I always think that very little children (like mine - five and under) do not always know what they really need. Sometimes they are extremely tired or hungry and, as their mother, I know why they are crying and try to meet that need, but they insist they don't feel sleepy or hungry and sometimes I have to force them to sleep or eat, and five minutes later, they are completely happy (obviously) because their need was met. What do you do in a situation like this? (Question submitted via email)
I understand what you mean when you say that sometimes the youngest of our children don't always seem to "know" what they need. As our babies grow and develop, they become more aware of their surroundings and have boundless curiosity. As parents, we set healthy boundaries for them because we don't want them to get hurt. We learn what their abilities are as they develop and know what our kids can and can't do as we stay tuned into our kids needs. Along with our children's growing curiosities sometimes comes a resistance to transitions from one thing to another. Our little ones get so tuned in to what they are doing that they really don't want to stop, no matter how tired or hungry they are. I understand that you would like a better solution than to have to push past your children's resistance and create struggle in order to see that your children's physical needs are met too.
I would say though that your kids do know what they need. They may not know how to communicate it well yet or they are learning to ignore their own signals of what they need. (See my previous post, Can your kids learn to self-regulate?, for more elaboration on that.) They need encouragement and guidance in figuring out how to do that. This is done not solely through words but through interaction. If you notice that your child hasn't eaten in several hours and tells you that they aren't hungry, is it possible that they just don't want to stop to eat? Is it possible to offer them something to eat while they are doing whatever it is they are doing? Since you are tuned in to your child and notice they are getting overtired, is there a way to offer a gentle transition from what they are doing to something calmer such as reading a book together? Or going for a walk outside?
Without knowing anything about your lifestyle or how you interact with your kids, all I can share beyond that is how I do it. I have always approached parenting from a place of respect. While I may see the big picture in the moment - they haven't eaten in several hours, they are way into what they are doing, they don't want to stop for anything, etc. - just because my child isn't thinking ahead or paying close attention to how they feel, does not mean I have to step in and force them to meet their need "for their own good." There is some middle ground here. My own approach is to not let it get to the point where they are so overtired or hungry that they are crying. I offer them snacks and have food available for them to eat when they want it. If they don't notice it, I periodically suggest it and let them know what there is to eat.
As far as my kids' level of tiredness, I am all about prevention. My youngest is 5 and I can't even remember the last time she, or any of her older siblings for that matter, got so tired to the point where they were crying. I have always approached sleep based on each of my children's individual needs and personality. I don't make a habit of telling my kids what they need or what they "should" do. I talk to them about how they are feeling, or what I am observing about them; if they are old enough to be verbal. I interact with them in ways that will help them relax and want to sleep. I also held them a lot when they were little so they would be more relaxed and would fall asleep when they needed to.
The only other thing I can share without getting more information from you is this: If one of your kids have gotten to the point where they are crying because they have a physical need that hasn't been met, and they haven't been in tune with themselves enough to ask it to be met, try consoling them before you try to meet their need. Once consoled, talk about how you both, in partnership, can meet what their need is. When your child is calmer, it will be much easier for the both of you.
Photo Credit - Chirag Rathod
As a Parent Coach and Mentor, my passion lies in empowering parents to make the best decisions they can for their children and their families as a whole. As a well-trained coach, I can be your facilitator and accountability partner for long-lasting, meaningful change that has a permanent, positive impact for your family. By focusing on the values that you hold most important in your life, I can help you create and maintain the type of parenting relationship you want to have with your children, now and into their adulthood.
I am a homeschooling mom of four children in Massachusetts. I am also the author of a book called The Herbal Beverage Book, which can be found on amazon. When not coaching, writing or spending time with the family, I enjoy Hayao Miyazaki films, new and classic Dr. Who episodes, anything related to American history and a great glass of mead.
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