My 3 yo absolutely loves to draw and paint. If I buy him a sketch book from the Dollar store, he fills it up in 3 days. One evening at 9:30 at night, less than a week after we moved into our new home, my 3 yo decided he wanted to paint. He asked, and I explained it was bedtime and he could paint in the morning. Well he cried and cried and sobbed. He was completely distraught. I stuck to my limit and gently kept validating his feelings and reminding him he could paint in the morning. Since I know it is socially unacceptable to let a 3 yo paint at almost 10 at night now, I felt like this was a boundary I needed to uphold (it can be so hard to figure that out sometimes).

Then he wailed “I NEED TO PAINT!!” The agony in his voice… I felt like I could hear his soul talking. I thought to myself, ‘how do you feel when people get in the way of you wanting to write something?’ Suddenly I realized he NEEDED to paint. It was a NEED and I was denying him access to it for arbitrary reasons. So I said, “ok, I see how important it is to you that you paint right now. We’ll paint for a little bit.” He looked up at me with pure relief and astonishment. He said “I can paint?” And I said “yes, you can paint.” He hugged me and cried out “oh thank you, thank you, thank you!! You da best mummy!”

He painted for maybe 5-10 minutes and he was done and ready for bed and I felt really good about my choice. I just wished I had recognized his ‘need’ earlier so he didn’t have to fight so hard to get what he needed. I think we make these misguided choices often with children. Trying to determine which boundaries to uphold and which one’s to be flexible on. Children’s needs can be vastly different from adult needs (although, one could argue adults do still have these needs they’ve just learned to suppress them).

When your child says they NEED to do something, try and consider how you feel when someone else tries to tell you what your own needs are. I hate it when people do that to me. Children actually need to climb, run, jump and play. One of my children NEEDS to run around and yell. The 3 yo clearly NEEDS to paint or draw sometimes. Same as I NEED to write sometimes. If I had something to write, I would have to write it down before going to bed and I wouldn’t think twice about doing so.

I know there will be people who will say “well now he knows if he wants to paint at bedtime, he just has to throw a fit and he’ll get his way.” I’ll tell you, that was not the look I saw on his face. He didn’t look like he had been victorious in his battle, he looked relieved. And next time, no he won’t have throw a fit to get to paint at bedtime, because I actually learned MY lesson. From now on if he asks to paint at bedtime (which has not happened again, yet), I will instead ask him “do you think you can wait to paint in the morning or do you need to paint a little bit right now?” I trust him to tell me the truth. If he gets to make his own choice and I honour his expressed need, he has no reason to become dysregulated. What’s a better way to relax before bed? Having a meltdown or painting? When you look at it that way, the choice becomes glaringly obvious.