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What do our Children truly Need?

Updated: Mar 3, 2022

As children grow, they playfully explore their environment, learn to interact with the people around them, and develop their likes and dislikes. It is during this time, that we build many of our strong beliefs and expectations about how things work in the world. These will continue to influence and shape our experiences, often at a subconscious level. Thus, it is important that children get their core needs met during this crucial time of development.

Schema Therapy, developed by Jeffrey E. Young, pinpoints the five following core needs that contribute to healthy emotional development in children. Helping our children to get these core needs met as best as possible can allow them to build resilience and confidence, form secure relationships, and equip them with tools to weather challenges in life:

- Physical and emotional safety

- Autonomy, and a sense of identity

- Freedom to express feelings, desires, and needs

- The freedom to play and be spontaneous

- Safe, age-appropriate limits and boundaries

Physical & Emotional Safety, Nurturance, Belonging & Stability: This refers to being safe from physical and emotional stressors, such as poverty, hunger, violence, or abuse; however, it goes beyond this to include stability, nurturance, and acceptance. Empathic understanding and showing kindness in our interactions can help children to feel valued and loved for who they are, which in turn increases their confidence and self-appreciation, and decreases negativity and anxiety. An example of this is verbally expressing love, appreciation, and encouragement to children. “You are doing great.” “I love you very much.” “I like how you helped your friend this week. That was very kind.”

Autonomy, Self-Identity, Self-Appreciation & Competence: Age-appropriate autonomy in decisions and choices is key to developing children’s problem solving skills, sense of competence, confidence and self-esteem, and understanding of personal likes and dislikes. This, in turns, helps to foster a sense of self-identity. An example of this is allowing children to choose between two or three alternatives when picking items of clothing, movies, games, etc. This way you can set reasonable limits, while still encouraging autonomy of choice.

Freedom to express feelings, desires, and needs: Caregivers who are emotionally and physically available to give care and encourage children to express their needs, desires and feelings can provide such safety. Importantly, the expression of these need to be accepted and validated. This can contribute to making children feel understood and help them to develop empathy toward others and themselves. An example of this is expression verbal validation. “I understand you feel sad about what your friend said to you.” “It is okay to feel disappointed that you cannot go to the party.” “I can see you are angry. We all get angry sometimes.” Such statements can be followed up with healthy reasoning and explanations; however, any corrective suggestions should specifically target behaviours or negative thoughts, never the experience of the feelings themselves.

Spontaneity & Play: These have been found crucial to a child’s development, helping children to express creativity, manage unexpected events, and develop resilience in the face of challenges. Studies also show that play improves motor skills, social skills, and memory. Importantly, spontaneity and play trigger intrinsic engagement, joy and energy, enhancing wellbeing. An example of this is to let children have space to be silly, messy, noisy, and excitedly engaged with their activities – and even better: get a bit silly with them yourself!

Realistic Limits: Setting appropriate limits and boundaries can help children to learn how to exert self-control and contribute to successful interactions with people and the world around them. Such limits can also encourage children to develop an adequate understanding of safety and risks, which can make them feel safer overall.

Helping children to meet their core needs is essential to helping them grow and develop in a balanced, healthy way. This builds the base for making them more resilient and able to manage the ups and downs throughout their entire lives. Likewise, we can also nurture our own mental health and wellbeing by exploring which childhood needs were not met for us, and how we can achieve these for ourselves in our adult lives. To find out more about your childhood needs or how to appropriately provide core needs to your children, book a consultation with psychologist in Hong Kong Dr. Terrighena on (852) 2521 4668 or

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