Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Easy Button of parenting

If there is an "Easy Button" for parenting it lies here: Meet the needs of your children.

If your first response is "but that's not easy" I would suggest that you consider the consequences of not meeting the needs of your children

When you focus on meeting the needs of your children you short circuit the parent child dynamic that is created when parents focus on their own needs and the child's needs are unmet or unrecognized. This sets up the following cycle of behavior: The parent focuses on his own need. The child has an unmet need. The child tries to get her need met through behaviors that are irritating, frustrating or against the rules. The parent tries to control the child's behavior through punishment/reward/time-out often without meeting the child's need. The child is now angry/hurt/frustrated and still has an unmet need, which has often only grown larger. The child tries again to get her needs met...and the cycle continues.

Now consider what happens if the child's needs are met: The parent focuses on her own needs and the child's needs. The child has a need. The child knows from experience that the parent will support him in getting his needs met. The child expresses his need. The parent helps the child get his need met. The child and parent relationship is strengthened. The child has learned more about how to get his needs met and has greater trust that his parent will continue to help him get his needs met in the future. The child has also learned that people who love each other support each other in getting their needs met and is more likely to help others get their needs met in the future.

A child with unmet needs is needy. As obvious as that may seem, parents often overlook that the natural consequence of failing to meet a child's needs is living with a needy child. A child who is needing positive attention and affection, who does not feel safely connected to a parent, is often clingy, whiny, interrupts conversations and phone calls, and constantly wants to be with their parent in an effort to feel connected. A child who is hungry, tired or thirsty is crabby, reactive and prone to melt downs. A child who feels rejected or not heard may withdraw and become increasingly angry. This anger will be expressed at some point. A child with unmet needs will continue to look for ways to get their needs met, which may leave the parent feeling pestered, annoyed or even like the child is being manipulative. A parent's inability or unwillingness to meet their child's needs may lead to the child having unhealthy relationships with others in an effort to get her needs met. The child who has stopped trying to get her needs met is discussed in my blog "My child doesn't mind..."

When we live life as a connected family we become familiar with the day to day needs of each family member and we are able to be proactive in meeting those needs. If we know that our child becomes irritable when he is hungry, and that he gets hungry about every two hours, we can plan ahead and make sure that we provide a snack ever two hours. When we are away from the house this means that we are prepared with snacks. When we pay attention to who our children are we are better prepared to proactively meet their needs and circumvent melt downs, frustrations, and unsuccessful outings or activities. When we meet our children's needs they are empowered to be who they are. When our children's needs are met, and they know that we are their partners in supporting them in getting their needs met, they are freed from resorting to attention seeking behaviors that often lead to negative attention. When we are respectful of our children's needs, not discounting their preferences or belittling them when their comfort zone is different from ours, we learn more about who they are and deepen our connection. When we model acceptance of each family member's different needs our children learn to be more accepting of the differences in the people they meet. When our children's needs are validated they are less likely to end up in unhealthy relationships with people who are disrespectful or abusive. When our children's needs are met they grow up learning how to creatively problem solve, and are more flexible when it comes to finding ways to meet the needs of multiple people.

One of the amazing results of meeting our children's needs is that they are more content, they trust that we are willing to meet their needs, and in turn they are able to respect our needs and support us when we are finding ways to meet our own needs. This may mean that they leave us alone when we say that we need fifteen minutes of quiet in our room or they wait to talk until we are done with a phone call that requires all of our concentration. When we are tired or sad they may offer an unsolicited hug and sympathy.

If you are struggling as a parent, finding your children's behaviors intolerable, or feeling like your children are constantly trying to get your attention, start by asking yourself what your children need and how you can meet their needs. Fill your children up with love and attention before they start the behaviors that they use to get your attention. Be present for them in concentrated chunks of time instead of giving them unfocused attention while you are trying to accomplish something else. If something is important to them take it seriously. Learn to say yes to their heart's desires. Work together to find a way to meet their needs. If they have a need that you absolutely cannot meet, even after creative problem solving and looking into every possible resource, express this with compassion. Refrain from saying, "You'll get over it" or "That's life." I have found that once you start living the life of taking needs seriously you may be surprised at how often there is a creative solution or a resource shows up at just the right moment. Be open to unexpected answers and you may find that meeting the needs of your children is not as hard as you expected. Proactively meet the needs of your children and you will find that parenting just got a lot easier.


  1. Loved this, so very very true! Thank you.

  2. Awesome! Going to link to it from my Love Being A Mom Page on facebook! Thanks for spreading the news ;-)

  3. Thank you for a lovely post that explains unmet needs. I will be sharing this with family and friends that just don't get it when I say 'children don't have the intention of manipulating you, or they aren't intentionally naughty, there is obviously an unmet need that they are trying to express'.