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What Do Children Really Need?

Family Playing a GameIn order to survive, humans have basic needs which fall into both material and intangible categories. As parents, we strive to provide these essentials so our children will grow and prosper. The list of necessities is not long, but each one takes conscious time and effort to manage.

The Montessori elementary curriculum includes a lesson titled The Fundamental Needs of Humans which introduces children to the necessities of life that are required by all people, no matter where they live. The material needs include shelter, food, and clothing, along with transportation, protection, and communication. Universal intangible needs are for love and social inclusion, religion or spirituality, and expression through the arts.

Time and Organization Are Necessary

Many of us take for granted essentials such as water, food, clothing, and shelter. Though our security depends upon these necessities, we may not realize the many tasks involved in providing these basics, such as:

  • shopping for and preparing food.
  • buying clothes and shoes (a never-ending job with growing children).
  • keeping clothing, linens and the home clean.
  • having "a place for everything."
  • maintaining a home and car in running order.
  • keeping the family on schedule and informed.

Add your own everyday frequent chores to that list. Managing a family is an administrative task comparable to that of running a business. By having what's needed for physical survival, a child develops a sense of security. Just as you protect your children from danger, you keep them safe and secure by providing for their other fundamental physical needs.

One parent shared with me a reminder her toddler gave to her via a song. She heard her son singing "Bare Necessities" along with Baloo the bear in Disney's The Jungle Book. Whenever this mother hears it, she stops worrying about the extras and just enjoys what she often takes for granted.

"Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife..."

Belonging at Home and in the Community

As the saying goes, "It takes a village to raise a child." Well, it takes teamwork to keep a household functioning, too! Everyone can pitch in to help things run smoothly. Even the youngest can hang up his jacket or put laundry in the hamper. Remember that children want to contribute. More importantly, this is part of what it takes to become a positive member of society and of the family. We all belong and feel more committed when we do our part.

Intrinsic Needs Are Just as Important

"If development were limited to physical growth, the child would be condemned to a kind of hunger of the mind which could never be appeased."
—Maria Montessori, The Formation of Man

Mother reading to her daughterIt's not as easy to identify and define our intangible human needs. People need human contact, love, attention, and information, to name a few. For a child, one of those requirements is for his parents to be predictable and constant. Young children soak up the world around them, consciously and unconsciously. A parent's physical and emotional actions can impact a child's sense of well-being.

Remember, nobody is perfect, and you needn't be a model parent, either. According to the pediatric psychologist D.W. Winnicott, to be a "good-enough" parent, you simply need to respond appropriately more than 51% of the time. Of course, we love our children unconditionally, but it can be difficult to know how to express that in ways that will help them feel safe, confident, and independent. Here are a few things you may want to incorporate into your repertoire:

  • Listen and observe. Practice staying quiet.
  • Monitor and modify your own reactions and responses before you speak.
  • Try not to problem solve, but do take the time to show your child how to perform tasks.
  • Respect your children. Treat your family members as if they were guests in your home - be kind and polite.
  • Stay in the present. Avoid the demeaning "you always" statements and dire predictions about the future.
  • Schedule times to be with your child - without any distractions. Perhaps you'll read together, play a game, or take a walk. Ten or fifteen minutes a day can make a big difference for your child.

Your Values and Beliefs

All humans have what Montessori referred to as "spiritual needs" that are expressed in a variety of ways. These deeply-held beliefs are conveyed to your children, often indirectly. Whether you practice a formal religion or not, your ideals and convictions provide a personal sense of security and serenity as you interact with others.

Children learn from their parents and from the surrounding culture, too. Humans fulfill some of their intangible needs as they create art, music, and dance. How you decorate your environment and dress yourself reflects your individuality and influences your children, too.

As we search for the best way to parent our children, it's important to remember our most essential needs.

"...I mean the bare necessities
That's why a bear can rest at ease
With just the bare necessities of life."

—by Jane M. Jacobs, M.A., Montessori Educational Consultant at Montessori Services. She is a trained primary Montessori directress and also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has taught children aged 2 to 7 years in Montessori schools, Headstart, and also in a preschool for children with developmental challenges. In her counseling practice, she helps individuals, couples, and families.

—Originally Published 2017

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