We've all been there. There's the event –
Someone gets pushed.
Something gets broken or wrecked.
The bathtub overflows.
It's so frustrating and annoying irritating and the next thing I know, I'm scolding them, "WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!?” My words come out like a punishment, completely devoid of curiosity. In that moment every layer of my communication is criticizing them for not handling it differently.
My response put them on defense.
Their armor goes up.
It's time to protect and defend.
The message is loud and clear:
I'm not on your side.
I won't back you when you mess up or when I disagree with your choices.
You should be different.
My support is conditional.
Enter: The phrase that change my life.
Sounds dramatic, I know.
But it's true.
My new mantra became
"what were you needing?"
With my kids, I began intentionally replacing my knee jerk response "WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!" with "what were you needing?"
It changed the way the next few minutes unfolded.
And over time it's helped to build long lasting trust in our relationship.
This new phrase became a way for me to reprogram my habitual responses with open-hearted curiosity.
At first, I'll admit it wasn't so open hearted.
They were just words.
But sometimes I find that action - simply changing the words - initiates transformation.
When I would demand "what were you thinking?" I truly wasn't opening a door to dialogue.
Usually by words were met with wide eyes and silence.
When I began responding with "what were you needing?" I would hear "I don't know." But after guessing what they might have been needing, they started to learn to connect to the needs that could've been driving their behavior. Soon enough, the responses began to sound like:
"I needed space."
"I wanted their toy."
"I wanted a turn."
"I wanted more milk."
"I was just playing."
Here's where the connection deepens...
I know what it's like to want to play and have fun.
I can relate to wanting to do it myself.
I love my autonomy – of course they do too.
And I totally get wanting space – while I don't push others away with my hands because I know how to ask, I deeply understand the need.
This moment of connection is critical.
The message is:
I'm on your side.
I will back you when you mess up.
Even if I don't agree with your choices, I want to understand you.
You are enough, just as you are, and I will help you to figure out other strategies.
My support is unconditional.
If my child pushed, and said she needed space then "what did you need?" is followed by "what other ways can you get space without pushing?"
And then we explore as many ideas as we can think of that would meet the same need, without the unintended consequence.
This simple question - what do you need? - supports finding creative alternatives.
It expresses that the other is not bad but simply lacking creativity around finding another way.
My mission is to help my kids to understand that there are infinite strategies to meet any given need... and that we are only limited by our own imagination.
So I keep asking,
"what were you needing?" and "is there another way to get your need met?"
And finally, how do you want your child to perceive you as they grow and learn and make mistakes?
We get to choose and behave in ways that show them that we are either on their side, or someone to defend themselves from. We can show them that we are open hearted and ready to support them or that we are critical and unforgiving. We can be the person they come to when they need help or the person they hide things from because they want to avoid punishment or criticism or being shamed.
The good news is that it's up to us.
And we have opportunities all day long to show them who we are.
I hope this question will support your connection with your child.
And don't be surprised when you begin asking yourself this question during challenges with adults.
Connecting to another's needs doesn't discriminate by age.
It deepens connection anytime, any place, with any person.
Wishing you loads of connection this week.