Children need connectedness, structure, consistency and examples. When we can fulfill their basic needs, we give children the opportunity to flourish. 

 

Connectedness

Children need to feel connected to their parents and caregivers. From a child’s perspective this comes through spending quality time together by talking together, sharing in the child’s hobbies/talents, cuddles, playing with toys and games that the child finds fun. You may not have a full two hour block to just sit and play with your child, even if you wish you did. That is ok. Quality time does not mean it has to be a very long time. It could be 15 minutes of looking into your child’s eyes, listening to what they are saying, and reflecting that back. It could be five minutes of just cuddle time on your lap when you get home from work, before you jump into fixing dinner. It could be weekly Friday Family Fun Nights, when phones are put away and everyone gathers around a board game to play. How we speak to our children can create connectedness or distance in the relationship. Use strengths-based language with your child that focuses on what they are doing well and the positive character traits they possess. Speak to them with patience, kindness and respect and surely they will model the same type of communication with others. There is nothing more important in parenting than developing a reliable, trusting, and loving relationship with your child; it is more important than following the rules or going to bed on time. If you are connecting with your child regularly, both of your basic core needs of connection will be satisfied and you both will be able to rise up to daily responsibilities a whole lot better.

 

Provide Structure

Kids need to be taught through time and experience how to interact with themselves and others in a variety of environments and circumstances. We should not expect kids to know how to behave from the time they are born and on. They don’t know the rules yet and it is our job and privilege to teach them, correct them, and model expected behavior. Remember, when managing difficult behaviors, first validate the child’s feelings and needs with empathy and unconditional love. Help them cope through their emotions. Then, teach them helpful and acceptable ways they can communicate their needs, appropriately interact with their environment and/or problem solve. Rules should be based on family values and this connection between rules and values should be communicated to the child repeatedly. For example, “We don’t hit brother when we are angry. Everyone needs to feel safe here and we believe in being kind to ourselves and others. Let’s find another way you can let out your anger that is safe and does not hurt anyone or anything.” There is an important WHY and significance to the rules you are teaching your child. These valuable moments of teaching children appropriate ways of managing themselves and the world around them are instilling life skills that will enable them to have healthy relationships with themselves and others over their lifespan. 

 

In addition to teaching rules and boundaries, kids thrive in routine and a predictable schedule. It helps kids to feel safe and secure when they know when they can expect their next meal or how they will be put to bed each night. A good bedtime routine helps promote a healthy sleep cycle by cueing sleepiness similarly each night.  A consistent schedule also helps to reduce conflict. Instead of having a power struggle with your child that it is time to transition from play time to lunch time, it is just the schedule that is being implemented consistently each day; it is simply just what we do. The schedule also allows for being able to predictably look forward to things the child enjoys. An example of this is, “I know you’re sad to stop playing right now because we were having so much fun. But you know this is now the time we eat lunch. I’m so excited to play with you more after your nap this afternoon.” Your child knows this is true because that routine and schedule happened yesterday and the day before. To add, schedule and routine help establish healthy habits (ie. brush teeth, wash face, wind down at night with a book before bed) that will create a foundation for your child to build on as they become adults and need self care to help manage stress. There are many benefits to creating a consistent and reliable schedule for your child including helping your child feel safe and secure, reducing conflict and establishing healthy habits. 

 

Be an Example

The daily intentionality and energy it takes to provide consistent teaching and modeling of expected behavior based on family values is a big commitment, but it is absolutely WORTH IT. Children are constantly watching and listening to how parents behave. Parents often worry, “What if I can’t be a perfect example to my kids all the time?” It is important for parents to remember that no person is perfect, not a child, not an adult. What matters most is what we do with our mistakes, how we learn and grow from them. We can model this to our children by making our best effort to be an example of the values we are instilling in them and then when we make a mistake or fall short we can acknowledge it, communicate through it and reflect on how we might react differently next time or ways we may need to make amends. For example, “I know mommy tells you that we do not yell at each other when we are angry, but tonight mommy yelled and broke that rule. Mommies have big feelings too just like kids do and sometimes mommies can make mistakes. I want you to know that I should not have yelled at you. I am sorry for yelling at you and hurting your feelings. Will you please forgive me? Next time I am too angry and feel like yelling I am going to walk away and take some deep breaths.” We want our children to know there is room for them to make mistakes and owning our own is the best way to model the growth mindset. 

 

How will you connect with your child today? What is a structure you could put in place that may help smooth daily transitions? What is one way you want to be a positive example to your children this week?

 

 Be kind to yourself as a parent, you are doing a great job! 

Raising kids can be hard. We all need a team of support in our community and resources to help us as parents. We are here to support you and your child through our therapy services. In addition, books are a great parenting resource and we wanted to share some great ones that we often recommend to parents. If you chose to purchase one of the items featured in this post, we may receive a small commission for it.

 

Book on Emotion Regulation 

 

 

Children’s Books for Feelings Identification

 

 

Children’s Books to help with Separation Anxiety

 

 

 

Book to help with Positive Self Talk and Resilience

 

 

Self Compassion/ Mindfulness

 

 

OCD

 

General Anxiety

 

 

Personal Safety Skills

 

 

Child Grief

 

Adult Grief

 

 

Books on Parenting

 

 

Books on Divorce

  

Oftentimes in parenting, when we get stuck, we feel like we need to learn something NEW. In reality, it is more common that we need to go back to basics. Knowing and understanding children’s basic needs is the foundation that we always need to start with when it comes to building relationships with and raising children. You may not always be able to perfectly meet these needs but we can continue to develop an understanding of their needs as your children continue to grow and change developmentally. Often, when a child is displaying difficult behaviors there is an underlying need driving the behavior. 

Children’s basic needs include love, safety and acceptance and should be at the heart of family life. It may look different from child to child in how they receive or express these needs. As caregivers, we can continue to get curious and learn about how love, safety and acceptance needs are unique to each child that is in our care. 

As we navigate how to help our children through difficulties, it is helpful to keep in mind the child’s developmental stage and capabilities so that we do not expect more than they are capable of developmentally, and therefore as caregivers can provide acceptance for their current mental, emotional, and physical stage and abilities. This firm foundation of understanding and acceptance opens opportunities for caregivers to meet their child where they are at AND provide their children with appropriate challenges for continued growth. 

Children need to know that our love does not depend on his or her accomplishments and that love is unconditional (ie. my love for you does not change or diminish when I’m mad or disappointed). In family life, mistakes or defeats should be expected and accepted as learning and growing opportunities. This growth mindset develops resilience and is good for both parents and children to learn and implement! Afterall, whoever said we need to be perfect? Confidence grows in a home that is full of unconditional love and acceptance. 

Oppositely, fear and anxiety grow out of experiences that we do not understand. Children are always developing a new understanding of their world as they grow developmentally, so their need for safety continues to change as they become more and more exposed to a BIG world. Children also need to feel safe in their own environment, when it comes to the structure of the space and the interactions of the people in that space. We can help provide a sense of security and safety for our children by how we help them make sense of the world and the environment we build in our homes. 

Lastly, it is important to communicate safety, love and acceptance through both words AND actions. Addressing our children’s basic needs can often be a helpful solution to managing difficult behaviors as a caregiver. However, we need to focus on the whole child, not just the behavior. We need to dive into the process of understanding their unique needs and feelings rather than skipping to how to fix it.  Next time your child is struggling with difficult behaviors, pause and ask yourself, what is the need driving this behavior and how can I help my child know I understand their need and that I am here to help?

-Susie Munsey, LCSW