One night I was saying goodnight to my daughter (a teenager of 13 at the time). She started telling me about all the reasons why she feels she really wanted a certain phone. She was making some really good points, but I didn’t reflect that. My rising stress about the sleep she needed led me to cut to the chase and say to her “Honey tomorrow’s a really big day [a trip away] and this is a really big conversation which I don’t have the capacity to have at the moment because I really want you to get a good night’s sleep”.

She said, “Okay Mum, I get that, but can you please acknowledge that you’ve heard and understand all the points I’ve made and reassure me that we can have this conversation at some point this weekend?”.  She was right that I hadn’t even acknowledged that I’d heard, understood and cared about what she had shared. But how great that she identified that her need to feel heard and acknowledged hadn’t been met. That she could voice that; giving me the, very much appreciated, opportunity to meet that need.

It’s not enough to listen, we need to show that we’ve understood

Yes of course, as much as she needed her sleep, she also needed and deserved to feel heard and acknowledged after all these very heartfelt points she’d just shared with me! After that, she was satisfied to hear my summary of what I’d heard and understood. Without giving that to a kid, how are they to know that we truly were listening and taking them seriously? Conversations like this are not just about making decisions, we need to truly engage and show our care.

Our empathy helps them develop patience

She really wanted to have the conversation. But had to hold the tension of having to delay the gratification until another time. What likely helped her deal with that frustration (and not misdirect it by becoming sassy, aggressive, defensive or passive-aggressive) was identifying and expressing these other needs. To have all that she’d shared properly acknowledged, and the reassurance that the conversation would happen sometime soon. She is more resourced because she could identify that she had these needs: to be heard, acknowledged and given reassurance. And has the right to seek for them to be met because this is what’s valued in our family.

How easily things can go south

Sometimes I think about a simple little interaction such as this in our family. I reflect on how important it is that children can tune in to their frustration and identify what it is they need. I often think about how much more difficult/upsetting/conflictual/chaotic a similar interaction could be if the emotional needs were not recognised or met.

How easy it is for a parent to, very understandably, become reactive in such a moment. They’re exhausted and will no doubt have much they still need to do before they can rest. If a child has come to expect that their parent will become reactive, instead of clearly requesting that their parent acknowledge what they said, they would more likely become very upset and shut down leading to a painful conflict just before they attempt to sleep. Not a winning formula!

A child’s emotional intelligence is largely about their ability to know and skillfully manage their feelings

This is a very complex process and develops very slowly over time. When they’re little, their expressions of their wants, needs and frustrations are often messy. Causing parents a lot of frustration. Yet it’s the parent’s caring response that slowly helps a child learn to identify and better manage their feelings. Help them start to make sense of these uncomfortable strong urges that can cause them to do and say things that others don’t like.

The hard yards of parenting

The child’s emotional intelligence slowly develops every time a parent listens to their young child’s messy expression of their frustration. “No!!! I want it now!!!”. “It’s not fair”. “You don’t care”. “You’re ruining my day!”. “I’m never going to share with you!!”)

– and the parent can manage their own urge to also react like a young child with little impulse control

– yet instead take a deep breath to ease out their own frustrations. Maybe stop and think to themselves “I can deal with this”.

–   then respond by tuning in to and naming some of the frustrations that their demands, complaints, criticisms, threats, wails, or whines may be giving insight into. “I hear how hard this is for you”. “You really really want it now don’t you?”. “It’s hard to wait isn’t it”. “Oh sweetheart, what big frustration, I care”.

–   and once that connection/empathy starts to lessen the child’s distress, they may be ready to problem-solve. Or, ready to accept the limit and again feel settled enough to move on.

–   then the young child can themselves get better and better at identifying and naming what they really need. In a more mature, less messy, way.

Maturity doesn’t just come with age

Many teenagers can feel deeply wounded and defensive at the slightest hint of a “no” or a rejection. Adults too! It may be based on a history of not feeling heard and acknowledged. Perhaps they quickly retort “Okay, whatever! Don’t touch me, I don’t want a hug!”. Or they refuse to respond at all.

Back to my daughter, or any teenager for that matter. If their need to feel heard, acknowledged, reassured, and empathised with had not been identified and repeatedly met throughout their childhood, they likely wouldn’t recognise their emotional needs. They wouldn’t recognise when these needs have not been met. Or wouldn’t feel confident to voice the needs they do recognise. It’s always been so reassuring for me to know that my children continue to help me to meet their needs by giving me prompts such as these.

Helping your kid develop consideration for you and others

For a child to recognise and aim to meet these same needs in others, be it their parents, friends or siblings, they need to be on the receiving end of having these needs met repeatedly. They don’t learn it through theory “You should care about how that affected me”. They need to really really get the feeling for it at a whole body and mind level. Through repeated experience on the receiving end.

Simple but very important human needs, which create a lot of satisfaction when met. Yet a lot of frustration when not met.

Genevieve Simperingham is a Psychosynthesis Counsellor, a Parenting Instructor and coach, public speaker, human rights advocate, a writer and the founder of The Peaceful Parent Institute.  Check out her articles, Peaceful Parenting eCourses, forums and one-year Peaceful Parenting Instructor Training through this website or join over 90,000 followers on her Facebook page The Way of the Peaceful Parent.

  1. Marcy Menard 2 years ago

    Great insights here – I really appreciate people like you and the opportunity to read your work!

    • Author

      Hi Marcy, I’m so pleased that you’re gaining value from these articles! There’s so much to learn but the more you read and practice I’m confident you’ll start to see changes happening for the better. <3 Genevieve

  2. Carla 2 years ago

    Excellent points here. I realised my child just needs reassurance sometimes instead of finger- pointing that won’t solve anything and we will end up arguing. Thanks very much for sharing your work. Im becoming a better mum for it.

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