When it comes to what kids need there is a mountain of information on the web. Generally, this information always boils down to what the other guy is trying to sell you. Nothing to sell here friends, just a discussion about the differences between needs and wants. This applies to the modern adult just as much as to our kids, so if you have a needy spouse or girlfriend you may want to listen up also.
Abraham Maslow was a New Yorker who published his famous psychology work in the 1940s at the University of Wisconsin. This work formed the bases of motivational research and was later refined at the New York’s Brooklyn College. Maslow believed each of us makes decisions on any given day based upon fulfillment of what we perceive as needs. These needs can be lumped into the five basic categories of physiological, safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Maslow stacked the categories as a pyramid with the idea that humans will usually not reach for the next pyramid level without first securing the bottom and more primal need.
Physiological needs are those things that a human requires for survival. If these basic needs of shelter, clothing, and food cannot be met the human body cannot function properly. This means nourishment and not candy or cupcakes as my kids try to convince me of. Never withhold the food and water needed for survival but the snacks can absolutely be used as leverage for that laundry basket or dish pile.
After a person satisfies their physiological needs they will focus on their immediate safety. This level of the pyramid ranks higher with children as they generally have a greater need to reassurance and safety. Consistency in your disciplining is what’s important here. If you spank your children, which has its place, be certain it is to prove a point and never to vent your frustrations. Make it clean and efficient and never make the child fear for their safety, this includes verbal abuse and threats upon their safety.
Here the lines of Maslow’s hierarchy blur because kids will at times cling to the most abusive of parents out of a need to feel love and family. The need is so strong that in large scale crisis like war and natural disasters people will willingly place themselves in harm’s way or give up water so that their family can survive. Again, never withhold this from your children. No matter how frustrated you are make certain they know they are still loved. Knowing this I have very adult conversations with my kids at times. I explain to them how their actions and words can poison our relationship now and into the future. They understand and take these discussions well, in fact they appreciate being treated as an adult to some extent.
We all need to feel respected by ourselves and by others. What that means to you and your children depends on what you place significance on. Does respect mean a thousand Instagram followers or five hundred tweets a week? Or does it mean a steady job and concrete family life? Here you will compete for your children’s attention with the world of television and internet. I am open with my children about what it takes to run a household and I have discussions with them about top engineers, scientists and military minds of our world. They will make the choices themselves at some point.
Maslow believed at this level a person strives to achieve everything that one can, to become the most that one can be. What that means to the individual depends on what they value most. This is a time that focus can be placed on their dreams and aspirations in life.
The hierarchy of needs is an excellent model for understanding what drives decision making in yourself, your co-workers, children and spouse. Your kids are simply not going to give a damn about that math homework or cleaning their rooms if they are hungry or don’t feel safe. This is evident in abused children and the break down in behavior that gets worse at school or in the home. Until they feel their safety met they will focus on that to the exclusion of all else. Understanding what motivates people can be used effectively to teach and to avoid conflict.
In my household, I tell my kids they will never have to worry about their needs, wants however, they will have to earn. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that some of you reading this are struggling to fulfill some of these needs such as shelter and food. You are not alone, in fact it is how I grew up and it can still be done. You’ll be surprised what children can endure if you are open and honest about the situation and they see you struggling on their behalf. If you can fulfill these needs don’t use them as punishments in your household, this threads the line on emotional and physical abuse and your children will resent you for it. Instead fulfill these needs by providing food, water and shelter that is sufficient but doesn’t have to be luxury. Once these needs are met a person, even a little person’s, next step is to look for those esteem and self-actualization goals. Here is where we make our money as parents!
By overseeing what our kids have access to in the arena of esteem and self-actualization we can provide them with healthy options. The worst and most prevalent of America’s youth making the wrong choices in this category come with our need for consumption. The “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality of buying our way to happiness. This is a dangerous thing to teach our kids because eventually we consume our resources and fall right back to the bottom of the pyramid, struggling to pay a mortgage for shelter and grocery bill for food. It’s a cycle that is repeated daily in this country and must be addressed by redefining fulfillment and happiness to our youth.