Oftentimes in parenting, when we get stuck, we feel like we need to learn something NEW. In reality, it is more common that we need to go back to basics. Knowing and understanding children’s basic needs is the foundation that we always need to start with when it comes to building relationships with and raising children. You may not always be able to perfectly meet these needs but we can continue to develop an understanding of their needs as your children continue to grow and change developmentally. Often, when a child is displaying difficult behaviors there is an underlying need driving the behavior.
Children’s basic needs include love, safety and acceptance and should be at the heart of family life. It may look different from child to child in how they receive or express these needs. As caregivers, we can continue to get curious and learn about how love, safety and acceptance needs are unique to each child that is in our care.
As we navigate how to help our children through difficulties, it is helpful to keep in mind the child’s developmental stage and capabilities so that we do not expect more than they are capable of developmentally, and therefore as caregivers can provide acceptance for their current mental, emotional, and physical stage and abilities. This firm foundation of understanding and acceptance opens opportunities for caregivers to meet their child where they are at AND provide their children with appropriate challenges for continued growth.
Children need to know that our love does not depend on his or her accomplishments and that love is unconditional (ie. my love for you does not change or diminish when I’m mad or disappointed). In family life, mistakes or defeats should be expected and accepted as learning and growing opportunities. This growth mindset develops resilience and is good for both parents and children to learn and implement! Afterall, whoever said we need to be perfect? Confidence grows in a home that is full of unconditional love and acceptance.
Oppositely, fear and anxiety grow out of experiences that we do not understand. Children are always developing a new understanding of their world as they grow developmentally, so their need for safety continues to change as they become more and more exposed to a BIG world. Children also need to feel safe in their own environment, when it comes to the structure of the space and the interactions of the people in that space. We can help provide a sense of security and safety for our children by how we help them make sense of the world and the environment we build in our homes.
Lastly, it is important to communicate safety, love and acceptance through both words AND actions. Addressing our children’s basic needs can often be a helpful solution to managing difficult behaviors as a caregiver. However, we need to focus on the whole child, not just the behavior. We need to dive into the process of understanding their unique needs and feelings rather than skipping to how to fix it. Next time your child is struggling with difficult behaviors, pause and ask yourself, what is the need driving this behavior and how can I help my child know I understand their need and that I am here to help?
-Susie Munsey, LCSW