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What Do Children Need

All children, those who are developing typically or atypically, those who have developmental disabilities, and those who are at-risk for developing problems, have a number of physical and psychological needs in common. These needs must be met if infants and children are to survive, thrive, and develop to their best potential. Many developmental psychologists view the early years as the most critical years in the entire lifespan. Never again will a child grow so rapidly or change so dramatically. During these very early years, children learn all of the many behaviors that characterize human beings-walking, talking, thinking, and socializing. Truly amazing, all of that within the first two or three years! And never again will the child be so totally dependent on parents, caregivers, and teachers to satisfy the basic needs of life and to provide opportunities for learning.

To discuss essential needs in an orderly and logical fashion, they can be separated into groups. However, it must be understood that physical and psychological needs are interrelated and interdependent. Meeting a child's physical needs while neglecting psychological needs may lead to developmental problems. The opposite is true-a child who is physically neglected frequently experiences trouble in learning and getting along with others.


Happy Boy

Physical Needs

• Shelter and protection from harm. 
• Food that is nutritious and appropriate to age of child.
• Warmth, adequate clothing.
• Preventive health and dental care; treatment of physical and mental conditions as needed.
• Cleanliness.
• Rest and activity; in balance.


Psychological Needs

• Affection and consistency-nurturing parents and caregivers who can be depended on to "be there" for the child.
• Security and trust-familiar surroundings with parents and caregivers who respond reliably to the needs of the infant and child.
• Reciprocal exchanges - beginning in earliest infancy "give-and-take" interactions that promote responsiveness in the child.
• Appropriate adult expectations as to what the child can and cannot do at each level of development.
• Acceptance and positive attitudes toward whatever cultural, ethnic, or developmental differences characterize the child.

Boy With Teacher

Two Infants

The Need to Learn

• Play is essential in early learning; infants and children need unlimited opportunities to engage in play in all of its many forms with freedom to explore and experiment, with necessary limits clearly stated and consistently maintained.
• Access to developmentally appropriate experiences and play materials.
• An appropriate "match" between a child's skill levels and the materials and experiences available to the child: enough newness to challenge, but not so much that the child feels incapable or excessively frustrated.
• Errors and failures treated as important steps in the learning process, never as reasons for condemning or ridiculing a child.
• Adults who demonstrate in everyday life the appropriate behaviors expected of the child, be it language, social interactions, or ways of handling stress. Remember, parents and caregivers are major models of behavior for young children. They also are a child's first teachers; children learn more from what adults do than from what they say.
• Inclusion in an active language "community", especially family and child care, in which the child learns to communicate through sounds, gestures, signs, and eventually words and sentences (either spoken, signed, or written).


The Need for Respect and Self-Esteem

• A respectful and supportive environment in which the child's efforts are encouraged, approved, and supported: "You picked up your crayons. Good job! Shall I put them on the shelf for you?"
• Acceptance of the child's efforts; respect for accomplishments whether small or large, for errors as well as successes: "Look at that! You laced your shoes all by yourself." (No mention of the eyelet that was missed.)
• Recognition that accomplishment, the "I can do it" attitude, is the major and most essential component of a child's self-esteem:"You're really getting good at cutting out cookies!"
• Sincere attention to what the child is doing well; using descriptive praise to help children learn to recognize and respect their accomplishments: "You got your shoes on the right feet all by yourself!"
• Awareness of the tremendous amount of effort and concentration that goes into acquiring developmental skills; positive responses to each small step as a child works toward mastery of a complex skill such as self-feeding with a spoon. "Right! Just a little applesauce on the spoon so it stays on."    

Singing Girl

What Children Need. Developmental Profiles Pre-Birth Through Eight. 3rd Edition 1999 Delmar publishing K. Eileen Allen, Lynn R. Marotz