Six Children and No Theories

Covering parenting and child development issues

Written by Lisa Lawmaster Hess, Community Blogger | Oct 12, 2012 7:27 AM

“The fact is that people are good, if only their fundamental wishes are satisfied, their wish for affection and security. Give people affection and security and they will give affection, and be secure in their feelings and their behavior.” (Abraham Maslow)

My daughter asked me last week if I'd ever heard of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which, apparently, they were studying in health class. I burst out laughing and she looked at me strangely - understandably so. I explained that as a school counselor, I'd not only studied it, but I'd made sure that the teachers I worked with were aware of it and understood it - ad nauseum. It had been posted on  the wall in my office. "Oh!" she said, the realization dawning. "That's why it sounded familiar!"

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A big part of an educator's role - and a parent's role, for that matter - is teaching children the skills they need at the time they need them, when they're most ready to assimilate them. Just as you wouldn't attempt to teach an infant toileting skills, you wouldn't ask a kindergartener to write a research paper or prepare a PowerPoint presentation. Kindergarteners are meant to play, explore and socialize and when we play to their strengths and innate needs, they flourish.

As parents, we do the same thing. We teach big things in small bits - "please" and "thank you" as an introduction to the larger concept of respect, for example. And often, we worry about whether or not our kids are ready - ready to give up the binky or blanket, ready to abandon diapers for the potty, ready to go to preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, colllege.

But what we often forget - or don't even realize - is that we automatically build our children a foundation that prepares them to do all of these things. We feed them, clothe them and keep them warm, thus meeting their physiological needs. We put up safety gates, hold their hands and watch them while they play in the back yard, making sure that they are safe. We make sure that they know that they are loved and appreciated because until they feel that sense of confidence and self-worth, they are ill-prepared not only to offer it to someone to else, but to expect respect from others as well.

Which brings me back to Maslow. Like parents and educators, he considers readiness, but from a self-actualization perspective. It sounds pretty lofty, but the bottom line (literally) is that until our physiological and safety needs are met, we aren't ready to devote our energy and attention to anything else, let alone actualize anything. Kids who go to school hungry aren't ready to learn, just as overexhausted toddlers aren't ready to cooperate. And all those things we want our kids to be when they grow up - creative, respectful, ready to solve the problems of the world - are things they can't even begin to approach unless they're first safe, well cared-for and loved.

As parents, we'll make many mistakes. But if we make sure our kids are safe, well cared-for and loved, we're truly building a firm foundation for the skills they'll need for the rest of their lives. Although my daughter will master the rudiments of Maslow in her freshman health class, I don't think she'll truly appreciate it until she has children of her own.

And that's parental actualization. At least in my book.

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