The Needs of Childhood
The sun was shining as a four-year old and his mother went into K-Mart. While they were shopping, dark clouds gathered and covered the sun.
It was cloudy and dark by the time the boy and his mom left the store. “Where did God go?” asked the boy. “He was here a minute ago.”
One of our goals as teachers and parents is to help children reach a level of maturity at which they put others first. They help. They share. They give. Our hope is that they will serve others because they choose to, not because they’re forced to.
At first glance, it might seem that focusing on meeting a child’s needs gives too much attention to the child. Won’t that keep him centered on himself? No. In fact, just the opposite is true. The child whose needs are met can focus on other people, instead of on his own unfulfilled needs. He doesn’t have to spend time trying to get his own needs met.
We are talking about needs now, not wants. It’s possible that what a child wants is also what he needs. But it’s quite possible that what he wants is not at all what he needs. That’s why one of his greatest needs is adults who are tuned in to him and can help him make right choices. These adults will not cater to his every want, but will try to provide for his needs.
Our human tendency is to treat others the way we’ve been treated. So when we meet a child’s needs, we model for him how to help others. If we treat a child with respect, he is more likely to treat others with respect. This is the way God deals with us. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
So what are the needs of children?
Every child needs a place where he can feel safe and secure. First of all, he needs physical safety. Oftentimes, we protect children from real dangers that they are not even aware of. At other times, children are afraid and we are not. Some of the most common fears of preschool children are imaginary: ghosts, monsters, and things lurking in the dark. But between the ages of seven and twelve, imagined fears are replaced by fears of bodily injury and natural disaster. The greatest fears at this stage are real: drive-by shootings, kidnappers, gangs, and drugs. Even among adolescents, the top fears are related to death and physical danger.1
But children also need to feel safe from emotional attack. One of the biggest fears of all people, including children, is the fear of rejection, criticism, and mockery. Whatever their fears, kids need to feel safe around us. Whether our children are young or almost grown, if we can have age-appropriate rules, be consistent, and maintain fairly predictable schedules and routines, we will contribute a great deal toward helping kids feel secure.
Ranking close to the fear of rejection is the fear of failure. The child who is afraid to fail is the child who stops trying. Someone may have told him that he’ll never make it. Or that he’ll never be good enough. And he believed them. The fear of failure paralyzes people.
Optimism helps to combat the fear of failure. Optimism believes things are going to work out for the best. It helps us keep going when things get tough. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel. It encourages us to see failures and hardships as stepping stones instead of stumbling blocks. Children need our optimism. They need us to encourage them so that when life hands them a lemon, as the old saying goes, they can “make lemonade.”
. They need adults who have a kind sense of humor, adults who can laugh at their own mistakes and look forward to a bright future. Solomon wrote, “Though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again” (Proverbs 24:16). God’s people have every reason to be optimistic. “All things work together for good for them that love God” (Romans 8:28, KJV).
All people need to feel that they are important to someone. Children are no different. What makes you feel significant? Someone acknowledges your presence, welcomes you, spends time with you, listens to you, values your work and your efforts, asks you to join them in their work and play. When adults notice children, speak to them, listen to them, call them by their names, children feel significant.
People also feel significant when they feel needed. When you are able to help someone else, to serve them, to do tasks that are productive and meaningful, you feel significant. This is true of children, too. As they grow and learn to do more on their own, they feel competent and significant.
Why is feeling significant so important? As one mother said, “When people feel worthless, they act worthless.” But when people feel significant, they act as if what they do will be significant. They believe what they do and say will make a difference. That motivates them to be more responsible. They don’t want to jeopardize their self-respect or the respect that others have for them.
So check your attitude toward children. Do you feel like they are a nuisance? Are they “in the way”? Or are they a treasure to you? Are you glad to get rid of them? Or are you sorry to see them go? Your attitude will be communicated to children, even if you don’t say it in words.
“Let the little children come to me,” said Jesus (Matthew 19:14). If we are to grow to be like Jesus, we will grow in kindness and love toward children.
Closely linked to significance is belonging. Everyone needs to feel like they belong somewhere. They need to feel like they fit, like they are welcome. Belonging has to do with finding a place in the group.
