There is a huge difference between our children’s wants and needs. Their needs should absolutely be met. When we give in too often to their wants we are creating difficult problems for our children and for ourselves. So first let us ask ourselves, what are their true needs?
- a sense of belonging and significance
- perceptions of capability
- personal power and autonomy
- social and life skills
If we can help our children with these four needs they will be well on their way to becoming competent, resourceful adults. Chances are they’ll be happy, too.
Today, let’s look at the first need a little closer.
A sense of belonging and significance. This need seems pretty cut and dried. Of course our children need to feel they belong. And of course we know they belong. The question then becomes….do our children know that they belong? Just because we love our children does not mean that we help them to understand they belong. Belonging means to be unconditionally accepted for who we are, no matter our behavior. When children do not feel this sense of belonging and acceptance they become discouraged and often act out on these negative feelings. Here’s what I often see in the classroom:
John didn’t speak in full sentences when he first began in his new preschool at age 4 despite the fact that he was fully capable of doing so. He did not handle transitions well and needed a great deal of attention from the adults around him. During group activities he often had unusual behavior including refusing to follow directions, shouting out nonsense words, refusing to stay in his seat and generally being disruptive. John’s dad was a long distance truck driver whom he only saw a few times a month. John’s mom was responsible for the day to day activities of both her children as well as working long hours. John and his sister attended the before and after school programs – which means they were at school from 7:30a.m. until 5:30 p.m. most days.
In situations like these the behavior of John and other students I’ve had in class show me that the student does not feel a sense of belonging. They act out to determine if they are really accepted. They often are sure they do not belong and try to ‘prove’ it before someone else lets them know. These children need additional attention, time and teaching. In most situations, the parents are doing their best and they know their child belongs but the child does not believe they belong. It could also be that the birth of baby into the family throws the child’s sense of significance into question. When this occurs (for simple to complex reasons) the child’s belief is often manifested through her behavior.
In future posts I’ll talk more about what we can do to help but for now we can do the following:
- Create and follow daily routines. Especially when a change occurs (like a new job or a new baby) children need to feel stability, that their lives have not changed. Routines help young children understand where they belong in the larger scheme of their family.
- Let your child help. By allowing your child to help with the everyday activities of home you are instilling in her a sense of belonging (I help my dad!) and also providing her with a sense of competence. It is also a great way to spend time with your child.
- Spend time. Give each child just a little of your time without strings attached. No matter their behavior during the day, spend just a little one on one time with each child. This can be one story before bed, a cuddle after dinner or a walk around the block. Time is one of the most valuable commodities you can provide for your children. A little goes a long way.
We all want to belong and feel significant to someone. It is a basic need of all people. Take a little time today to think about your children, your spouse or significant other and yourself. How do feel significant? What have you done today to help others feel they belong? What changes can you make for tomorrow?
~Information for this blog post was gleaned from Positive Discipline for Preschoolers by Nelsen, Erwin and Duffy.