4 Things Your Child Needs At Home
With our kids at home and most summer camps canceled, addressing our kids’ many needs isn’t easy. Being aware of what those needs are is a great place to start.
I’ve been wanting to write about meeting children’s needs at home, but it took me a long while to get to because – wait for it – I was too busy trying (and sometimes failing) to meet my two children’s needs! Perhaps you can relate. When school’s out for summer, the intensity of parenting always increases. This year, we’re coping with a lot more than usual: no or few summer camps, working from home, and continuing to manage the pandemic. This makes meeting our kids’ needs at home this summer more challenging than ever before.
In reality, we won’t be able to meet our kids’ needs in full every day. Cutting ourselves slack and staying realistic is the first order of business, otherwise we pile our stress and feelings of parenting incompetence on top of an already fraught situation. That said, having an awareness of which of our children’s needs might not be as easily addressed at home as they are at school or camp can help us recognize the “trouble spots” before our kids’ emotions and behavior spill out of control.
Needs for Movement
Perhaps our kids’ most easily recognizable needs are for motion and activity. The need is most apparent in toddlers and preschoolers, who readily tear apart a house and jump off furniture if they don’t get enough physical energy released. With playgrounds closed and social distancing hard to maintain outside in urban areas, finding outlets for this age group is harder than ever. Dancing, jumping onto stacks of pillows, using an indoor climbing triangle, or impersonating an active TV character are all great ways to release energy safely indoors. Scheduling set times throughout the day to “get the wiggles out” is vitally important, heading off the need before it boils over.
This same need for movement can easily go overlooked in school-age kids, especially as they reach middle school age, because they’ve become skilled at controlling the impulse to jump and run. That doesn’t mean the impulse isn’t there, though! If their energy isn’t expressed physically, it can and often does redirect itself as emotional outbursts, destructive language, and self-directed damage, including depressive, anxious, and eating-based symptoms. Regular time on their bikes, scooters (that are not motorized!), or skateboards can be invaluable – and also can be a way to socialize while maintaining social distance, addressing the next need.
Needs for Socialization
If we didn’t recognize the full extent of our children’s need to socialize before the pandemic hit, we certainly all see it in stark relief now. I find that I need to actively remind my 9-year-old to schedule time to video chat with key friends or else she becomes increasingly grumpy. I currently have to serve as a scaffold for her to recognize and meet this important need, hopefully training her to think to ring up a friend in the future when her mood sinks.
You’ve likely already built coronavirus socialization strategies that feel right for your family – whether that be socially distanced activities with friends, allowing a child-safe app like Facebook Messenger at a younger age than you expected or planned, and/or handing off your phone for FaceTime chats daily. We all need to keep this need in mind as the summer wears on, especially since links to school – albeit remote ones – may have been partly filling this need, especially the deep need for belonging. Without a class with which they’re associated, kids can feel adrift, making any summer difficult – and especially this one since there was a lack of closure with their previous group of peers.
Higher-level Psychological Needs
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs also gives us some helpful cues of what our kids need to experience. Certainly we’re all working to meet their basic needs and their health and safety, but it’s easy to forget about kids’ (and all humans’!) need for esteem and self-actualization.
Esteem needs include the need for recognition, respect and a sense of competence and mastery. School is designed to meet this need rather readily, including through rapid and frequent feedback from teachers and peers. While home, however, especially in the summer, days can pass without kids’ efforts being explicitly noticed. Kids often create far fewer concrete products during the summer for us to comment upon, so we have to make a point of attending to the traits and behaviors that kids are demonstrating, such as self-entertaining, being considerate to siblings, acting creatively, and helping maintain the household. Making a point of mentioning these daily in a specific manner that goes far beyond “good job” can help address kids’ esteem needs.
The highest need on Maslow’s hierarchy, self-actualization, refers to the need to become our fullest selves. While this may seem unattainable for any of us, and particularly for kids, actually this need is simply about self-expression and using our strengths on a regular basis. This means encouraging our kids to lean into what they do well and love to do – and there’s no better time for this than during the summer!
Needs for Stimulation
Finally, while most kids clamor for the “lazy days of summer,” we all know how fast boredom actually sets in. Studies show that we all need to be cognitively stimulated, even if we believe we’d love to “do nothing” for days or weeks on end.
Ideally our kids will create their own stimulation by using toys, nature materials, and whatever else happens to be around them to make new possibilities and adventures. Doing so is a learned skill, however, and is one they don’t get to practice often in our highly-structured society and public schools. Given this, we may need to model and support the skill, especially within younger kids, and then gradually taper off our involvement. As children learn what stimulates them and gives them a productive reason to wake up each morning, they’ll be more engaged and happier – and we will, too.
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