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“When a child is difficult, we always have the choice to respond to the need or react to the behaviour.” – Sarah Rosensweet 

Your child is getting out of bed every 5 minutes. “I need another hug!” “I’m thirsty.” Of course it’s super frustrating and annoying and you’re tempted to yell or threaten if they get out of bed again. But what’s the need that is driving this behaviour? I’m guessing that the child needs more connection. You might decide that you can lay with them a little longer, or maybe you make sure to give extra hugs and connection tomorrow. 

Or maybe your child is being deliberately provocative. You’re gardening in the backyard while they “water” the grass.  You ask them to stop spraying the side of the house and they look at you and do it again. You could take away the hose and send them back inside. But you might realize that you’ve gotten pretty wrapped up in your weeding and haven’t been paying much attention to your little one so you decide to take a break and spend 10 minutes playing instead. 

Our children want to be “good.” Their survival depends on a close and loving connection with a caregiver. If they are acting out of alignment with that, there is something else going on. That something else is often an unmet need. 

Let me bring this into focus: Maybe you’re making dinner and feeling resentful that you do it EVERY NIGHT. Instead of asking for help, you’re slamming the cupboard doors in the kitchen while you cook. What if your partner came in and said, “Hey! Stop slamming things around! You’re going to break something!” (Reacting to the behaviour). What if instead your partner responded to the need? “Hey, it looks like you’re feeling upset. How can I help?” 

It’s hard for us to figure out what we need and ask for it. It’s so much harder for our children. 

If our child could say, “I miss you when we are separated at night and I need to be sure of you,” they would say that instead of getting out of bed every 5 minutes.

If our child could say, “I get a little insecure when your attention is focused elsewhere,” they would say that instead of spraying the house with the garden hose. 

When faced with a challenge or “bad” behaviour, it’s up to us to stop-drop-and-breathe and make the choice to look deeper than the surface behaviour. When we seek to understand what need our child is trying to express, we can respond to our child in a way that meets that need and builds compassion, understanding and security. 

Think of the kitchen cupboard scenario and think how much better it feels when someone you love sees past your “bad” actions. It’s tough and it takes practice, but you can do the same for your child.

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Sarah Rosensweet is a certified peaceful parenting coach, speaker, and educator. She lives in Toronto with her husband and three big kids (ages 15, 18, and 21). Peaceful parenting is a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Sarah works one-on-one virtually with parents all over the world to help them go from frustrated and overwhelmed to, “We’ve got this!”

Read more at: www.sarahrosensweet.com