What would you do in this situation?
You get a call from your school that your 9-year-old has gotten in trouble for lying. The pencils in the classroom have been going missing at an alarming rate, and the teacher has told the students again and again that they need to leave them in the classroom when they leave. Yesterday, your child was seen by the teacher putting a school pencil in their backpack, and when the teacher asked them if they had it, they said no. Your child was sent to the principal’s office and required to do classroom cleanup on a Saturday.
As you ponder this question, let’s talk about needs. You have needs. I have needs. Kids have needs. And guess what? They are all the same needs.
In addition to physical safety, we all have 3 psychological needs.
Connection - the feeling of belonging, loving, and being loved
Autonomy - the belief that we make the decisions that govern our own lives
And Mastery - the experience of getting better and better at something.
Together they create a sense of psychological safety, confidence, independence, and healthy relationships.
When all of these needs are met, we and our children are automatically motivated to explore, learn, and create.
If any one of these needs goes unmet, our energies shift to doing whatever we can to meet that need, whether or not it seems rational or healthy. When a child cannot get any one of these needs met, or worse, has to sacrifice one need to get the other, it can damage their innate motivation and self-confidence and directly affect their behavior and relationships.
Common ways adults undermine kids’ core needs
In this 3 part series, I share common ways adults undermine kids’ needs. Over the last two weeks, I’ve talked about Mastery and Autonomy. In this article, I’m going to talk about Connection.
In short, we all need people. We need to love and feel loved.
Connection is arguably the most important of psychological needs.
Connection or ‘Relatedness’ is the feeling of belonging and being important to others.
Simply, we all need to feel like we're part of a group or community, and that we matter to the people around us.
Chronic lack of connection can lead to a state of depression, even illness.
Connection is also the need that kids (and adults) will typically prioritize at the cost of the first two. There are a number of theories about why this is but know that your kids will do just about anything to have this feeling of connection and positive regard from you.
Before I share common connection killers, I want you to know that I have made most of these mistakes myself, even after I knew not to. Sometimes, it went so against how I was raised I just didn’t trust it, and other times even though I wanted to, it just felt impossible to stop.
Wherever you are on this journey, and whatever mistakes you make along the way, the fact that you are here says a lot about you. Parenting and the lessons we learn along that way can be the greatest catalyst of personal transformation we will know and watching your evolution, your growth, and how you recover and adapt may be a more powerful lesson to your child than always getting it right.
Connection Killer #1: Punishment.
Don’t punish your kids. Ever. Seriously. You are the person your kid needs to be able to go to, to talk to, to trust when times get tough. If they think you are intentionally causing them to suffer (which is what punishment is), this builds a very conflicted set of messages about how their loved ones can treat them.
There are oodles of resources in the positive parenting movement so I won’t spend time repeating them here. Let me just say that most actions already hold innate consequences. You do not need to make them up. Nor (as I said in the video on Mastery) do you need to rescue your child from them. Yes, there are boundaries and hard lines, and your child will cross them but the goal is for them to learn from their experience, not to suffer.
I also want to tell you something you may not have read elsewhere—if you were raised in a punitive environment, positive parenting may feel impossible to put into practice, even if you know it’s the way you want to go. Partners, other family members, and other parents may all expect you to handle things punitively and the myth of the spoiled child is still alive and well.
But the hardest part is that the blueprint you have to work with is most likely the one you were raised with and in this case without rewiring your brain and automatic responses you may not be able to get as far as you want. If this is the case, give yourself grace, apologize when you mess up, acknowledge your mistakes, and just keep trying. You will still make progress and this alone is a powerful thing for a child to witness.
Connection Killer #2: Not having their back.
At the start of this article, I asked what you would do if your child was punished for an act that was witnessed but they denied doing it.
Even if your child committed the act, if they tell you they didn’t, the most connecting thing you can do is to take your child’s side. They have already gotten a consequence – they know what will happen and without you doing anything, they will have learned. You do not need to reinforce it. But now your kid knows that when things get tough, even when they mess up, no matter how bad, they can come to you and ask for guidance and support.
The first thing to check in on is how they are feeling about what happened. Then whatever they say, even if you know there is probably more to the story than meets the eye (and there always is), agree with them. Then find out what is going to be most supportive for them. Your support can look like anything from sympathy (‘wow, that sucks, I’m so sorry) to righteous indignation, (‘that was excessive, and I would like to talk to the teacher about why they reacted so strongly. Are you ok with that?). If they feel complicit, they will most likely tell you it’s not necessary. And if they do want that it gives you an opportunity to demonstrate kindness, curiosity, and respectful conversation when you ask for the other person’s side of the story.
And if it comes out that they did something, most likely they will be the one to tell you, you can try to understand why they felt like they needed to do it in the first place. Was it a simple mistake or was there something else, like some secret underground school supply crime racket forcing kids everywhere to steal pencils? Hey, you never know until you ask. Anyway, you get my point.
So, do any of these look familiar?
Do you recognize any of this in the way you were parented?
Chances are, you may find some items on this list anywhere from surprising to challenging.
Which ones impacted you most and how?
Share in the comments anything you would like to understand better, challenge, support, or are unsure how to apply to your current situation.
Thanks for reading.
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