Here’s an example of responding to our kid’s needs and emotions rather than their behavior.
One night my youngest came inside from playing and asked what we were having for dinner. When he noticed I was washing potatoes he yelled, “I don’t LIKE potatoes!” Then started crying, “Why are we haaaavving those?”
Here’s where I had a choice in how the rest of the night would play out — I knew my response would set the mood. This particular night here’s what happened. I stopped what I was doing and said – “Oh, it sounds like you really don’t want to eat potatoes. Do want to help me chop them up at least?”
Now, if I was preoccupied with my own stress or exhausted from the day I may have said, “Of course, you do like potatoes! You ate them last week” or “Oh well!” or whatever judgment I had — but I didn’t. I didn’t make him wrong or feel dismissed and I kept control of my own emotions.
Our kid’s behavior is how they communicate with us and his was telling me he needed something that likely had nothing to do with potatoes. Maybe something happened when he was playing outside that made him upset, maybe he was tired and hungry, maybe he felt powerless as young kids often do. All I knew was that he needed me — my attention and my love.
I acknowledged his feelings rather than focusing on his behavior. I didn’t say anything about whether he had to eat the potatoes or not, I didn’t tell him to stop whining. Rather than pushing him away and telling him to go back outside or go play somewhere else I drew him close and worked to strengthen our connection — to fill his need.
He cut up the potatoes and was proud to use the ‘big’ knife (after a little safety lesson and close supervision!). When they were in the oven I asked if he was going back outside or if he wanted to help cut up more vegetables. He stayed and cut up a pepper and a cucumber. By then dinner was ready and he called in his brother and sister, which made him feel powerful and in charge. Then he proceeded to eat dinner — including a few potatoes that he doesn’t LIKE 😉
Of course, meal prep took three times as long as me doing it myself but thankfully we had the time. This is why I’m always talking about how it’s so important to slow down, schedule less and take care of ourselves. Our kids need us to have the time and energy to stop and pay attention to them, not rush them off to the next activity or lash out at them because we’re stressed or exhausted. They need us to be a calm, safe place to process their emotions — knowing we’ll be there when things are going well or not.
P.S. Things don’t always go smoothly and I don’t always respond calmly — I have plenty of stories where I didn’t handle things very well. But by focusing our attention on the times we do handle things well more of those moments will happen.