We all want our kids to have healthy relationships now and in the future, and one of the best ways to contribute to their success in this area is by helping them learn to communicate their needs to others in healthy ways. And the best way to teach them is to model it yourself.
Whether it’s a need for kids to help out around the house, a need for connection, or a need for a little time and space to yourself, parents have needs that they communicate to their kids every day. The way you communicate those needs can go a long way in teaching your kids how to manage their own needs, emotional or physical.
One way to communicate your needs is not to communicate your needs. We refer to this as being PASSIVE. This is where we wish for something to change, but never say anything. We wish that others would just know what we need or want from them without ever having to say anything. This method often results in frustration over the fact that our family members can’t read our mind. Usually, our needs to do not get met when we just keep them to ourselves, which may lead to resentment. Kids pick up on the idea that it’s not okay to voice their needs when you don’t voice yours.
Another way we attempt to get our needs met is by communicating them in manipulative ways. This is being PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE. We don’t ask for what we need directly, instead we use guilt or sarcasm or emotional manipulation to hint at it. Again, we send the message that it’s not okay to voice your needs, instead you must act out your feelings and desires. This can lead to a family dynamic where everyone is making assumptions about what everyone else wants or needs based on small clues and behaviors. It often leads to frustration over unmet needs or aggravation over trying to figure everyone out.
At times we resort to demanding, attacking, or threatening to get what we need. Accusations, yelling, and blame are common with an AGGRESSIVE style of trying to get needs met. We provoke or push to try to force another to meet our needs. This leads to either defensiveness, stonewalling, or resentfulness from the other, and may or may not get us what we need or want. It creates distance in the relationship.
Ideally, we are teaching our kids to recognize their own needs and to ask for what they need directly and respectfully. We are teaching them to be ASSERTIVE when we model this. This may require some degree of vulnerability, which is an aspect of a healthy relationship. Vulnerability leads to being known and connecting with another. We avoid it due to our fears of rejection. But when we teach our kids that it is safe to ask for what you need, when we model it, and when we respond to their needs when they are assertive and vulnerable, we are creating a healthy dynamic for relating to others.
Kids learn confidence and risk-taking when they learn to identify and assertively communicate their needs. These skills will be an asset to them as they relate to others in their future careers, families, and friendships. No matter your temperament or your child’s, we can all learn to manage our needs in assertive ways, which leads to better relationships overall.
By Angie Sumrall, MA LPC, Therapist at Thriveworks Marietta