Hailey’s best friend in the whole world is her cousin Grayson. Even at the tender ages of 4 and 2 1/2, respectively, they seem to complement each other perfectly. Hailey is shy. Grayson is boisterous. Hailey is a listener. Grayson is a motormouth. Hailey is daring. Grayson is cautious. It’s this last difference that becomes most apparent when they’re out in the world together. Grayson takes his time with things and is a little more fearful of new things than Hailey, yet he seems to draw confidence from Hailey being by his side. And Hailey, in turn, is less shy when Grayson is around.

Recently, Grayson and his parents joined us at Hailey’s school carnival. Grayson desperately wanted to climb a tree, but Hailey had her eye on a bowling game and ignored his pleas for her to join him. “Hailey! Hailey! Hailey!” Grayson chanted, refusing to go near the tree without her. Finally, he ran over to her and grabbed her hand and escorted her over to the tree. “Hailey, I neeeeeeed you,” he said. “You’re my courage.”

My eyes filled with tears at this simple but profound statement from my beautiful little nephew. (Full disclosure: It doesn’t take a lot to make me cry.) At first I was moved by these words because they expressed such a deep and loving bond between my daughter and her cousin. But as the days passed and I reflected back on that moment, it was clear that the moment touched me for reasons much deeper than that. I was in awe of Grayson’s ability, at 2 1/2, to identify and put words to his emotional needs better than most adults. “I need you, Hailey. You’re my courage.” How direct. How powerful.

This made me wonder why as adults, we can’t learn from our children’s emotional directness and try saying those three simple words: “I need you.” Why do we feel the need to be passive aggressive? Why do we hold on to hurt feelings until we are bitter and resentful? Why do we try to do it all until we are stressed and overwhelmed? When it comes to saying what we mean and asking for what we want, children seem to have the answer. The other night, Hailey climbed into our bed and asked me to come to her bed with her. When I took her back to her bed I asked her, “Why did you come get mommy? Did you have a bad dream?” “No,” she said. “I just felt like I needed my mommy to cuddle me extra tonight.” We cuddled extra for the next half hour.

I suppose hundreds of self help books and psychotherapists have drilled into us the dangers of codependency, of “needing” someone else too much. Society has taught us to be self-reliant. We take pride in doing it all ourselves. But how rewarding would it be to have authentic relationships based on saying what we mean and asking for what we need. I, for one, will try to say:

I need you. You make me feel safe.

I need you. I feel heard when I’m with you.

I need you. You’re my strength.

I need you. I can’t do this without you.

I need you. You make me laugh.

I need you. I need a shoulder to cry on.

I need you. You give the best hugs.

I need you. Let’s take a walk.

Do you need me? I am here for you too.