Over the past week, I’ve been thinking about the core nuts and bolts of what our children’s key psychological needs. What do they need to thrive?

I hear from a lot of parents who are worried that they aren’t doing enough of X or they are doing too much of Y. That their children are going to miss out on something or they are going to be damaged for the rest of their lives by something else. This is only being made worse by the pandemic and restrictions constantly changing.

So here is a post listing a few of the things that I think are key to meeting our children’s key psychological needs. The list is not exhaustive – I’d love to hear what else you think they need.

1. Connection (attention)

Can you think of a time that you felt like someone really understood what you were saying? A time when someone really saw you? Noticed something you’d done? Appreciated something small? What was that like for you?

How about a time when you really felt like you were connected with someone? What made that easier?

What kinds of things do you do that facilitate that feeling in your children? How do you spend time with them so that they feel noticed? Seen? Heard?

What clues do they give you that they’re feeling connected? How do they show you when they need connection?

Want to know more about how to connect? Follow the link!

2. Power

What does it feel like to you when you have no choice? When you are told you have to do something (even if it’s something you were going to do anyway)?

What does it feel like when you have too much choice? (I know, right, we can’t win!)

What kinds of things does your child like to have control over? Which are the things that they’re not that bothered about? Why do you think those ones are important for your child? Do any of them match the things you most want control over?

How do you know you’re in a power struggle? What does it feel like to walk away? What does it feel like to stay and continue the battle?

Do you ever feel empowered by giving other people power and choice or do you feel like you’ve lost your own power?

What kinds of things do you do that give your child a sense of ownership and control in their lives? What do you do to make sure they don’t feel overwhelmed by this? (I imagine you do it without even thinking about it!)

More thoughts on power, choice and consent here.

3. Boundaries

What does the word ‘boundaries’ mean for you? Do they seem fair or do they seem mean?

What do you find it easy to put boundaries around? What do you find much harder? Why do you think that is?

Which are the boundaries that make you angry when they are crossed? What’s your experience of having those boundaries crossed in the past? What do you need when you feel that feeling?

What gives you the strength to put boundaries in place? Where does your courage come from?

How do your children respond to clear boundaries? How does that make you feel? What do you do in response to that? Is that something that works for you all in the long run? (It might well be – I don’t know!)

Take a look at what healthy, helpful boundaries look like here.

4. Space – Both literal and metaphorical.

Do you ever feel like you just need more space, like everything is too cramped and there’s not enough room to move? Have you ever felt like you are over-scheduled? Like you’re too busy?

What does it feel like to have freedom to move? To choose? To do nothing? Do any of those things feel uncomfortable? Why do you think that is?

What are your beliefs around doing ‘nothing’? What does it feel like to be unscheduled? Can you enjoy it or does it make you feel anxious?

How do you make sure your child has enough space to grow and flourish? What does it feel like to give them space? What feelings come up for you when you do?

Learn more about giving your child space here.

5. Permission to feel

Which are the safe feelings for you? What feelings do you find harder to manage? How about in your child?

When your child shows big feelings, what is your first reaction? What would it be like to accept those feelings and not try to change them? How would it look to soothe those feelings, rather than stop them?

Think about the feelings that you struggle with in your child (we all have some!). When you have those feelings, what tends to be the root of them? What do you need when you are feeling that way?

If space is an answer, how can you give space while remaining present?

When your child is showing feelings you find challenging, what do you need to help yourself through? What keeps you calm?

Our anxiety guide can be really helpful for thinking about big feelings and making sense of them, click here to access it

Find our more about giving permission to feel here.

6. Time in nature

Are you a nature lover? Or would you rather spend time inside? What’s it like for you if you don’t go outside at all? (We’ve all had some real experience of that recently!)

When you’re outside, how do you feel? What weather do you like? Is there any weather you hate? Why is that? What would help you enjoy the weather you hate more?

What kind of natural surroundings make you feel most comfortable? Do you prefer a beach or a mountain or a park or a field or a woods or a rainforest? What is it about them that you love? Is there anything about the others that you hate?

What kinds of things do you like to do outside with your child? What does your child enjoy about being outside?

More thoughts on how to spend time in nature here.

7. Play

What does play look like for you? Can you remember a time you figured something out just by playing around with things? How did that feel? Where does your creativity come out? Are you competitive? Really? How do you feel when you play structured games? How does free play feel to you?

What kind of things does your child do to play at the moment? What do you think they are learning? Are they practising anything?

Do you enjoy playing with your child? Which things do you enjoy? Which things do you find harder? (You don’t have to do the hard things! Play is made to be fun).

Playing with play here.

8. Touch

What does safe touch feel like to you? How do you facilitate touch with your child? What shows you that they enjoy it? Is there any kind of touch that they don’t like?

What’s it like for you when you get that cuddle you really need? Have you had a cuddle recently? Do you remember snuggling with your baby when they were young? How did that feel? As they got older, how has your touch changed? Do you think they would benefit from more safe physical affection?

I am in the process of writing about how to facilitate touch with your children. In the meantime, take a look at this article, which summarises the research brilliantly.

And, as if that wasn’t enough. All of this needs to be done with an attitude of kindness, acceptance and patience.

What helps you to stay patient, kind and accepting? What makes it really difficult?

Are there things that you find easier to accept than others? How about certain situations that you’re more likely to accept some thing than others? And patience?

What is your experience of having someone be kind to you when you are angry? Of having someone be patient with you when you are getting frustrated? How does it feel to receive warmth and kindness, even when you are behaving in ways that seem inconvenient?

What do you find both comfortable and motivating? When someone is warm, kind and encouraging or when someone is angry, shouting and punishing? How about between warm, kind and encouraging and being given rewards?

Wow, that’s a lot! And not something that anyone is ever going to achieve every day. It’s probably not something that anyone is ever going to achieve in one day for the whole day, anyway.

This is a philosophy, not a decree. Something to hold onto as guidance. To take what helps and drop what doesn’t.

And, when it all goes wrong (which it will, a lot because we are human and we have our own histories and needs), take a look at these posts.

Reflective Parenting

  • What came up for you as you read this?
  • Which things are you doing well?
  • What feels easy?
  • What’s harder?
  • When you read the harder ones, what did you think? How did you feel?
  • Do you have any memories that affect your thoughts around these points?