Same Song, Different Verse–Distinguishing Needs


Our 4th of July started out and ended a bit rocky.  (Fortunately, there was a ton of good stuff in between.)  Although some of the behaviors looked very similar the need and therefore, my response, was very different.

Olivia's dramatic attempt at looking "scared"

At the start of our 4th of July festivities, Olivia was working hard at being dramatic about the fireworks and specifically, the noise.  She was “scared!” (supposedly) and was working her way from drama to truly psyching herself out.  So, what was the need? In this case, her need was to gauge how concerned she should be about fireworks based on our reaction to her “pretend scared”.

My response…. “Olivia, don’t act like a weenie!  Go play with the kids or go into the house where it’s quieter.”

Okay, it might not have been the BEST response, but it did the job in that it:

  1. met the need (sent a strong message that there was no danger)
  2. It also prevented her from escalating into true dysregulation.
  3. And finally, it set a boundary.

Fortunately, I was correct in discerning what her needs were because she was able to go and play happily with the kids for the rest of the night, occasionally checking in with me or her dad.  Overall, she was able to just be her happy little self.

That was all July 3rd.  Fast forward to the end of our Independence Day fun….  Past the BBQ-ing and fireworks in our backyard on the 3rd, past swimming and BBQ-ing the afternoon of the 4th, past even more BBQ in the evening (hey, what do you expect, we live in Kansas City!) and into the 2nd round of big fireworks on the 4th… this time at our neighbors’.

She was tired, there were lots of strangers (friends of our neighbors), lots of commotion and a close call (at least in her mind) with a sparkler.  By the time it was time for the big fireworks, she was DONE!  Her behavior looked a lot like her pretend scared from the day before.  Clingy, fingers in her ears, a little cranky….  So, again, her dad and I needed to discern the needs:

Much better to watch fireworks from our front steps between her Daddy and doggy!

  1. she was tired–had a need for sleep
  2. she was way overstimulated–had a need for us to regulate her environment to something she could manage

If you had asked her, she would have admitted #2, denied #1 and added that she had a “need” to see the fireworks.  🙂

So, what did we do?  We moved from the neighbors’ front drive to our front steps.  We didn’t have a great view because our sycamore tree was in the way of a lot of the bigger stuff, but it was exactly what she needed. (and in the end, much better for Eric and myself, too!)

It’s not always easy to discern the need behind behavior, but boy is it important.  Of course, this is just one little piece of the much bigger topic of child discipline.  We’ll talk about distinguishing a child’s needs (and adjusting our parenting responses accordingly) and a lot, lot more in our new live webinar, “A Different Kind of Discipline” this Wednesday, July 7th at 7:00pm central time.

In the meantime, we’d love to get your input regarding what discipline topics or concerns you’d like to hear more about.  Responses will be used to guide our preparation for Wednesday’s webinar as well as for future programs.  You can click here to take part in this survey.

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