

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