As a play therapist I often ask myself the question "What can I give each child that I see?" and "What do they really need to be happy?" When we think about what we need to be happy and to keep our emotional buckets full, I'm sure that our answers will be different. It is therefore safe to say that children also need different things to be happy. We must always remember that our children are not little replicas of us, but unique little individuals. In this article I will talk about what children generally need to be happy and how to apply it to your children.
All children need to have their basic needs met. Our basic needs include food, shelter and safety. When children are hungry, tired or sick, they are not happy. I have seen this in my practice but also during my work for Child Welfare Tshwane. When children don't have their basic needs met, they can't learn, play or develop. Be aware of your child's physical needs. When they are sick or tired please take care of that before doing anything else. Always provide your child with a healthy diet and make sure they get all their immunisations. Make sure that they get enough sleep and that they feel safe within your home. Physical safety builds the bridge towards emotional safety.
Above all things your child needs to be loved. Just like us, children will also have their own love language and they need specific things from you to feel loved. Some children enjoy and need physical touch, some children prefer quality time. They might prefer one love language more than the others, but they need all of them. To make it simpler, all children need physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service and gifts (please read our article about the five love languages of children at www.vitanova.co.za ). With love also comes unconditional acceptance. Please remember that loving/accepting someone unconditionally does not mean you have to love or accept what they do, but you need to love and accept who they are. When children feel unconditionally loved and accepted they will feel safe to communicate their needs and to make plans to meet these needs.
When I think about childhood, one of the most important tasks is to play. Play is one of your child's most important needs. Your child needs to play every day. Play is how children learn, talk and relax.
Through play children learn important skills and how to make sense of their world. Children need to be children; they need to have fun. They are not little grown-ups. Play with your children, as if you were their favourite toy. Children love playing games with their parents. It's fun for them to see their parent become children themselves. When you play with your child, you communicate with them on their level and you will be able to teach your child valuable skills, values and norms.
Learning is also one of your child's most important needs. Children learn from the moment they open their eyes and they never stop. They observe everything you as parents do, and this becomes their foundation for life. You need to provide any and every opportunity for your child to learn, this includes schooling and opportunities to learn through play. All children are eager to learn, though this might not include schooling. Some children love school, some children don't. Some children are sufficiently stimulated by school, some children find it boring. Every child has their own unique learning style and knowing your child's learning style will help you in educating your child. Remember that they do what they can, and that their best is good enough. They are not here to chase your dreams, but to chase their own dreams.
Mastery is also an important part of growing up. Children need to master a lot of different skills (physical, cognitive, emotional and social). Mastery will lead to empowerment, a feeling that all children need in order to be happy. One of the ways to empower your child is by teaching them how to make choices and plans. Ask yourself this question: "if you make all the choices for your child, how will they learn to make effective choices as adults?" You can start giving your child age appropriate choices from the age of two years old. Giving your children age appropriate choices will empower them to make important decisions later in life. It also teaches them how to think in terms of consequences: "if I choose to do this, I choose this consequence." This also teaches your child to take responsibility.
Teaching your child to make plans is another way of empowering your child. Teach your child to make plans on a practical level and it will be easier for them to make plans on an emotional level. Making plans can easily be made part of playing a game, but it can also be included when teaching your child about boundaries, and emotional/social awareness. "Let's make a plan to make you feel better?"
Every child needs structure, boundaries and predictability. Children need to grow on more than a physical and cognitive level. They also need to grow emotionally and socially. To become fully integrated beings, they need to learn and develop on all the above mentioned levels. As parents you play the biggest part in your child's overall development. Children need rules and boundaries; they need to know what is expected from them and what they can expect from the world. This will help our child in the development of a strong sense of self (a sense of who I am).
Every child needs to develop a strong sense of self. They need to be able to separate themselves from the world; they need to be able to identify who they are and what they like/dislike. For your child to develop a strong sense of self, you can do the following: Give your child the opportunity to make "I statements". They need to be able to identify what they like/dislike; what they believe/disbelieve; what they view as right/wrong. Giving your child age appropriate choices and control helps with the development of a strong sense of self. This gives your child some control over an otherwise uncontrollable world. As I already mentioned your child needs boundaries and rules – it presents further opportunity for the strengthening of your child's sense of self. Encouraging playfulness, imagination and laughter is as important for strengthening your child's sense of self, as the others. Never forget to have fun.
In this article I mentioned the most important needs of your children. But remember that your child is an individual and they know what they need and/or prefer. Talk to you children, ask them what they need, listen to them. I get unbelievable joy out of my work with people because I listen to what they need and I help them in making plans to get what they need. This includes my work with children and parents. Children are amazing little human beings; they have more passion for learning than we do; they are more honest than we are and they have the ability to move forward and be happy. Maybe it is time that we learn from them….