Children’s Needs

Whenever I think of children’s needs, I start with Maslow. In 1943 he ordered the needs from most motivational, such as the basic need for food, to more self actualization needs such as peak experiences to become all one can be. Lots of good conversations have supported a healthy disagreement on these as being hierarchical, or not including some needs, or even once the lower needs are satisfied, the rest is all gravy.

Fear Trumps Education

For me, the needs of children for food, drink, safety and lack of fear are the most important to discuss right now, given the condition that many children seem to be in, when they arrive in our schools. My position on these has always been that children cannot learn very well if they are food insecure or traumatised. Sadly, many of them are. School reform ideas need to include a more robust partnership between schools and community, where families who have needs can get them, where schools who need more support in working with traumatised children can get that help, and where communities that are impoverished can look to schools as the anchor in their community that thinks about and acts on these issues.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

“1. Physiological needs – these are biological requirements for human survival, e.g. air, food, drink, shelter, clothing, warmth, sex, sleep.

If these needs are not satisfied the human body cannot function optimally. Maslow considered physiological needs the most important as all the other needs become secondary until these needs are met.

2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear.

3. Love and belongingness needs – after physiological and safety needs have been fulfilled, the third level of human needs is social and involves feelings of belongingness. The need for interpersonal relationships motivates behaviour

Examples include friendship, intimacy, trust, and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love. Affiliating, being part of a group (family, friends, work).

4. Esteem needs – which Maslow classified into two categories: (i) esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, mastery, independence) and (ii) the desire for reputation or respect from others (e.g., status, prestige).

Maslow indicated that the need for respect or reputation is most important for children and adolescents and precedes real self-esteem or dignity.

5. Self-actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences. A desire “to become everything one is capable of becoming” (Maslow, 1987, p. 64).

If fear really does lock us up from learning—being food insecure prevents us from critical thinking about educational topics—than we should also look at what motivates students to be the best that they can be. Encouragement of people’s actions lead to confidence in them to work hard. But Maslow also covered this idea with 15 characteristics of self-actualizers.

Characteristics of Self Actualizers

1. They perceive reality efficiently and can tolerate uncertainty;

2. Accept themselves and others for what they are;
3. Spontaneous in thought and action;
4. Problem-centered (not self-centered);
5. Unusual sense of humor;
6. Able to look at life objectively;
7. Highly creative;
8. Resistant to enculturation, but not purposely unconventional;
9. Concerned for the welfare of humanity;
10. Capable of deep appreciation of basic life-experience;
11. Establish deep satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people;
12. Peak experiences;
13. Need for privacy;
14. Democratic attitudes;
15. Strong moral/ethical standards.”


I think these would make the start of a good model for schools, for people, for a country. Lots of things to think about here, but really good goals is one of them.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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