Five Emotional Needs of Children

Attention

Children know whether they are being seen or listened to, or if an adult is just “faking it.” Showing sincere interest in a child’s feelings, thoughts, and activities, and spending time with them one-on-one, lets them know they are important and valued.

What some parents may think of as attention-seeking behavior is really a child’s way of getting his or her need for connection met. When emotional needs are consistently satisfied, children are more secure and can give to others.

Approval

For children to create a healthy concept of self, they need positive feedback and rewards for effective behaviors. They thrive hearing positive things about their activities and character. Knowing they are valued helps them develop a sense of worth and confidence in themselves, and to realize their strengths.

Support

Children run into challenges while growing up. Even early on they are navigating the ins and outs of social, intellectual, and emotional dos and don’ts. It gives children courage to know their caregivers will go above and beyond to help them succeed in life, and lets them grow up with a sense of connectedness.

Security

To flourish, children need to feel safe, and to know they are being held. This includes having age-appropriate expectations for them, and setting limits that are consistently kept. Having routines provide secure feelings, as does observing the adults in their life respecting and communicating with each other.

Children manage change best if they know about it ahead of time and what to expect. If a change will end, such as parents returning from a trip, they need to be told when. Caregivers should validate their children’s anxieties by acknowledging their feelings and explaining how normal it is to feel discomfort when things change.

Comfort

It is important to listen to and acknowledge a child’s feelings, whatever they are. They need to know they can find comfort when they are sad, fearful, or otherwise upset. Sometimes attentive listening is all a child needs to feel safe. In some situations the parent and child might talk about ways to minimize the distress.

Emotions and feelings are not logical, nor are they supposed to be. They reflect how a child (or adult) views a situation, or the world. Their feelings always make sense when you understand their perceptions, or how they view a person or event. By validating a child’s emotions, you teach them what emotions are, and give them permission to feel and share them.

photo by Yann, "Painting by children, International Peace Day 2009, Geneva"

Further Reading

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