Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Speaking to the Need

Welcome to the March Mindful Mama Carnival: Mindful Mama Challenge
This post was written for inclusion in the Mindful Mama Carnival hosted by Becoming Crunchy and TouchstoneZ. This month our participants have challenges they've set for themselves toward becoming more mindful. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


On a scale of 1 to 10 for mindfulness, I would probably rate myself at around 2-3. I tend to be more on the reactive end of the scale. So, writing about how I am trying to challenge myself to be more mindful in my parenting is a particularly apt topic for me. I’ve got a long way to go to become the parent I want to be and that my children deserve. Nonetheless I actually have had a few successful moments. One way I’ve been able to bring more mindfulness to my parenting is by speaking to the need.

I adhere to the philosophy that children behave in ways that they think will enable them to meet an underlying need. Three-year old SchmoopyBoy has been struggling a bit with increased independence and the need to control what he gets to do - with his time and otherwise. Frustration can sometimes ensue. I have recently had remarkable success in diffusing meltdowns by acknowledging when he is trying to get his needs met, articulating that I also have a need that I am trying to meet, and then talking about what to do next.

Here is one example. We allow for screen time in our house, but my husband and I enforce limits on the time spent in front of a screen. Sometimes SchmoopyBoy wants to exceed the limit that we have established. One day in particular he wanted to watch more TV than we usually allow. The alternative to TV that he suggested was to play a video game on the computer. He became very upset that he was not permitted to engage in either activity. In trying to find an alternative, he requested that we bake muffins. I should mention here that I commonly bake with SchmoopyBoy during the weekend. He and I both enjoy the time together as well as the homemade goodies. I should also mention that this episode took place in the middle of the week. I was home from work in the evening and was trying to get dinner started. Evenings tend to be very hectic and busy between dinner and bedtime while the husband works evenings.

The thought that first entered my head when SchmoopyBoy requested that we bake was “Not a chance. There is no way we are going to have time to bake muffins at this time of evening when I’ve got to prepare dinner and I’m going to have to start bath time and bedtime routines for two kids.”

But then I thought for a moment and asked myself - Is that really true? The baby took a late nap that day, so there could be more flexibility with bedtime. Preparing the batter could take as little as 15 minutes. With a bake time about a half hour and about 10 minutes for cooling, we could easily have muffins prepared and ready to eat in an hour. And really, the bottom line was that I just didn’t want to bake muffins because I was feeling tired and because baking during the week at evening time falls outside our regular routine and I wasn’t comfortable with that. After acknowledging my true reasons for not wanting to bake muffins, and further acknowledging that SchmoopyBoy was so upset because he was feeling out of control and was frustrated that he wasn’t being allowed to do any of the activities he wanted, I concluded that “I just don’t want to” was not a good enough reason to tell SchmoopyBoy “No” to baking muffins.

So, I told him that I understood that he has needs that he want to meet, and that I understood that he has a need to control what he does with his time and what activities he partakes in. I further told him that I also have needs that I am trying to meet. At that moment, I felt the need to take care of my family by preparing a healthy dinner. I told him I wanted to figure out how we could both need our needs, and suggested that after I prepare dinner and we are finished eating, then we could make muffins. He enthusiastically agreed, and in fact helped me prepare dinner. All whining, complaining, or any other expressions of frustration completely disappeared. After dinner he was in such a good mood, he didn’t even want to make muffins anymore and was happy to simply play with me.

I am not always able to satisfy his desire. Sometimes I have to acknowledge that he wants to meet his need, and then explain that I am saying no because I also have a need. For example, another time he wanted more screen time and insisted there was nothing else he wanted to do. I acknowledged that he wanted to meet his need for control over his activities, and then explained that I said No to his current desire based on my need to take care of him and help him grow up healthy and strong. I told him that I limit his screen time because I believe too much screen time is bad for his brain. When asked “Why?” I tried to keep the conversation at a 3-year old level and told him that when he older and is trying to learn in school, he might have a hard time concentrating. Satisfied with this answer, we had some food and SchmoopyBoy started singing a song.

I think that SchmoopyBoy appreciates that I am making an effort to really hear him, and that I am explicitly saying to him, I get it, I understand that you have a need that want to meet. The very act of being heard in this way appears to soothe him. I still miss the boat with him more often than I’d like, but with more successes, I’m hoping speaking to the underlying need will become more second nature.


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  1. Shana, it is so nice to meet you. :) I appreciate your clear example of how you are working to meet everyone's needs. The stories you illustrated demonstrate to me that you really care about the relationship you are creating. Very powerful, beyond words really.

    Sure, there may be misses - that's part of life. Celebrating the times when you feel you're right on and you can enjoy the beauty of the parent-child relationship definitely has it's place and I'm glad you have share it here, with us. Keep on keepin' on. :)

  2. Oh you are absolutely right that he (and all kids!) appreciate when we take time to hear them. It helps so much when I really listen to Kieran. He still often needs time to cool down, but knowing I understand why he is upset helps him work through it.

    This is also a really great example of finding the yes - the compromise - instead of automatically saying no. Such a great skill to learn!

  3. It can be so hard to balance our needs with our children's needs, but satisfying when we find a way to do it. I suspect that you hit the mark more often than you might be aware.

  4. Nice to meet you via the carnival Mindful Mama!

  5. I love this story and the point it illustrates. I remember as a child how often I felt such needs went un-met (much of the time out of that general busy-ness and need to get things done, I'm sure) but it left a sting all the same. I aspire right along with you to speak to the need of my little one and am sure it will be a learning journey. Thank you so much for sharing.

  6. I love this and you're also helping me with something I've been pondering lately... which is how much can I really talk to my daughter without burdening her with "adult thinking". I'm not expressing this right, but I appreciating reading how you communicated with your child and how well it went. It just makes sense to me in a very deep way.
    So much of it all is about really hearing them, isn't it?

  7. I'm chuckling as I read this because I'm thinking back to this evening. I mentioned to my husband that he was falling into the no-default because he was tired. Then, I did the same thing myself when I became tired. I stopped listening to my kids and stopped asking myself why I was saying no. I didn't notice until they were all grumpy and I wondered what had "gotten into them."

    Once I realized, I checked in with what was going on with me, what needs weren't being met, gave myself a shoulder then set about reconnecting with my kids (and later, I'll do the same with my husband. Ha!)

    I always wonder why this has to be a practice when the results are amazing. Why is the default disconnection and correction instead of connection? It seems nonsensical, but hey, it wouldn't be a mindfulness practice if it were so easy. And maybe we'd not get the joy from it without the effort.

    Mindful Muffins taste better, I'll bet!

    Thank you for participating in the Mindful Mama Carnival.

  8. Good job, Shana!

    We all have our needs and we all want to be listened to. Same is true for the kids. And it really is something we should be constantly aware of as mothers. It's great that you are able to talk to the little one so he can understand your needs too. So, yeah, it's a 2-way street.

    @Zoie: "Why is the default disconnection and correction instead of connection" -- because it's what were used to and it's what's usually convenient? but ends up a disaster in the end really. :s