Last week I explained how all of us are constantly behaving in order to meet certain needs and are doing so in the best way we know and to the best of our ability. Given this information, we can conclude that there are no bad children but rather simply poor behavior choices and for you, as a parent, this is good news.

Even when we consider human conditions such as chemical imbalances, mental disorders and other afflictions that affect mood and judgment, the need-fulfilling axiom still applies — all of us are acting to meet needs with the resources available to us. And it is important to add that our needs will be met, if not in a responsible way, then most certainly in an irresponsible and unhealthy way.

So what are these specific basic human needs?

World renown psychiatrist William Glasser said human beings all share the same five basic needs. This applies to all, no matter the place or time; we are continually attempting to satisfy the same needs in order to increase our personal happiness. When we feel like we are out of alignment it is either due to lack of meeting the survival need (nutrition, sleep, shelter, exercise, and security) OR because one of the following four psychological needs is not getting the attention it requires.

The Four Psychological Human Needs

  • Love-belonging, connectedness, admiration, appreciation
  • Power-accomplishment, capability, skill-attainment, ability to make and accept change
  • Freedom-choices, options, and movement
  • Fun-discovery, play, imagination, creativity, laughter

How does this apply to our children?

Over time, a child’s unmet need can manifest in an infinite number of ways including any of the following:

  • deception
  • attention seeking
  • recklessness
  • aggression
  • withdrawal
  • defiance
  • rule breaking
  • perfectionism
  • promiscuity
  • eating disorders
  • obsessive behavior
  • drug/alcohol abuse
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • criminal activity
  • gang involvement

There are unlimited choices for meeting needs and while all of the above require a caretaker’s attention, some are obviously more troublesome than others. Regardless of the severity, the solution begins using the same mindset:

“The best strategy focuses on what the child believes he has to gain by engaging in a particular behavior rather than what we believe he has to lose! (No more starting with lectures about the downside!)”

Instead, we begin by donning our ‘need-detective lenses’ and through the use of the following powerful questions move toward finding more healthy options for our children.

  • What is this behavior saying?
  • In what ways is this behavior meeting needs?
  • In what ways could the child better meet these needs?
  • In what ways could we help?

These questions allow us to gain invaluable insight so that together, with our child, we can help
them make more healthy and responsible choices.

*A word about gangs and need fulfillment: Gang involvement is profoundly attractive to teens, but it is not due to an individual’s desire to be bad or become a criminal as one might assume. The reason a teen might find gangs so appealing is that the dynamics inherent to gang life allow opportunities for satisfying ALL FIVE of our basic needs at once.

From the gang member’s perspective, the lifestyle provides a sense of security, connection, belonging, companionship, admiration, capability, discovery, creativity, laughter, and lots of freedom—the freedom to leave home, drop-out of school and pick new friends. While it is obviously unhealthy and dangerous, it is a viable option for the extremely needy, and children who come from homes that do not nurture growth by meeting needs are subsequently more at risk for gang involvement.

About the author

Kate Martin has been a high school teacher for 27 years and retired from the Racine Unified School District in 2015.  She taught students with special needs as well as those in general education. While working with hundreds of parents over the years, she discovered that there was a significant lack of resources and educational opportunities to help them navigate the many demands of parenting today. For this reason, in 2013 she founded The Purposeful Parent, offering workshops and resources for parents, teachers, and caregivers.

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