top of page

Unlocking the Key to Better Parenting: Understanding Your Child's 3 Psychological Needs

If you are a parent, you’ve probably experienced some thoughts such as, “Am I doing this right?” “Is something wrong with me or my child?” “Why is this so much harder than I thought?” “Am I being the parent that my child needs me to be?” “Why does it seem like other parents have this all figured out?”

In reality, every family deals with this uncertainty, even if it doesn’t show on the surface. We often know the type of parent we want to be, but in the heat of the moment, we feel dysregulated, anxious, and question if our methods are working. Not to mention the guilt we feel when we act in a way that is not in line with the parent we want to be.

One thing is true, we love our children and want what is best for them, no matter what. If you are reading this blog, or have found yourself reading books, articles, or videos about parenting, then you my friend, are a GOOD parent. Having that drive and desire to grow and learn for the sake of your family is something to be proud of.

With that being said, I want to open your mind to something that changed my relationship with my kids for the better. This is something that gave me that “ah ha!” feeling and helped me gain more understanding and direction when it came to parenting. I felt so affected by my children’s emotions. I often pushed myself to my limits to ensure that they were happy. I sacrificed so much of myself only to feel that unbearable mom (or dad) guilt that most of us feel at some point in our journey.

“The emotions that bother us or even infuriate us in our children are ones that we were not allowed to feel when we were kids.” I want you to stew on this for a moment. Traditional parenting styles created a belief that children should be seen, but not heard. This deeply engrained belief has greatly affected our confidence as we try to parent our children.

We know that emotions are important to acknowledge and address, but at the same time, most of us don’t have the tools to address and support those emotions in ourselves, let alone our kids. How can we do this for ourselves so that we can be an emotionally supportive, grounded, and balanced parent, that we all want to be for our kids?

What finally made this overload of information from books, articles, and countless hours of research click for me? The 3 basic psychological needs. When I started to consider these needs when looking at my children’s behavior and emotions, it became clear to me how I needed to respond. Two researchers, Richard Rye and Edward Deci, developed this theory which has been revolutionary in understanding human behavior. Every human being is born with these 3 psychological needs, and here they are:

Discovering Nature
Autonomy through discovery.

Autonomy: The need to make decisions and make choices, being the source of one's actions. Another word for this is self-governing.

  • Positive behaviors in children when this need is met: Cultivating new games, coming up with new ideas, and making decisions that are within limits and boundaries.

  • Negative behaviors in children, when this need, is NOT met: Attempting to control everyone and everything in their environment, coming off as bossy or manipulative, and having an insatiable need for screen time.

Competence through creative expression.
Competence through creative expression.

Competence: A need to learn, grow, and progress in life. This is the need to feel capable. “I can do it!”

  • Positive behaviors in children when this need is met: Asking lots of questions and exploring their environment.

  • Negative behaviors in children when this need is NOT met: Expecting rewards for behaving positively, acting out when they do not receive a reward (this is why rewards and punishments do not motivate children), and giving up easily when they do not succeed. 

Relatedness through being seen and loved.
Relatedness through being seen and loved.

Relatedness: The need to be loved unconditionally, respected, and seen.

  • Positive behaviors in children when this need is met: When your child says, “You are the most wonderful mom/dad in the world” or they put themselves out there to make friends or show you a beautiful drawing that they have created.

  • Negative behaviors in children when this need is NOT met: attention-seeking behaviors, climbing on tables, interrupting, or saying curse words. These are all attempts to get their caregiver to give them attention and meet their need for relatedness.

Depending on your child’s personality and temperament, they may need help meeting one of these needs more than others. Overall, ALL human behavior is an attempt to meet one, two, or all three of these psychological needs. Once you learn what these needs are, and what they look like in your child, you now have a very powerful and impactful tool. Meeting these 3 needs in your child will eliminate problem behavior, nourish your child’s development, and finally, create a peaceful and balanced environment where your family can thrive.

If you find yourself in power struggle after power struggle with your child, losing your temper because you feel lost in this journey of parenthood, Know Thyself Healing & Therapy can provide you with numerous tools to help you cultivate a plan and build confidence in your abilities as a parent.  

Contact us at (952) 222-7936 or visit our website to schedule a consultation with one of our therapists at


The intrinsic motivation of Richard Ryan and Edward Deci by Delia O’Hara — American Psychological Association.

57 views0 comments


bottom of page