Typical Parenting Issue
Resolved in 3 Steps

What Your Kid Wants, May not be What He or She Needs

I guess we all recognize the typical parenting issue of:

  • What's the matter now?

  •  Why is my child acting out?

  • I love my child but what my child says he or she wants is out of the question but what do I do then?

  • How do I calm my child down when I can't give my child what he / she wants?

Amidst all the chaos, there is a very simple solution to this recurrent and taxing parenting issue:

  • We give our child what he or she NEEDS (which is not always the same as what your child thinks he or she WANTS)

This piece of positive parenting advice never fails!

Behind any baby crying, any toddler tantrums or any child misbehavior, there is always a need to be met. Positive parenting is about fulfilling needs!

So far so good!

So, what's the really good news?

We can all navigate successfully through a 'difficult' child behavior situations or parenting issue if we can distinguish between:

  • Needs (what our child is really craving):
        o E.g. love, touch, attention, empowerment etc.)

  • And Wants (how our child reacts - his or her outward behavioral reaction:
        o E.g. crying because you gave your child a blue plate rather than a red
        o ... or fighting you when you want your child dressed rather than having your child running around all naked getting cold and perhaps ill, etc.)

In other words; what your child wants, or more correctly, thinks he or she wants - is often not what he or she really needs.

Parenting issue - picure of angry kid

Okay, you may ask, how do practically deal with this parenting issue - how do I distinguish between a need and want? And what do I do when I find the need.

Very relevant questions, thank you!

To assist you in that, in the following I have outlined a 3 step procedure of positive parenting that I myself use to 'dig' out and spot which important need lies behind all those confusing 'wants'.

When you spot the need, when you meet it, life becomes so much better for everybody.


Because when your child's need for something is not there any more, there is no reason for him or her to 'cry out' for it.

Your kid will be satisfied and the 'wants', gone. Parenting issue resolved ...for now anyway, until a new need arises :-)

3 Simple Steps to Lovingly End Toddler Tantrums or Misbehavior

Even though children have many emotional ups and downs, their reaction strategies are a lot simpler than most adults'.

Adults can hide their true feelings - kids can't.

At least not while they're young. As they get older, they gradually learn to adapt their behavior and change or hide their true feelings.

Small kids cry, throw things, they roll around on the floor in hysteric fits, some bite and hit and so forth ... we parents are not in doubt if our child is unhappy.

Believe it or not, toddler tantrums are a good thing. It's a gift for you as a parent. A positive parenting issue!


Because when you have a parenting issue, it's an invitation for you to pick up a giant jug of whatever it is your child needs and pour it into your child. Positive parenting is a parenting style of filling up needs!

So when I have a parenting issue, if for instance my child is throwing things around in anger, crying because I 'said no' to something, or refusing to put on his clothes to come home with me after a good day in the day nursery - I typically use this 3 step procedure in my positive parenting strategy:

Step 1: Discover there's a need
Step 2: Understand the need
Step 3: Meet the need

Let's go through each step briefly, now.

Step 1: Discovery of a Need
- Mom or Dad Adjusts Mindset to be Present

When my child is sad or angry and maybe misbehaves, I try to put my own stirred emotions on ice and be present to the situation.

If I let myself be 'infected' by his challenging emotions, it will fuel his own emotions and a continuous escalation of painful emotions will have started. We will have a full parenting issue ready to explode!

When an escalation in which we both participate has started, it will be difficult to find out what is really going on. It will most likely just be an emotional mess.

An essential key in positive parenting is maintaining a positive attitude - and yes, I know it can be challenging!

I consciously say to myself: 'My child's feelings are not bad or wrong - they are merely communication about a need'.

So, don't be afraid of your child's emotional outbursts - he or she is just trying to tell you something about his or her needs using the most basic means possible: emotions. Even if I'm stressed in these situations, I try to say to myself: 'I am never too busy to meet my child's needs, never!" This actually works!

