The Power of a Simple Question: Accurately tuning into your Child’s Need in the moment by Gregory Bland

The weighty thud of my son’s footsteps on the stairs, followed by a heavy sigh and a thump as he plopped down on the stairs by my desk, signaled something was up. I glanced up to see disappointment etched upon his face.

“Dad, the girls are being mean to me again,” he lamented.

“What’s happening?” I probed.

“They won’t let me in their room. They keep pushing the door shut, and holding it so I cannot get in!” He said in an exasperated tone.

“Did they give you an explanation?” I enquired.

“Yeah, NO boys allowed!’ What should I do now?” he pleaded.

“Josh, this is an interesting situation you’re in. There are several possibilities for you here. What do you think you should do?”

He pondered in silence, elbows on knees, face cradled in his hands. After a moment or so, he crunched up his little face and said, “Dad, I’m smaller than my sisters, and I don’t know as much. Sometimes, I just need you to tell me what to do.”

His words triggered a memory of a recent conversation I had with a group of parents about the dynamic nature of our parenting roles.

“Our role in parenting will naturally shift according to our children’s need in the moment.  Is it an opportunity for them to take responsibility and grow through coaching, or do they need a listening ear just to vent, or possibly direction because they truly do not know what to do. The key is discerning what they truly need in that moment.”

My natural instinct defaults first to growth and coaching so I ask questions to draw out their thoughts. I was hoping to encourage thought about different ways he could approach his sisters and learn to navigate the complex relationship he shares with them. However, what he needed was something much different.

I quickly pivoted and took a different approach with him.

Looking at this young man and the sadness in his eyes tugged at my heart-strings. I motioned for him to come close to where I was sitting and invited him up onto my lap. As he nestled against me, I apologized for being ‘insensitive’ and asked,

“What do you need most from Daddy right now?”

Softly, he replied, “I just want someone to play with. Could we please play a game of checkers together?”

His words struck a chord. He didn’t want advice or coaching around how to better connect with his sisters; instead, he craved companionship.

It dawned on me just how easily we can misinterpret our children’s needs and push our own agenda. Instead we must listen and adapt to their need in the moment.

Have you ever missed a crucial moment by not simply asking, What do you need most from me right now?

As we conclude, take a moment and think of two variations of the question, “What do you need most from me right now?” that you could ask your child.  This may better prepare you the next time opportunity presents itself to you.

To get you started I’ll offer one more. 

a.  How can I best support you?

Until next time, continue enjoying the rich relationship parent coaching can add to your family relationships but remember: be attentive and flexible. 

Your friend and proactive parent coach.

Gregory Bland

Originally posted in 2010 on

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