When Needs Appear to Conflict

When Needs Appear to Conflict

"How can I provide the support and attention my three-year old needs from me and help him to be more independent at the same time?" is a question that many parents face. (See aceiatx's question in her comment on CAN DOs Work for All Ages)

The short answer is:  Provide support and attention when it's OK with you, and model independence when it's not.

SWYS: "You are done eating and want me to play with you right now, and I need 5 more minutes to eat. Waiting is hard for you."

CAN DO: "Must be something you can do so I can finish eating on my own and come play with you."

The child can come up with something to do to make waiting more fun, or you can change when the child waits. For instance:

CAN DO: "You can start eating after I do so that we finish at the same time."

Then after the child has shown patience or independence while you eat, point that out when you join him in play:

STRENGTH: "You played by yourself while Mommy was eating. That shows you are independent."


STRENGTH: "You waited for five minutes while Mommy was eating. That shows you have patience."

The trick here is setting your boundary of finishing your dinner and sticking to it. That is one way of modeling healthy independence that sends the message to your child that he is OK on his own for a while, too.

CAN DOs give you a way to meet your child's needs within your boundaries. Children have three basic needs: experience, connection and power. To know which CAN DOs will work, look for the need. Your biggest clue to the need is what the child is already doing. For instance, the goal of whining and demanding, even at a low level, is control. That points to a need for personal power and explains why support and attention may not be enough and why the Mommy-time children crave often gets pushed beyond connection toward control.

To give a child permission to experience his personal power, you have to give it to yourself first. This is big. The importance of clean, clear, feel-good-about-yourself-boundary setting should not be underestimated in raising kids to be able to do the same.

Meanwhile, since self-control and self-determination (not control of others) are the roots of all power in our lives, that is the direction to go with your CAN DOs. You decide what you will do, and he can decide what he will do inside your boundaries until he is old enough to set boundaries for himself.

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