Step 2: What is the Need About
- Sensing It or ... Just Trying Out Different Things

The need is always simple in nature whether your child is a baby, toddler, or teenager:

The need often lies somewhere in the area of getting attention, feeling connected and loved, being touched, feeling heard and understood, being seen and accepted, being empowered by their own decision making (see for instance The Simple Two Step Recipe We All Want: How to Respect Your Child without Compromising Yourself!), wanting to change things in the world by their own will etc.

It might even be more basic and physical than that: at the age of about one or two my son could become very short tempered or clingy - out of the blue.

To resolve this parenting issue, I would try all sort of 'need-meeting' tactics such as hugging, talking, letting him make a decision by choosing a book to read etc.

And after some time of desperate trying 'this and that', I would finally try to put some food into him - and voila, end of misery.

The poor boy was just hungry. Boy, did I feel stupid.

So don't forget to check for signs of tiredness, hunger, and illness as well.

However, as we all know, finding out what need lies behind our child's behaviour or what our child says he or she wants, is not always easy.

Some parents are very intuitive and can immediate sense what their child's needs are. They 'tune in' and just feel it.

Others have a more mental attitude and will have to resort to their brains, creativity and basic trial-and-error: simply trying different 'need-meeting' actions to see what works. I myself do a bit of both.

When for some reason I can't feel it (if I'm tired and stressed, it is more difficult), I use my brain to come up with ideas that I put to the test - just like in the above example.

Step 3 - Meeting the Need
- Do Your Best, and Just Try Again

Very often the need has nothing to do with the displayed behavior: your child might 'want' to see another cartoon or stay longer in the nursery - but your child's 'wants' may not be what he or she really needs. There may be a big difference.

My child might say that he wants to see another Postman Pat but really he just needs to feel some degree of power over what is going to happen to him.

If I then say to him that he can watch 5 minutes of the next Postman Pat and then I turn it off, he is most often very content with that and doesn't mind at all when after 5 minutes I turn it off.

I also have another parenting issue example that is a contrast to the Postman Pat one: For a period of time my son didn't want to go home from the day nursery even when almost all the other children had been picked up by their parents and he was not enjoying himself that much anymore.

Still, to my great frustration, he insisted that he wanted to stay and play. As I don't like to force my will on my child, I didn't just put him screaming into his wind jacket.

So back to some creative brain brewing to resolve this parenting issue; Maybe he wanted to have a say in what was going to happen. No, that didn't feel right. He'd already got what he 'wanted' (as opposed to needed).

No, it felt like something else. Hmm ... and there on a bench in the nursery it dawned on me: he wanted to test me to see how great his powers were and how far he could push the situation.

Yes, there we are. That made sense. With him being dead set on testing boundaries, there was no possibility for me to try and negotiate. He wanted firmness from me, boundaries.

Well, boy, if firm child discipline is what you need, I will give it to you.

So I gave him a choice (as I always strive to do) and told him that Mom wanted to go home and that if he didn't come willingly, I would put his wind jacket on him and carry him out to my bicycle. As he didn't react to this, I took his jacket under one arm, him on another and left. He did protest somewhat, but not for very long - because that was what my maternal instinct told me that he needed. And it was.

Of course we can never know for sure if we're 100 percent correct, but if our child is happy, calm, wants to bond etc., then we must be doing something right.

When you try to resolve a parenting issue and meet a need, you may not always meet the right need at the first attempt, but hang on there. Just try again to sense what the need might be, and if you're at a loss - hey, just try something else.

You can't really go wrong. For instance if it isn't bonding your child craves, it is something else - and if we try to bond with the best intention in mind, it won't harm our child. It is just not what he or she needs the most right now.

In my positive parenting examples with my son he first wanted to have the power to make a difference, then the next time he wanted to be led and guided by my firmness.

So arm yourself with presence, acceptance of every one of your child's emotions, willingness to be creative and just try to meet the need. And if you don't manage to resolve the parenting issue at the first attempt, just try again, and again ...

No matter what you try - if positive parenting is done in pure presence with love, you can't go all wrong.

And sure you can go really, really right!

Your Positive Parenting Ally,

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