The things our children need to be happy and to become well-adjusted, responsible citizens aren’t necessarily the things we think they need – or what they tell us they need. So what do they need most?
Safety and security:
You may be thinking a roof over their head, food on the table, a warm bed to sleep in, and clean clothes to wear. Those are important when they’re young, but become increasingly less important as they grow.
What I’m talking about is feeling safe and secure with us. I’m talking about being the kind of people that our children can look up to and lean on and depend on. I’m talking about being trustworthy and reliable.
So what does this look like?
Children need to know that we’re in charge – not that we’re micromanaging their lives, but that we’re in control of ourselves. They need to know we’re calmly and confidently in charge so they can see that life isn’t too much to handle. And they need to know that they aren’t too much for us to handle. Otherwise, what hope is there for them?
They also need to observe us going about our day because this is how they learn. What do they learn by watching us? They learn what our values are. They learn how to make a bed, how to cook, how to pay bills, how to drive a car, how to interact with others. They learn how to be happy, well-adjusted, responsible citizens. If they don’t see it, they’ll never know how to do it.
Our children also need a deep and meaningful connection with us – attachment. They need to know that they’re welcome to exist in our presence. They need a smile, a greeting when they walk in the room. They need to know we’re happy to see them and that we enjoy having them near us. As Gordon Neufeld points out, they must never have to work for our love. They must be able to rest in it.
They also need to know that we have things in common, that apart from our differences, there are things about us that are the same. Celebrate that sameness, whether it’s in food, music, movies, or books.
As the attachment deepens, they need to know that we’re on their side and that they’re significant, that they matter, that their opinions count for something. Ask them what they think about a news story. Ask them to teach you how to do something.
Truly meaningful attachment comes from being known. It’s that sense of feeling so safe with someone, so connected with them that you want them to know everything about you.
Appearances to the contrary, you are the most important, most influential person in their lives. Peers may be fun to hang around with, but they can never provide the meaningful connection your kids can experience with you.
I’m talking about something much deeper than whether you can trust your son to tell you the truth or trust your daughter not to steal from you.
I’m talking about trusting them to be able to figure things out, to learn from their mistakes. I’m talking about trusting that they’ve been watching you all these years and learning from you – not from what you’ve said to them, but from what they’ve observed. I’m talking about trusting that they want to cooperate with you, that they want to contribute, to be part of the tribe.
Work on these three cornerstones, and you can change everything!
Want to know more about Choice Theory? My PDF booklet Who’s Driving YOUR Car? and handout Six Things: How to create healthy boundaries are now available for download on my website at www.sanerparenting.com/downloads/. And if you want to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I always welcome your comments and questions!