It was a standard sunny summer afternoon. I’d pulled up at school to pick up my kids and my son, who was six at the time, came running towards my car. My son is the kind of kid that goes with the flow, so I was surprised when he swung open the door and announced, “Mum! I need a playdate.”
I paused for a moment, then said, “It’s 3.15pm. Do you see any mums around? It’s not going to happen today buddy.” He slammed the door. A very sad version of my son folded his arms and slouched in his seat. He looked out the window and refused to make eye contact with me. I thought a swim with his sisters might snap him out of his mood and make up for the missed playdate, because my son loves the water. Once we got home, we went off to the pool.
Identifying unmet needs
As soon as he got into the pool he started angrily splashing his sisters, and I stood on the side feeling stuck. What was wrong with him? Next to me, a friend’s daughters played sweetly together. A sense of shame crept up on me as I watched my son pushing water towards his sisters, who were less than impressed with their brother. If I’m really honest, all I wanted to do was to get him out of the pool and yell at him.
Something stopped me – I’d recently done a programme called ‘Circle of Security’. It’s an attachment based parenting programme that teaches parents how to identify and meet the needs of their children, in a circle. I’d learned about the importance of looking beyond a child acting out and instead working out what unmet need might be behind it. As I watched my son splashing around, I wondered, ‘what is his unmet need?’
Understanding unmet needs
I miraculously managed to get my son out of the pool. Once we got him home, I went into his room and in the calmest tone I could muster, I said, “Buddy, that behaviour in the pool wasn’t like you. Are you ok?” He answered me with a quick “No.” So I asked another question, “Did something happen at school today?” to which he responded with an even shorter “No.” I tried one last time, asking “Well, what’s going on?”
My boy took a deep breath and burst into tears. He sobbed, and sobbed, and sobbed. Once he caught his breath and found his voice, he said, “I need a brother! I need a boy to play with.”
I gathered him into my arms, and while I couldn’t promise him a baby brother, I could meet him in understanding a deep unmet need that he had. He wanted to hang out with boys. In a family of three girls and one boy, he was missing being able to rough and tumble with boys.
Circle of Security programme
So often, the behaviour we see on top is only a glimpse of what lies beneath. If all I’d done was challenge his behaviour in the pool, I would’ve missed an opportunity to understand a real need that he had. From there, I’ve tried to be intentional about organising regular playdates with boys, and I’ve encouraged my husband to increase boyish play.
Learning the Circle of Security has changed my parenting in a way that values a deeper connection with my children, which in turn has made them feel more secure.
You can join Sheridan in learning about the Circle of Security. Parenting Place is offering the Circle of Security training from May 7. Click here to register.