We are “wired” to connect at the needs’ level By Magdalini Agrafioti, M.A. (psy) #WellbeingWednesday

Let me give a short story. The mother of an 8 year old with learning difficulties watched him play a video game. She felt worried that he may not get his school work done. Her previous attempts to prod him to do his work had failed. I asked her what it is like for her when she sees her son dawdling and not doing his school work. She sighed and said “you know I am exasperated. I fight with him and I do not like that. I want to get along with my boy and don’t know how to get him to do his school work without fighting:” I asked her if she believes her son wants to succeed in school like she does. She replied “I am sure he does”. So this time we role played the same scenario in a different way:

Mother: “I see you want to have some fun” (she tried to guess his need or wish at the time). Son: “no, I am not having fun”. (What a surprise to mom!) Mother makes a second guess: “you feel kind of… not sure how to start your school work?” His face lit up with a recognition reflex. “ya mom, I do not know how to do it”. Mother: “do you want me to help you with that?” “Yes, mom please help me”. The boy was more than happy to receive her help. Mom was surprised again, she was not used to get cooperation so quickly.

What did she do that was effective?

The most basic change was that she chose not to focus on his behavior as a problem. The steps of her effectiveness were the following:

First she checked how she felt and what she thought since feelings and thoughts usually go together: worried and exasperated while thinking that he may not do his school work in the future also. She had an image of failure of him as a student and her as a mother. She empathized with her needs and did not focus much on her behavior (the usual yelling).

Secondly, she empathized with her need to see her boy successful academically. In other words, she turned her negativity upside down in order to define what she really wants: her son’s academic achievement.

Third, she was now ready to focus on her son’s feelings and needs: “you want to have some fun” in a non-judgemental way. Notice she does not have to be on target, the boy did not confirm it. She made another guess, and this time was on target: “ya mom, I do not know how to do it”.

Fourth, the boy experienced his mother’s understanding of his need that he also wanted to achieve.

Therefore, their needs were aligned that’s why he cooperated.

Experiment: say you feel overwhelmed with things to do and you want help while your daughter or son play a video game? Ask yourself: “what do I feel and think right now?” in your self-talk you may reply: (annoyed, they do not care about their responsibilities). What do I really want from doing these tasks?

(That they consider my need to have some free time too). So instead of our usual “leave the video aside and put the dishes in the dish washer” are willing to try the following: “I see you are playing your video, you want some time to yourself” Make sure you insert the word “want” in a calm non-judgmental way. If you are annoyed or angry it is best not to try the new way, it may make things worse. What feedback you get? A surprise look? A snarky remark? Or “yes, mom”. If you are sure you feel listened to, would you try this: “I want some time to myself too. If you put the dishes in the dish washer you will be of great help to me.” If you do not get the understanding you wished for there may be several reasons for it. This method is not to get them to do what parents want the children to do.

It is a method of connecting with family members on the needs level

It takes practice and not necessarily a guarantee it will happen. However, you planted some seeds in that direction.


SS1_9382_1 (3)Magdalini Agrafioti, M.A in Counseling,  is a Registered Member of the Ontario Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Has been practicing individual, couples and family counseling for many years. Contact: 647 460 5085

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