Focusing on needs rather than behavior

My son, just turned four, and I went to visit my sister. After a two hour train journey we waited outside the train station - she was a little late. Marley ran around manically, working off his frustration after being cooped up. He wasn’t so keen on our visit to his aunty; he said she’s always so angry.

When she arrived he shied away from her excited hellos and hug attempts. Before boarding the next train for the seven minute ride to our destination, we went for ice-cream.

Marley jumped about on the seat in the cafe, hung on me, pulled and pushed playfully on me and still ignored all contact-attempts from his aunty. His playing was rough; I still engaged him as I always do - laughing, holding him close, poking him back and giving him the physical hold he needed in this (for him) insecure situation.

Then he hit me slap on the upper chest!

'Shoulds' rained down on me-

I should reprimand him, tell him how naughty he had been and punish him by forcing him to sit still, even withdraw my love by moving away from him. I should teach him not to do that! I should tell him clearly “we do not do that!” (And by the way her future children will be brought up to not act like that.)

My sister was appalled when all I said was “oh that stings! Ouch!” And I took him onto my lap and held him close.

Scolding Marley wouldn’t have helped him at all in the situation. He knows people don’t hit…because people don’t hit. He knows I prefer him to communicate without hurting me. He needed my undivided attention and saw no other way to get it (I was in conversation and only playing with him halfheartedly at that point ). Children use what abilities they have and are in no way to be held responsible for them.

By holding him close I caught him and relieved him of the obvious stress he was struggling with, offering safety and familiarity. I focused on his needs rather than his resulting behavior.

After a moment on my lap Marley felt comfortable with his own contact-attempt toward his aunty. He softly kicked her thigh with his foot. Unfortunately the offering didn’t pan out - there were no tickling-fests or fun games to report.

My sister’s reaction was to furrow her brow in an angry manner and voice a fuming “Don’t do that! Don’t kick me!”

The shoulds resumed.

 “But did it really hurt?” I asked in a soft tone, touching the affected area. This was obviously a terrible thing to ask, quite audacious. My sister replied “Don’t speak to me like I’m a child!!!”

My sister explained she felt offended and angry at being treated with violence.

I said “he’s just turned four years old. He’s not treating you with violence; he’s trying to establish contact!”

Our society conditions its offspring to have specific reactions to things - when a kid taps you (however hard) you must scold him. This reaction is shortsighted and unauthentic. It has no ties to actual reality and fails to take individuals into consideration.

If an adult slapped me purposefully in the chest to get my attention because he was feeling slightly insecure, I wouldn’t have been smiling any longer. Adults have very different preconditions, the ability to act compassionately and keep emotions in check; are able to navigate situations from both parties’ side and predict consequences.

Of course we don’t teach our children to act violently when we focus on needs instead of behavior. We give them the foundation to acquire tools and methods with which to handle situations differently and diplomatically.

Moreover we relieve them of the burden of responsibility they carry when they’ve used such behavior and must deal with the consequences alone, without adult support.

We model peaceful living by parenting peacefully.


I invite you to take your liberty and join the revolution!

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