Helping Children to Communicate Their Needs

Author: Adrian Williams
August 10, 2020

When the pandemic was just hitting our area and we were trying to find historical context for what we were experiencing, I did a short talk on potential connections between the London bombings of WWII and our world at that time (see here for the video). One story that I didn’t share then, that I think is really important now for children and parents comes from the orphanages at the time. During the bombing raids of WWII many children found themselves without home or family and hungry along the streets. The lucky ones were placed in orphan camps where they could receive food and be cared for. Many of these children could not sleep at night due not just to the trauma of the bombings, but because they feared waking up once again homeless and without food. These children had lost so much that nothing could reassure them that they would be loved and cared for. The children couldn’t name this need, so it took time to finally understand what was going on and seek solutions. Something that finally helped the children sleep in peace was to give each one a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. With the bread came a reminder, “Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow.” 

There are lots of natural needs that children lack the awareness or vocabulary to communicate to parents and other caretakers. Often, children are internally aware of this disconnect and often it comes out as a tantrum. So in today’s short post, I want to offer families the practice of Examine, not only as a spiritual practice to see where God is in our lives, but also as a way to understand our children more fully and help them better name their core needs and what may be causing their internal pains. 

Examine at its core is basically just two questions:

  • For what am I most grateful?
  • For what am I least grateful?

These two questions often get referred to at camps or in small groups as “Wows and Pows” (we still use this language at PYF), but there is more here than just the highlight and lowlight of a day. Depending on what natural needs a child has, any of the following variations may lead to fuller and more honest answers (just some of many options): 

  • When did I feel I gave or received the most love? The least love?
  • When did I feel most energized? Most drained?
  • When did I feel most like I belonged? Least like I belonged?
  • When could I be most creative? Least creative?
  • Who did I feel most connected to today? Least connected to?
  • When did I feel most like me? Least like me?
  • When did I feel most understood? Least understood?

Listening for answers that match up with what we see, or ones that seem quite different than how we interpret children’s actions will help us understand inner motivations, and deep physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, wholistic needs. 

This is a wonderful way to end a day as a family. In a world where it seems harder and harder to fully hear each other beyond the noise of the world around us, these few minutes of pause can help people of every age better see God in each other and in our lives, and better understand one another and find empathy even in our differences. It doesn’t happen right away, but it does in time give people the knowledge that as a family we care about the times we felt hurt or unseen as well as the times we felt the best we could each day. And in celebrating and communicating these things we give our children the skill to hear others’ deepest desires as well.


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