One of the greatest challenges I faced in early motherhood was simply not knowing what my babies needed. Sure, their cries would tell me they needed or wanted something, but they were just too small to tell me what. I remember my husband and I discussing how we couldn’t wait until they could talk and just tell us what they needed.
Of course, that time came as they got older, but I’ve learned our children still have plenty of needs which they don’t know how to voice. Maybe you’ve experienced this too. You ask your crying and frustrated child what the matter is and they reply, “I don’t know.” This can be very frustrating. Surely they know why they’re upset right? No. They sincerely do not always know. Understanding our emotional needs and then having the ability to communicate those needs effectively is a sign of maturity some adults haven’t even developed. Certainly, this is a challenge for a child.
So, to hopefully put some words to those feelings and answer your questions about their unspoken needs, here are 10 things your children need from you that they don’t always know to ask for.
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1. Your Touch
Sometimes your child just needs a hug. Research shows that physical touch releases certain hormones that help the body to relieve stress naturally. If your child is upset and can’t communicate why just yet, pull them in close and pat their back or rub their heads. This simple form of comfort can help them to calm down and better communicate. It also signals to them they are in a safe place with a safe person to communicate with.
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2. Your Attention
By attention, I mean your undivided attention. Undivided attention is one of the best gifts you can give a child. With busy schedules, lengthy to-do lists, and endless responsibilities, it seems we have no choice but to multitask.
It has become the norm to attempt to keep up with the demands of everyday life, all at the same time. What a powerful message it is that we send to our children when we pause everything, even for a few minutes, to get still, lean in, and allow them our full attention. This may look like listening to what happened at school, playing blocks, or taking a walk.
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3. Your Presence
One night years ago my one-year-old baby girl would not go to bed. She cried and cried, and I could not figure out why. I sat by her crib and asked if she needed to be changed, if she needed something to drink, or if she was hurting in any way. She responded “no” to all my questions. “What do you want then?” I asked exasperatedly. “Mommy” she simply answered. She just wanted her mommy. I took her out of the crib and held her. Within a few minutes, she was fast asleep. She didn’t want anything I could give her. She just wanted me.
Your child may not know how to put words to this desire, but they want you. They desire your presence. It’s easy to think of the physical, practical needs of our children. We make sure they eat healthily, participate in extracurricular activities, go to school, and have everything they need to flourish. We buy them toys, games, and entertainment to make sure they are happy. But the most significant thing our children will remember about this time in their life is whether we were present.
I can’t tell you all the Christmas presents I received as a child. I remember maybe a handful of them. But you know what I do remember? Going to the movies with my mom, dancing with my father at my debutant, and seeing them in the stands at my track meets. I remember these times more than the things they gave me because their presence mattered, even if I never asked for it.
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4. Your Mistakes
As we correct our children to help them grow into the men and women God’s called them to be, there is a clear focus on their behavior. It’s easy to simply tell them what to do and what not to do. It’s just as important, however, to be honest with them about our past mistakes. Our fear is if we admit how we’ve messed up, they may see it as an excuse to make the same mistake. The greater mistake is to act like we’re perfect. Share your mistakes and the consequences you faced and the lessons you’ve learned. Show that you don’t expect them to be perfect, but you have worked hard so they can be better.
5. Your Faith
I used to be concerned with not having enough alone time with God with little kids running around. In seasons like this, quiet time with God is important, but I’ve also seen the value in allowing my children to see me in prayer and devotional time. I want them to not only hear me tell them to have faith in God. I want them to see it in action. So pray with your kids, let them see you study the Bible, allow them to see you worship. Trust me – actions speak much louder than words.
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6. Your Trust
One of the things I’ll always remember my mom saying to me was “I believe you.” She trusted me, and I didn’t take that trust lightly. I knew how fragile trust was. For her to give me her trust made me want to live up to it. I know as parents, children can break our trust when they lie and make mistakes, and that trust needs to be earned back. But if you have a kid you can trust, then trust them. This is a fragile gift they do not want to lose.
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7. Your Grace
Our kids will miss the mark, just like we do. And just as much as they need our truth and discipline, they also need our grace. Grace to forgive, grace to give second chances, grace to not hold their past against them. Why? Because this is the exact same grace God offers us every single day.
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8. Your Interest
You may not like everything your child is into, but to take the time to show your interest speaks volumes. It shows you really care about who they are as a person. Read the books they like, check out a movie with them, and listen to their music. As you learn what they like, you’ll learn more about them, and every person wants to be known.
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9. Your Boundaries
Children certainly won’t ask for boundaries, but they want the security and balance boundaries bring. Boundaries mean setting healthy rules for your home to ensure everyone is treated with respect and care. To kids, doing whatever they like seems like a dream come true. That is until they get a stomach ache from eating candy all day or being unable to stay awake in class from staying up all night. The boundaries you set – whether a curfew or an age requirement before they start dating – they serve the purpose of protecting your children with the wisdom you have gained, which they have yet to develop. Will they like it? Many times they won’t. Will it protect them in the long run? Absolutely.
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10. Your Pride
Your child wants to know you are proud of them. Many times our children will do things to make us proud. Just the other night my daughter scored her first point in her local youth basketball game. My husband and I were so proud. But our kids also need to know we’re proud of them just because they are who they are – our special one-of-a-kind child.
Knowing what your children want is not always easy to comprehend. But God is ready to lead and guide us in His wisdom and power to help us along the way. He has entrusted our children to us to raise them in the way He has planned for them to go. Continue to seek Him, and He will show you the way.
Christina Patterson is a wife and stay-at-home mom with a passion to encourage women in the love of Jesus Christ and the truth of God’s Word. When she is not folding laundry or playing blocks you will find her with her head deep in her Bible or a commentary. She holds her masters in Theology from Liberty University and is the founder of Beloved Women, a non-profit providing resources and community for women to truly know who they are in Christ: His Beloved. She blogs at belovedwomen.org.
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Originally published Monday, 24 February 2020.