Most parents, when asked what they truly want for their children, answer simply: They want them to be healthy, successful, and happy. Underneath all of their myriad dreams and expectations, parents just hope to see their children live a life of joy and fulfillment.
While there are things — such as a child’s innate state of health — that remain somewhat outside of parents’ control, parents have a great deal of sway in how their children deal with academic and social challenges. Additionally, parents are the dominant influence when it comes to modelling and shaping positive and appropriate behaviours. In essence, when all is said and done, there is a lot parents can do to ensure their children grow up to be happy, well-adjusted, and successful.
The Path To Happiness: Understanding The Top 10 Needs Of Children
Parents today are so inundated with complex information on parenting that, ironically, they can easily lose sight of what a child’s basic needs are and how to meet them. Fortunately, the secret to raising a joyful and fulfilled child is often as simple as addressing the ten primary needs below:
1. The need for positive attention. Think of the type of attention you give your child most frequently: Is it focused on what she can do, or what she can’t do? Do you spend the majority of your time pointing out things she needs to improve on personally, academically, or at home—or do you try to focus on validating her strengths and accomplishments?
Parents who are tired or stressed often fall into the bad habit of largely affirming their child’s negative behaviours (uttering reprimands like, “Don’t hit your sister!” and “Clean up after yourself or else!”), but all this does is teach an attention-hungry child to engage in these behaviours more often. Rather than “rewarding” negative behaviours with attention, parents ought to calmly and quickly administer consequences that remove the child from sources of attention (such as having a “time out” away from the rest of the family) and focus on validating positive traits and actions instead.
2. The need for touch—throughout childhood. Many parents assume that only babies and toddlers need a great deal of hugging, cuddling, and so on, but nothing could be further from the truth. Children of all ages (including teenagers) need physical touch in order to be healthy and happy. Make a habit of hugging your children frequently, e.g. when they leave for school, when they return, before bed, etc. Even if your teenager tries to act “cool” and nonchalant about receiving physical affection, you can be sure that he or she is still benefiting from it.
3. The need for unconditional love. Your child should never, ever be made to feel as though your love has to be “earned” in any way. Your child needs to know that you love him even when you’re angry and upset with him and even when you’re disappointed in his actions. When you and your child are going through a rough patch, make sure to remind him that you love him—no matter what.
4. The need for positive role models. Remember, you are your child’s primary role model. Everything your child learns, she will first learn by observing you—and she will spend much of her early childhood attempting to directly emulate your behaviour. Your child is like a little “mirror” during early childhood, so be sure to practice what you preach when you’re interacting with your child (and interacting with others in the vicinity of your child).
5. The need for limits and boundaries. Many parents don’t enjoy having to create “rules” for their children, but in reality, rules are just as essential for nurturing health and happiness as privileges and rewards are. Children who are given sensible rules (clear, easy-to-follow guidelines that focus on the health, harmony, and safety of the family) feel more secure than children who are largely left to their own devices. To a young child, the world seems like a big, scary, confusing place. Limits and boundaries are therefore needed to define the world and give your child safe parameters to operate within.
6. The need for consistency. Rules and boundaries lose their function as a safety mechanism if they are inconsistently applied; i.e., if parents arbitrarily change the consequences for violating a rule or change the rules themselves on a whim because they are tired or frustrated. Children who live with inconsistent rules and boundaries often suffer from self-doubt and anxiety as they are unsure of which actions are acceptable and which are not. Be calm and predictable when administering discipline. If you feel yourself losing your cool, remove yourself from the situation before you risk irrationally escalating consequences.
7. The need for freedom. Though it may sound paradoxical, children also need freedom—the freedom to explore the world around them. Make sure that the boundaries you create for your children don’t stifle their curiosity. Your children should be free to explore the world physically (playing at the playground, visiting friends, and going on other age-appropriate outings) and mentally (creating their own ideas and developing their own unique take on the world as they grow older). Though it’s important to keep your children safe, don’t become so protective that your children are not allowed to make their own mistakes. Let your children “mess up” occasionally and encourage them to learn from their errors.
8. The need to feel loved, unique, and special. Never compare your children, either to each other or to other children. Value each of your children’s particular gifts and qualities equally. Nurture each child’s hobbies and interests, even if they don’t reflect your own.
9. The need for a healthy social life outside the home. Don’t focus on academic achievement to the exclusion of your child’s social life; kids need regular peer interaction to develop their confidence and sense of identity. Encourage your child to seek out like-minded people and spend time with them. Teach your child how to communicate and interact with others in a positive, compassionate, affirming way. Get to know your child’s friends and make your home a welcoming place for them.
10. The need for self-expression. Whether it takes the form of art, writing, sports, music, gardening, cooking, social gatherings, or dancing, all children need some kind of healthy outlet for their feelings. Having positive venues for self-expression both limits the buildup of negative feelings and helps children to find positive ways to relate to others. Make creative outlets a priority in your home.
If your parents didn’t meet one or more of the needs listed above, it can be challenging to break away from your ingrained patterns and meet those same needs in your own children. Remember, however, that with time, patience, and practice, it’s certainly possible. Revisit the ten needs above every day and make it your mission to meet as many of them as possible; before you know it, both you and your children will be feeling happier and more successful.