Learning to Respect Everyone’s Needs
During my third trimester of pregnancy, our 3.5 year old had a renewed bout of separation anxiety. We were able to successfully address it by focusing on three areas: learning to respect everyone’s needs, providing reassurance, and dealing with our own anxiety. Today I’m sharing how we talked with Kieran about needs (read the first part of this story here). Also, be sure to check out 13 Ideas to Gently Manage Separation Anxiety over at Natural Parents Network for more tips.
Learning to Respect Everyone’s Needs
Parents who practice attachment/natural parenting often make their children’s needs a higher priority than their own – to their own detriment. Tom and I are guilty of that at times, and we were hoping to fulfill one of our needs – spending quality time together as a couple – before our second child was born. Kieran had been going through a renewed bout of separation anxiety and adamantly refused to be left with a close family friend so that Tom and I could go on a date. Tom and I were frustrated; we felt like Kieran was disconnected from considering anyone else’s needs but his own.
A week prior to our scheduled date night, we started gently introducing the idea to Kieran. Initially he responded in the way he had been – shutting down, saying “no,” and walking away. When that happened, we would gently let him know that we could see his discomfort and we wanted to help him through it, but we also asked him to understand that mama and papa have things that they wanted to do too, and we asked him to work toward a compromise with us.
Eventually he stopped shutting down and started to get sad and argue with us. He told us he was scared and that he did not like to stay anywhere without us. Again we addressed his needs (wanting to feel safe, feeling more comfortable with a parent) and our needs (we wanted to spend time together as a couple). He acknowledged that it makes him feel good when we take care of his needs, and he also recognized that it is important for families to help each other meet everyone’s needs.
Finally, he did agree to give date night a try, although there were many tears shed in the process.
Wisdom from Amy of Peace 4 Parents
Separation anxiety speaks to feeling a sense of anxiety when either pondering or experiencing the reality of being separated from a source of well-being. For kids, this often mean parents. It can also mean other loving caregivers, special toys, or really intriguing experiences. As parents we can get our minds all wrapped up in how to avoid this anxiety. While working to honor the needs of the child may sometimes include avoiding separation all together, it can also be helpful to work through the anxiety by learning to respect everyone’s needs.
You can start exploring how to respect everyone’s needs by figuring out what you and your child’s non-negotiable needs really are. By non-negotiable needs I mean those, which when fulfilled, honor your innermost values. For you, this may be some time to yourself or with your partner. It may also include knowing your child is in safe hands. For your child it may be a loving caregiver who can be with him compassionately as he expresses sadness at your separation and provides fun activities when he’s ready.
Getting to know ourselves a little deeper helps open the space to respect our own needs, as well as our child’s. Asking yourself simple questions through inquiry is a straightforward way to start the process that may also be helpful. Through using the information we learn about ourselves, we can more fully model the ability to respect our needs, which provides a real life example to our children of self-respect and self-care.
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