Understanding more about interests and preferences

I want to talk a little about interests and preferences. Sometimes when I talk about this topic, there’s a bit of confusion around interests and preferences and how they differ from desires. As a general rule, interests and preferences tend to be the natural way we meet our own needs. Desires, on the other hand, are much more about leading us into the life that we want to live. In order to live that life, though, our needs have to be met first and our interests and preferences will often help us get there.

It can be a challenge for us as parents sometimes to respond with a Yes to our children’s interests and preferences because it is an acknowledgement that our children and their interests and preferences are separate from us and ours.

I often hear parents essentially projecting their own interests and preferences onto their children. This can present itself in many different forms – how food is cut up, how a child doesn’t need the blue cup when the red will do just fine, how a child needs to walk by the parent on the sidewalk or how they need to sit on the slide at the park. It can be all sorts of things and, obviously, these things change as our children grow.

The first step to acknowledging our child’s interests and preferences is to acknowledge that our children are separate from us. We have to trust the importance of their interest or preference in the same way that we trust our own.

While it may seem completely unimportant to us whether they have the red cup or the blue cup, whether their carrots are cut into round pieces or slices, which bedding they have on their bed or the direction in which they sleep, we need to trust how important these interests and preferences are to our children. By honouring and respecting them, we say Yes to that interest or preference and ultimately to our children as well.

It’s really no different to how we honour our own interests and preferences on a regular basis, but since we have autonomy and control over our lives, we generally do it without thinking or realizing that’s what we’re doing.

Perhaps you’ve found yourself slipping into a place where you use your child’s interests and preferences as a manipulative tool. Maybe you withhold your Yes to your child in order to control and manage behavior, thus engaging in a punitive form of parenting as opposed to Yes Parenting.

In the moment when we withhold the red cup that our child prefers because they haven’t been sitting quietly at the table, what we’re essentially communicating is that their behavior is triggering something uncomfortable in us. Instead of addressing our own emotions, we choose to make our children feel uncomfortable instead.

I know that realistically speaking, there will be times when we aren’t able to say Yes to our child’s interests and preferences. What then? Then it’s time to offer empathy to our child instead. We might say, “I really understand how much you want the red cup. I’m guessing you feel really sad that I can’t find the red cup right now. I know the blue cup isn’t the one you want”. Although I find myself mainly referring to younger children, this is adaptable for everyone – older children, yourself and even other adults.

There will also be times when, for whatever reason, it simply isn’t possible or within the realms of your current resources to say Yes to that interest or preference. I encourage you not to use your Yes as a means to pacify your child in those moments. It is much better simply to offer empathy, rather than saying Yes when you actually mean no. If you find yourself saying yes in order to pacify, there is no shame. It happens to the best of us, me included. It’s simply what happens sometimes when your own self-care, resources and ability to notice what you need has gone awry.

Would you like direct access to me? I know from experience that transitioning from an authoritarian style of parenting to a gentle, respectful approach like Yes Parenting can be challenging especially when our own unhealed trauma is triggered. I’d love to offer you the support you need.