What Children Need from Adults

Often when disciplining children, there can be a tendency with many parents to go to one extreme or another.  Usually this is due to the frustration a parent feels when dealing with a child who has been impulsive, immature or egocentric. Yet, we know this is the norm for children.

Two categories of needs in children.

Mother and daughter happy conversation
Parents can offer different roles depending on the child’s needs.

Maybe we should frame the situation and ask, “What does this child need from me right now?”  Dr. Mel Silberman, author of How to Discipline Without Feeling Guilty, makes a distinction between two categories of needs of children. One is the In-Charge/Executive Role and the other is the Involved Caring Role. It makes sense that children need both in their lives, but it is often hard to know when to do which role!

Let’s look at the two roles and the situations they address.

In-Charge/Executive Role                         Involved/Caring Role

leadership                                                             caring             love

guidance                                                               safety             trust

modeling                                                              food                sleep

consistency                                                           security         play

limit setting                                                          learning        exercise

positive reinforcement                                       attention       space


So, our children need both structure and nurture. Rather than asking, “What should I do?”, maybe with these ideas in mind, we should ask, “Does my child need boundaries and structure right now or does he or she need me to meet a specific need?”

How many times have we seen a child in total meltdown and have no idea what to do?

Because of their emotional intensity, we often rise to meet their emotional levels. However, a better approach may be to sit quietly, simply listen, and then give them some time, attention, and affection—or just have a brief conversation.

Often, they are crying for our attention in unique ways and just want parent time. We can interpret that in many ways, but if we are attuned, aware and calm, we may be able to see what need they are surfacing to us. In response, do we need to stop and nurture, or do we need to assume a leadership role and take charge?  The answer is that it depends what your child needs in that situation, at that time. It includes you journeying with them in the process.

Although this may not always be easy or clear, it is important for parents to embrace the broader picture of their child’s life as they strive to have their needs met by their parents or caregivers. It is such an important issue, and if we are going to be effective in our discipline, we need to have the bigger picture in mind.

Gerry Vassar, President/Ceo, Lakeside Educational Network

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