More Peaceful Parenting Step 2. Identify the need.




Thank you for your encouragement along this journey. We've begun our work in Step 1 with how we treat ourselves (as well as how we see our own parents). Beginning with self-love and forgiveness is an important step towards becoming more effective parents. I hope you've spent some time this week treating yourself with forgiveness and love. Keep at that list from time to time. It's important work to truly appreciate ourselves and who we are in our hearts.

The next nine steps (including today's post) will be simple concepts that you can integrate in your day-to-day experience with your child. They will not be homework-based or something you do when you are alone. They are in-the-moment changes to the way you think or speak. With some determination and focus they will become a part of how you engage with your family. Each week we'll add more tools to help you create more peaceful connection with your child and slowly you'll build a whole new skill set and with it a new relationship.

Each week I will try to also provide you with an additional resource for those who want to go further with their learning. This week I encourage you to pick up a copy of Raising our Children Raising Ourselves from your library or bookstore. If you want to move a little faster than this 10 step series will take you, this is an excellent place to start. This well written book transformed our home from one with frequent conflict to one with deep connection. I can't say enough about it. I use what I read here every single day.

No, onto step 2!

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Identify the Need Behind the Behavior

Non-violent communication (NVC) is about building relationships on connection rather than coercion. When applied to your relationship with your children, NVC is the foundation of becoming more peaceful parents. NVC is about listening with empathy and speaking your own truth with honesty and love.

At its core, NVC is based on the very important understanding that behind every behavior is a need. Any parent who's been in line at the grocery with a toddler at nap-time has lived this first hand. The expression (the check-out-meltdown) is the expression of a need (in this example the need is for sleep.) They are basic needs that we all share. Like the need for food. For play. For comfort. For love. For quiet. For belonging. For compassion. For rest.

When a person (child or adult) acts out that behavior is the expression of an unmet need. And if you as the parent work to see the need beneath the expression you can address it (along with the behavior). (Personally I would attest that addressing the need is a much more effective strategy than addressing the behavior. Sometimes both are needed, but often times simply just addressing the need is enough.)

A complete list of basic needs can be found here. For the sake of simplicity, I have pulled out a shortened list of needs that your children may be expressing.

  • Belonging
  • Empathy
  • Inclusion
  • Love
  • Nurturing
  • Respect
  • Safety
  • To be understood
  • Trust
  • Food
  • Rest or Sleep
  • Exercise or movement
  • Play
  • Choice
  • Freedom
  • Independence
  • Participation
  • To matter

The next time you are in a parenting struggle, instead of saying "Hey! You can't hit me!" or "Sit down until you are excused from the table." or "Don't talk back, young man." pause for a moment, take a breath, and ask yourself:

What is the need my child is expressing?

Because knowing the need might dramatically shift how you address the behavior. 

To identify the unfulfilled need, consider what else is going on in your child's moment, day, week, or life. Is she hungry, tired, scared, or ashamed? Did he have a hard day at school or home? Is she struggling with fitting in or succeeding at what she tried to accomplish? Dig deeper than the expression of the moment.

That's all we are working on this week. Learning to see the need our child is expressing. This important perspective shift can help you focus on the needs of your child rather than just the expression of that need.

I'd love to hear your thoughts now, as well as your experiences are after you've had some time to practice. Have a blessed weekend, friends.




15 thoughts on “More Peaceful Parenting Step 2. Identify the need.

  1. Susie says:

    Thanks Rachel. This very thought has been bumbling around my head this week as my four year old is very angry at the moment. Hmmm. It’s a toughie…

  2. Cassandra says:

    For the most part I’m going to keep my mouth shut about this one. I understand the concept of needs thoroughly (and it really does take work to remember that!) but the applications are a little more complicated, in my opinion. Definitely just going to wait to see the rest.

    I’ve not read Raising Our Children Raising Ourselves, but I have read Unconditional Parenting and pretty much agree with it entirely. Wonder how they compare in philosophy and application?

  3. Rachel Wolf says:

    Thanks for your note, Cassandra. I think that many of us are starting at a point of not yet being aware of the need. I remember Sage kicking Pete when he was small and our response was Dont kick. It hurts. But when I started looking for the need we came to a realization that there was something very different going on that had nothing to do with Petes shin. Its a starting point. Well get to application in future weeks. I want to go in tiny bites for the time being…

  4. Tameka says:

    thanks for referring the book. i just ordered it and look forward to reading it, learning from it, and applying it.

