First of all we need to understand that many problems parents and teachers experience with their children are based on unfulfilled needs. Children get whiny and cranky when sad, hungry or tired.
They also loose concentration after quite a short while, when tension has built up energy that wants to get out. E.g. after some coloring or doing puzzles, crayons and pieces of puzzle will be flying about. A child with lots of built-up energy really needs to let it out somehow. Embrace their energy, it’s a wonderful thing. Just try to point it into a direction where it can float freely, or some children will literally start climbing walls.
So, I’ve made a short list of what all children need to thrive, grow and develop (and honestly – this is true for adults too), sorted by some key concepts. The chapters describe how we can structure those concepts into a workable everyday life. Of course, nothing is set in stone. There are different ways of living, different methods to use, but if you have the child’s needs as guiding principles, you can’t go too far wrong.
Just to be clear: What we want and what we need are not always the same. We need healthy food, but the child would probably wish for an ice cream diet. We must see to the best interest of the child in the long run, not only to what makes it happy right now. We need to be the ones to provide boundaries, limitations and moral codes for the kids, because they need them. Before they can grasp the effects of their decisions, and can make responsible, considered choices on their own, we must help them. We teach them as we go along, partly when answering as many “why?”s as we can.
What’s comfortable (for both parent and child) in the moment might not be what’s best in the long run (for either of you). As an example: one of their best interests is definitely a good health, so we need to provide reasonably healthy food and also allow and encourage exercise. To let the child go into zombie mode in front of the TV or computer can feel relieving for a while, but it brings their own sort of hangover – restlessness, aggression, sometimes nightmares because of violent or scary things they may come across.
Click on the headings to read more about the different needs, tips on how you meet those needs every day, and what gifts we can give our children by spending a little extra time and attention on them.
Now, of course there can be more complex or underlying psychological needs. Most of them should be dealt with in the Love chapter. Still, a general policy should be:
Try to understand the needs of your child. What’s the problem from their point of view? Understanding what it really wants, or really feels, will help you both.
There are underlying needs behind most actions. Always try to keep in mind that there is a reason, when you experience a problem. There can be a need to release some physical tension, or, if stressed, to have some peace and quiet. There can be sadness or aggression as a result of feeling bad about oneself – and so the need to feel accepted, included, to feel helpful and valued, to sense love or forgiveness, is much more important than discipline, at the time.
Talk to each other. Ask questions that demands more than a plain “yes” or “no”: “What would you like (to do / have)?”, “How do you feel?”, “What do you think of…?”, “Is there something I can help you with?” are examples of good start-out questions. Wait for, and listen to the answer. Make sure you’ve interpreted it right by making a short summary and ask for correction if you’ve got things wrong.
Also, just try and see the world from your kid’s point of view. What is good, bad? Or hard, boring, stressful, scary? Has there been any changes in its life lately? Remember, feelings are just as strong and powerful within children – only they’ve not learned to put them into perspective yet. It’s a lot of live-or-die dramas inside them. Some of them too scary to dare talking about, even if this probably would help.
Only when you know what’s causing a problem can you deal with it properly. Try discussing with your child how to solve the problem, or what should change to make it feel better. This does not mean you must let go of your needs, your moral codes or set-up rules – but you can evaluate them and perhaps use a flexible approach to parts of them, if it would mean your child would feel better.
After all, living together is all about good will. The more you show, the more you will get back. Respect is part of it, but it is best taught and learned if showed mutually.