In a previous post, I wrote that behavior is communication. Whatever behaviors we choose, it seems to us to be the best way to get our needs met. Psychologist William Glasser came up with a list of 6 basic needs that every human seeks to have met. I know every philosopher and psychologist has their own list, so bear with me, you may have your own list, this is the one I like.
These basic needs are:
If you are not getting your basic physical needs met, then your need for survival will surpass all the other needs and they will not matter until your need for survival is met.
So, assuming the need for survival is met, then each person has varying degrees of how much of the other needs they require to have a fulfilled life. The amount of each need we require will fluctuate according to our age and circumstances and personality. You may find at some point in your life you have a high need for power, and at other times you may find that you need freedom more than power.
Look at that list and think about which of those needs are most important to you. You should be able to recognize that one or two of those needs are very important to you, and you may even be willing to give up some of one need in order to get more of another need.
Look again at that list and think about your child. What needs do you think are important to him?
Think about your relationship with your child through the lens of your needs and his needs. Each one of you is trying to get your own needs met. Your behaviors are a way to meet those needs. Most likely when there is friction in the relationship, one or both of you are trying to meet those needs through external control. External control means you are using controlling behaviors like criticizing, blaming, complaining and nagging to try to get the other person to meet your needs. The friction happens when that controlling behavior contradicts what the other person needs.
It is so important as parents to pause and look past the behaviors and see what your child needs right now. When we understand that we are making choices to meet a need, we can understand that the other person in a relationship is also trying to meet a need. To get along in a relationship, whether it is parent/child or any other close relationship, the external control has to stop, and you must find a way to negotiate your needs. That may sound rational in an adult relationship, but hard to conceive in a parent/child relationship. But it can be done when a parent keeps in mind that what he wants out of his relationship with the child is ultimately a connection and he can negotiate his own power when possible to help the child meet his own needs of power, or freedom or fun. When we are able to stop controlling someone else, the amazing thing is that we gain control and we have a stronger connection with that person.
Practically speaking, negotiating your needs and your child’s needs could look like this:
Parent of teen: “You want to go to this party (fun, belonging, freedom), and I want to make sure you are safe (love and power). How can we both get our needs met here?”
Only bring to the discussion things that you are willing to negotiate, don’t say anything that the child should do. This brings the child to your side to help you solve the problem together without any judgement from either of you.
Parent of younger child: “You want to watch TV (fun) and I want these chores done (power), what can we do to solve this so that we are both happy?”
It will take a lot of creativity and negotiation on both sides, but ultimately, you are bonding with your child, keeping communication open and you are also teaching him great self-honoring decision-making skills that will benefit him throughout his life.
References: Glasser, William (1998). Choice Theory. Harper Collins, New York, NY.
The Gottman Institute: https://www.gottman.com/parents/