  5. Gem says:

    Thanks, Rachel. My daughter is only seven months old, so I feel at this point that most of our interaction is about her expressing, and me identifying, her immediate needs. It has been a journey that has led me to acquiring more patience than I thought I would ever possess as I have learned the nuances of her expressions. When I am in tune with her, when we are at our best, she is such a happy baby. No need to fuss or cry, just ready to explore new things and take on the world. This post helped remind what an important task that I perform each day in this dance with my daughter. And as she learns more communication skills, that part of my role will continue to be ‘reading’ her cues in this way.
    Also, I really appreciate simple affirmations or statements we can use to help us change patterns in our behaviours. I find them very useful, personally. One I use when I feel exhausted and at the end of my energy reserve, but Bee still needs me is to remind myself (out loud) that I am the only person who can fulfill her need in that moment. It helps me dig deep to find what I need to help her and give her just a little more.
    Thank you for helping me to think about my mothering more deeply.

  6. Jennie D says:

    Love this series. I didn’t comment on the last post but I have been following along…
    I have found I need to constantly remind myself to identify the need. When my boys were babies this was easy but now at three and five years of age, I live in a world that constantly tells me my children are “manipulating” me when they “misbehave”.

    Yesterday my older son was at school and the school nurse called and told me he had been to her twice today, didn’t have a fever, complained of a stomach ache and when pressed further he said he was homesick. She said she would leave it up to me whether or not I felt like he was actually sick and needed to go home. I immediately went and brought him home. I admit, he came home, announced he was feeling better, played with his little brother, ate a large lunch, and asked to play computer games. I had moments of doubt. What was his need? Was he truly just homesick? Why had this never happened before? Did something at school upset him? (A friend told me to be hard on him so this wouldn’t happen again. Ugh.) I was just present with him and a few hours later, seemingly out of nowhere, my son started vomiting everywhere. 🙁

    Yet, even if he hadn’t caught a stomach virus, there was still a need behind his behavior. Kids aren’t “bad”. At five years old my son talks and seems to communicate very well but he is not an adult. He often doesn’t have the words to adequately express his feelings. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. Kari Cadenhead says:

    This has been something I’ve really tried to keep in mind with my son since he was born, which hasn’t made things easier per se (he still does all the things a baby/toddler does!), but at least I was able to be more present in situations where he was ‘acting out’ than if I had never learned this. But as he’s getting older it’s getting harder to see the need in the moment. Or I see the need (as in trying to get dressed in the morning… choice? Freedom?) But can’t figure out a solution that calms him down short of just sitting and rocking him, all while feeling exasperated and not quite sure how to handle the fits of rage he’s experiencing while still trying to go about our daily lives. I’m looking forward to reading more and am downloading the book now. Thanks for this 🙂

  8. Melanie B. says:

    Just wanted to let you know, you are not alone, I have a four year old who is going thru an angry & easily frustrated stage right now. Hopefully I can learn something too…

  9. Nettie Black says:

    Golly, I sure struggled with trying to figure this out while we were at the beach these past few days… Meltdowns left and right made for one exhausted feeling like I need a vacation from our vacation Mama. Just when I thought I figured it out (i.e. sand in shoes and tent) and we were able to move on, another meltdown ensued.

  10. Julia says:

    i stumbled upon this series of posts last night and have been thinking about them all day. identifying the need is something i think about often and sometimes it can be really hard. when we added another child to our family, our oldest benjamin had all kinds of new behaviors, including aggression towards his sister. i didn’t have the parenting tools that i needed at the time to deal with the situation (it was so new to me) and found myself (over reacting every time benjamin became aggressive towards me or his sister. i finally started noticing what had happened right before the “bad’ behavior set in and almost every time i’d diverted my attention from something fun we were doing together to something that i needed to do for his little sister (like change her diaper). once i realized what set the behavior in motion, i was able to validate his hurt feelings and – like you said – that really helped diffuse the tension/anxiety that benjamin was feeling. i think things really shifted for me when i learned to stop, not react, pay attention and assess and then validate. it still takes a tremendous amount of will power to not fall into saying, it’s okay” or totally freaking out (to be honest) when he wants to hurt his little sister. we’re getting there, though, with patience as i try to remember that behind his anger is a very hurt little boy.

    btw, i love how validating helped sage even when your assessment wasn’t what he was feeling. such an encouraging example – thank you!

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