“What do you need?” NOT “What is wrong with you?”

low demand parenting foundations parenting practical tips May 24, 2024
“What do you need?” NOT “What is wrong with you?”

 Meeting Needs Instead of Reinforcing Expectations

Low demand parenting is a transformative approach that shifts the focus from enforcing rigid expectations to understanding and meeting the genuine needs of children. This method encourages parents to tune into their child’s emotional and developmental needs, rather than adhering strictly to societal norms or milestones. It's about creating an environment where children feel supported in their growth and learning processes, which in turn fosters a deeper connection and mutual respect between parent and child.


The Problem with Traditional Expectations

Traditional parenting often revolves around adults setting expectations for their children and teens– whether these expectations are around achieving certain academic standards, behaving in specific ways, or reaching developmental milestones by a certain age. When children cannot meet these predefined expectations, it can lead to stress, frustration, and a diminished sense of self-worth, both for the child and the parent. We all feel like failures, which is intensely painful and toxic for creating a thriving home culture. Adhering to traditional expectations is ripe for the unchecked growth of shame.


The Key Question

Low demand parenting counters this by asking a fundamental question: "What does my child need to thrive?" This approach isn't about lowering standards or removing all challenges; it's about adapting to the individual child's pace, recognizing their unique strengths and areas where they might struggle, and providing support based on these observations. It’s about creating an accepting, compassionate family culture where judgment and shame have no room to root. 


Example of Low Demand Parenting in Action

Consider a child who finds it challenging to sit through dinner at the table, a common expectation in many households. Traditional approaches might focus on disciplining the child with a series of rewards, punishments, expectations and consequences in order to get them to conform to this norm.”What is wrong with you? Why can’t you just sit here and eat your food?” parents may ask, either silently in their heads or explosively in their more frustrated and dysregulated moments


Low Demand Approach: Instead of insisting on the child remaining seated, which often leads to disconnection, distress, and power struggles, especially for our neurodivergent, uniquely wired, and demand-sensitive kids, a low demand parent might:


  1.  Explore Underlying Needs: Determine if the child might be experiencing sensory challenges, boredom, stress responses due to losses of autonomy, or if the timing of meals conflicts with their natural energy cycles. “What does my child need in order to eat?” is the core question.


  1.  Adapt the Environment: Allow the child to stand or sit on a more comfortable chair or on the floor, or perhaps introduce an engaging activity at the table that helps them stay stimulated and connected.


  1.  Adjust Mealtime Expectations: Shorten meal durations or allow for breaks, ensuring the child feels comfortable and gradually increasing the time as they adapt. Shift conversational expectations or food expectations to better match the child’s needs and capacities.


  1.  Completely Drop Expectations: Perhaps sitting to eat is simply too hard for the child, and instead they need to carry their plate around while they walk, or walk circles around the table, eating small bites each time. If eating is what matters most, drop the mis-aligned expectation and focus on meeting the core hunger need.

Benefits of Focusing on Needs

  • Reduces Stress and Conflict: By reducing the pressure to meet arbitrary standards, both children and parents experience less stress, leading to fewer conflicts and more enjoyable interactions.


  • Promotes Emotional and Social Development: Children feel more supported when their needs are understood and met, which enhances their emotional intelligence and strengthens the parent-child bond.


  • Encourages Independence and Confidence: When children are not constantly measured against a standard, they are more likely to take initiatives and develop confidence in their abilities at their own pace.


Implementing Low Demand Parenting

  1. Listen and Observe: Pay close attention to your child’s cues and behaviors. Listening more than directing can provide insights into what your child truly needs to feel supported.
  2. Educate Yourself on Developmental Variability: Understanding that development can vary widely among children helps you set realistic and personalized expectations.
  3. Communicate Openly: Have open discussions about needs and expectations. This not only applies to parents but should also extend to involving children in conversations about their own needs and comfort levels.
  4. Be Flexible: Be willing to adapt strategies as your child grows and their needs change. Flexibility in parenting approaches is crucial in the low demand life.


Low demand parenting is a journey of understanding and flexibility, emphasizing the importance of meeting children where they are, rather than where we expect them to be. By focusing on needs over expectations, we cultivate an environment of trust and empathy, laying a strong foundation for children to develop into self-assured, resilient individuals.


Low demand parenting also plays a crucial role in rooting out toxic shame, a deeply embedded feeling that one is inherently flawed or unworthy. By meeting children's needs without judgment, parents foster an environment where mistakes or struggles are seen as natural parts of learning and growth, not as indicators of a child's worth. This anti-shaming approach is integral to developing a healthy emotional life. It teaches children that their value is not contingent on meeting specific standards or hiding parts of themselves to fit in. Instead, they learn that their feelings and needs are valid and important, which builds a foundation of self-acceptance and resilience.


Embracing anti-shaming parenting is essential for nurturing emotionally healthy children who carry these lessons into adulthood. This approach ensures that children grow up with a robust sense of self-esteem and the emotional intelligence to navigate life's challenges. By committing to meet our children's needs without judgment, we do more than just support their immediate well-being; we equip them with the emotional tools to lead fulfilling lives long into the future.


Low demand parenting is not merely an alternative parenting strategy; it is a profound commitment to raising children who feel seen, understood, and valued. It is about creating a family dynamic that prioritizes emotional health and mutual respect, paving the way for a lifetime of positive relationships and personal growth.

Why is everything so hard?


Take this quick quiz to find out where you're getting stuck in your challenging parenting life and one next step to move forward with confidence.

Take the Quiz