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A-Simple-Guide-to-Meeting-your-Child-s-Needs

A Simple Guide To Meeting Your Child’s Needs

Parenting is challenging. That’s a given. With the time-poor, stressed-out society we live in today, parenting is even more challenging than for other generations. With work, chores and activities, it's easy to get caught up in the daily grind, so that we have little or no time to spend with our kids in a meaningful way. The result? Bad behaviour, sibling rivalry and general unrest in the home.

So, just how much one-to-one time do children need to grow up happy and healthy, and what is too little? 

“Finding one-to-one time when there are two working parents in the house is difficult, and we forget the impact this has on a child” suggests Sheila O’Malley, one of Ireland’s leading parenting experts and founder of Practical Parenting. The answer, however, is a lot more simple and more doable than you would imagine, with Sheila suggesting that a mere ten minutes of undivided attention every day is enough to meet a child’s needs. 

 “Most parents think they need to be spending at least 45 minutes a day on one-to-one time with their children, but all a child needs to feel loved, valued and secure is eight minutes of a parent’s undivided one-on-one attention every day.” 

Sheila believes that giving each of your children this type of attention for an allocated amount of time every day is one of the best ways of ensuring a happy child, and consequently better behaviour and a happier, calmer home. 

“For many parents, when they see challenging behaviour, they go in with their punishments, which never work in long term. All punishment does is leaves the child feeling worse. We need to separate children from their behaviours. Children are never trying to be difficult, what they are doing is trying to show you what a difficult time it is for them. Give the time, give the attention, and the rest will follow.” 

Sheila firmly believes that when you see a child struggling with challenging behaviour, the number one response should always be compassion. “We focus too much on the behaviour, but what are the feelings behind the behaviour? Is the child having poor feelings about themselves? Are they feeling not sure that they are loved as much as their brother or sister? The only way that children have of coping is to use behaviour to draw attention to the issue. As parents, we need to remember that they’re communicating the need. When we meet the need, they don't need the behaviour.” 

Bad news for the naughty step? ‘Time out’, or the naughty step, is, says Sheila, the perfect example of giving the wrong kind of attention for bad behavior.  “I think it was Super Nanny who came up with the concept of the naughty step. When your child is misbehaving, you come in and say, ‘that will be two minutes on the naughty step’, then when the behaviour continues, you go, ‘that will be three minutes on the naughty step’ and the parent is getting increasingly frustrated. Invariably, some poor toddler is dragged out to the naughty step and I often ask, ‘how does that child feel?’ and invariably, the answer is confused rejected, upset, angry, unloved.” 

According to Sheila, when a child is misbehaving, it is, in fact, his or her parents that need some time out. “The child doesn’t need time out, the child needs what I call ‘time in’ to the feeling that underlies the behaviour. That might mean that you put the child in a chair quietly, put a blanket around them, and say, ‘take it easy pet, you seem upset’. I believe all the child needs is a hug,  - they certainly need you to soothe them and for you to be calm, because the calmer you are, the calmer they are.” 

Sheila also believes that this approach is the number one cure for sibling rivalry. “You can imagine if my husband came home and said, ‘I loved you so much I decided to go out and get another one’. Kids can easily believe that their mom loves their sibling more, or they think their mom doesn’t love them. We must remember that, with all bad behaviour, the child is communicating a need… and as a parent, It’s up to us to fulfill that need.”

Through Practical Parenting, Sheila offers One-to-One Parent Support, Parenting Courses and
Parenting Talks.

Find out more on www.practicalparenting.ie.


About the Author

Jo Lavelle is a freelance editor and journalist with 12 years experience in the magazine, newspaper and radio industry. During her magazine career, she was style and beauty editor, before going to be editor of a magazine group. She was also a news writer and reporter for both newspapers and radio, in addition to feature writing for the press. She’s mum to 18 month old Elise, and has another on the way!

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