Child’s Hierarchy of Needs

by annie on February 1, 2010

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Parents often find it overwhelming trying to meet their children’s needs. With limited time, limited resources, and limited patience meeting all of their needs can seem like an impossible task. If we can’t do it all, where should we begin? Where should we focus? What is most important?

Last year, Meagan Francis from The Happiest Mom developed a Mother’s Hierarchy of Needs based on the work of Abraham Maslow who developed Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In simple terms (from businessballs.com, emphasis mine):

Each of us is motivated by needs. Our most basic needs are inborn, having evolved over tens of thousands of years. Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs helps to explain how these needs motivate us all. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs states that we must satisfy each need in turn, starting with the first, which deals with the most obvious needs for survival itself. Only when the lower order needs of physical and emotional well-being are satisfied are we concerned with the higher order needs of influence and personal development.


I enjoyed Meagan’s take on Maslow’s hierarchy as it relates to mothers (theoretically applies to fathers too?) and wanted to create a corresponding child’s hierarchy of needs. Here is what I came up with:

Difference between children and adults

The important thing to note when looking at the Child’s Hierarchy of Needs and comparing it to the Mother’s Hierarchy of Needs or general hierarchy of needs is that children are wholly dependent on others to provide their needs, at least initially. That certainly puts a great deal of pressure and responsibility on parents to understand and respond appropriately to those needs.

While researching this topic, I came across an article on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that explains that:

Adults have little awareness of their security needs except in times of emergency or periods of disorganization in the social structure (such as widespread rioting). Children often display the signs of insecurity and the need to be safe.

I found this note particularly interesting. I guess as we get older we learn to deal with a certain level of insecurity in our lives. I think sometimes adults forget or do not know that children do not have that same built in ability to deal with insecurity or uncertainty. People often assume when dealing with issues like separation anxiety, sleep training or fears that their children should understand that they are safe. But perhaps we need to be more understanding and not assume that they are just trying to manipulate us.

Intersecting needs

Parents have needs. Children have needs. They are not independent at all. None of us is an island and the interdependence and intersecting of our needs create interesting challenges and dynamics. Read more about how to take care of your own needs while taking care of your child’s.

What do you struggle with?

Which of your child’s needs do you find most difficult to meet? Which of your own needs do you find difficult to meet? What strategies have you developed for meeting both of your needs and ensuring everyone is happy?

Annie is an attached mom of two children. She blogs at PhD in Parenting and is on twitter @phdinparenting.

Image: PhD in Parenting

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