What are some important groups for children? Family. Classmates. Neighbors and other friends. Club members and even co-workers. How do these groups give a child a sense of belonging? They include him in what they do. They encourage him to contribute to discussions. They listen and value his input. They give him a role to play that directly benefits the group, so he can see that what he does enables the group to function, even to survive.
These roles include jobs or chores. In the classroom and in families, children should have age-appropriate jobs, tasks that they can accomplish successfully. Children need to feel needed.
Children need freedom to explore. This does not mean they should be left completely to themselves, unsupervised, with no limits. It simply means they need some unstructured, non-directed, free time.
Time is a precious commodity. We spend much of it running here and there. We fill time with music lessons, dance lessons, gymnastics, ball practices and games. While those activities can be fun, they can also deprive a child of much-needed blocks of free time. A child needs time to think on his own, to watch ants, smell clover, taste honeysuckle, blow dandelion seeds. He needs time to work through boredom and move into creativity.
That means children need to have access to materials that encourage them to exercise their curiosity safely, to explore, to discover. Having a variety of safe, interesting material available encourages children to explore. The adult then makes himself available as a resource person to help the child as needed. But the adult does not direct the activity or intervene in the activity unless it’s necessary.
- Appreciation of Childhood
Children need people who appreciate the fact that they’re children. Our society pressures kids to grow up quickly. But God made children to grow and mature according to a general pattern, not only physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually as well. No amount of pushing and pressuring can change that. It’s a process.
We can manipulate kids by getting them to dress like grown-ups and talk with grown-up words, but that doesn’t mean they are more grown up. Their appearance and speech may fool some people, but an underlying immaturity will surface. The outward signs will be out of step with the inner, God-given growth pattern.
How can we show children that we appreciate their age? How do we show that we accept them on their level? We provide material they can use and activities they can do successfully. We choose child-sized furniture and equipment for our classrooms. We make our teaching relevant to their age level and interests.
This same principle holds true for children who have special needs. We accept them as they are. If the child is in a wheelchair, we provide activities he can do successfully. If a child is color blind, we avoid color matching activities for him. If he is a poor reader, we avoid asking him to read the Bible passage out loud. Instead, we help these children accomplish tasks in areas where they can succeed.
Relationship in itself is neither positive or negative. The link between two things could be strong or weak, good or bad. What children want and need are good, strong relationships with wise, caring adults.
In our society, generational links of relationship have broken down. God originally made the older to teach and train the younger. When the world began, and for thousands of years after that, families were intergenerational groups that worked and played together. Children lived not only among parents and siblings, but also grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts and uncles. The older generations were revered for their experienced, wise counsel.
Our present day culture centers around youth. People are separated into age-segregated peer groups that often look down their noses at the younger and mistrust and ridicule the older. But for children, a good, warm relationship with a caring adult can be a foundation for growth in every area of development. As we will see, this type of relationship is a critical component in building faith and moral values.
The One Who Meets All Needs
Appreciation of Childhood
As an acrostic, these words spell “S.O.S BEAR.” When a child’s needs have not been met, very often he will send an S.O.S. signal by his behavior. (We will look specifically at behavior in a later chapter.) Of course, only God can completely satisfy all the child’s needs. So sensitive adults act as guides to lead the child to his Heavenly Father, who can and will meet every need, although perhaps not according to our agenda or on our timetable. But God loves perfectly, and Perfect Love is faithful.
Our own needs are very similar to those of the child. So we teachers and parents continue to rely on God to meet our needs, too. God keeps us secure in His love. We can be optimistic, because He is in control and works out His plans for our good and His glory. We are significant to him, counting our worth by the great price He paid for us. Now we belong to God the Creator as His precious children. He has given us a whole world of sensory experiences and ideas to explore, including His own rich, limitless store of wisdom and knowledge. He accepts and appreciates each of us individually right where we are in our development. And He has invited us to enter into an intimate relationship with Him. He delights in our relationship and gives us opportunity daily to fall deeper in love with Him.
God’s love is our greatest treasure. As we share this treasure, it multiplies like the loaves and fish. Let’s continue to look for the best way to share it.
–from Child Sensitive Teaching, by Karyn Henley, Chapter 2.
© Karyn Henley. All rights reserved. Exclusively administered by Child Sensitive Communication, LLC.