I remember standing in a checkout line behind a mother and her preschool age son. As they waited their turn, her son examined the candy shelves. His eyes lit up when he saw gummy bears. He turned to his mother to ask if she would buy them for him. She shook her head “no” but he persisted. She calmly looked at him and said, “Not today honey. We are not going to get any gummy bears today.” As disappointment filled his eyes, he pleaded in a voice that would make any salesman proud, “But Mom, I neeeeeed them!” I believed him. That young man had a dire need for gummy bears. The fact is, our children do have dire needs, albeit not for gummy bears (although I can understand that need myself). What are a child’s greatest needs?
· Children need unconditional love from their parent. Children need their parents to invest the time necessary to build and maintain a deep relationship with them. This unconditional love and connection provides a sense of security for children. And, security allows them to explore, learn, and grow more competent. Our children need our unconditional love.
· Children need to be heard. In fact, listening attentively to children is more important than anything we can actually say. Listening lets a child know that we value them. Listening also allows a parent to know their children: how they think, what they like, what they fear. Ultimately, listening allows a parent to learn who their children are. Our children need us to listen attentively to them.
· Children need a positive example to follow. The first and most powerful example children will follow is the example of their parents. Children learn more from observing their parents’ daily actions than they ever learn from our words of wisdom and experience. They will do as we do before they do as we say. Determine what kind of person you want your child to become and then become that person yourself. Clear the path for your child by setting the example yourself.
· Children need to know we believe in them. One way they know we believe in them is when we stop hovering and trust them to accomplish the challenges set before them. They also learn that we believe in them when we entrust real responsibility to them, whether that be chores around the house, a part-time job, spending their own birthday money, or helping us with a household job. Let your children know you believe in and trust their ability.
· Children need us to get out of their way so they can learn from their own experience. I don’t mean that parents should let their children stray into dangerous situations. However, sometimes we need to get out of the way. Let them experience the consequences of their mistakes and the joys of their success. Let them struggle through the difficulties of a challenging task or assignment. Let them learn what they can control and in what areas they need assistance. Children need us to stop hovering so they have the freedom to learn and grow on their own.
Children easily express their need for gummy bears, but they may have difficulty expressing the five needs discussed above. Nonetheless, they will find a way to have these needs met. They may assert their independence to make us “get out of the way” or nag us to be heard. You may even find them acting out behaviors and words they have seen in you that you find embarrassing. But, one way or another, they will express these needs and push to have them met. Why not take this year to meet these five needs in a positive way? Make it your goal for the coming year to provide for these needs in your children. They “really neeeed them!”