How to Discover What Our Kids Really Need


When I tucked my daughter into bed, she shared some friendship problems with me. I immediately offered her advice and solutions.

The next day, I read this from Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s book, Raising Great Kids: 

“A mom gives three steps to solving a relationship problem when the child wants her just to listen. Sometimes the child is saying in his own way, ‘I want you!’ Remember how you feel when you want to be understood and a well-meaning friend gives advice instead.”

Oops! I realized I had done just exactly what the book said not to do. Sometimes there is a time to give advice. After all, we are the parents and have the role of leading and guiding. 

But, if our children only need to pour their hearts out to us, then maybe all we need to do is listen. 

Cloud and Townsend shared a great question to ask our kids when they’re upset:

“Why don’t you tell me what you need?” 

That way, if they need advice, we can dive in, but if they need us to zip our lips and just listen and comfort them, we can do that. 

The next night, I went into my daughter’s room to tuck her in. Within seconds, tears covered her little eight-year-old face because she had read a tragic part in a book.

My instinct was to protect her. 

To drive away the tears. 

To lift her out of the sadness. 

To fix everything. 

And tie it up with a ribbon.

As I started sharing reasons why she didn’t need to be upset, I remembered what I had read the other day and I stopped myself. 

In place of opinions and advice, I asked her: “What do you need?”

Right away, in the middle of her tears, with heart-felt and crumbly words, she said:

“A hug.”

I was surprised that’s what she said. 

I thought she’d want to know that the character in the book was okay – that everything ended happily.

But that’s not what my daughter needed. 

She just needed me. 

After we hugged and more tears fell, she moved on. 

My daughter’s smile returned and she started talking about other things. She just needed to express her feelings with me, to be heard, and comforted.

It’s okay for our kids to feel sad. 

If we always try to tidy it all up, our kids will miss a crucial step of knowing what it looks like to be real and how to process emotions.

It’s good for them to experience different emotions, express them, and navigate through their feelings with us. It will help them be more emotionally mature.

If you’re one of those mamas who wants to jump in to fix, to quickly wipe the tears away, and bring forth a smile as fast as possible, I can relate. 

But, that’s often not what our kids need. 

The next time our kids are sad, instead of meeting the need in our way, let’s listen and then ask them, “What do you need?”

Not only will this help our children work through emotions, but it will also let them know that we are a safe place where they can always open up and be heard.

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Linsey Driskill
My husband and I live in South Carolina and have eight-year-old triplets. I’m passionate about encouraging families in following Jesus and his words: to love God and love others. I love authenticity, simplicity, spontaneity, and a good cup of coffee! You can find me at and @BeautifulHeartedParenting