Some babies start walking at 11 months while others take their first steps at 14 months, yet each of them has a common developmental need to learn how to use their legs in a new way. Similarly, every human, from babies to adulthood progresses through developmental milestones meaning our specific needs are constantly changing. At the same time, we all have shared needs.
U.S. psychologist Abraham Maslow referred to basic universal needs as motivating factors. He is most known for his pyramid of needs, beginning with the physiological & reaching self-actualization. His theory includes the idea that there are different kinds of basic universal needs & the degree to which these needs are met at any given time influences an individual’s motivation.
Critics, Categories & Unique Interpretations
While some critics disapprove of the hierachial structure, we find the levels helpful related to understanding child development. While there is a level of implied dependence for both children & adults, the level is greater for children. It also may be more realistic to consider each person to travel up & down this pyramid journey regularly as opposed to progressively climbing up the hierarchy.
Maslow’s five categories are: physiological, safety, love & belonging, esteem & self-actualization. The actual needs differ slightly depending on interpretation. For example, some list shelter as foundational, while some might list it under safety. This fluidity of interpretation further emphasizes the levels are not cut & dry, but rather there is overlap. Like development, we experience unique needs within a universal framework.
Here is an interpretation of Maslow’s hierarchy as it relates to child development.
We all have universal & unique needs in each of these categories that are constantly in flux. Babies & children have all of the same needs too, yet may or may not be able to correctly identify & express their needs. As caregivers, it is our job to be reliable when they are completely dependent & to gradually release them to becoming healthy, independents.
The base of the pyramid begins with needs every human has in order to survive. The foundation of Maslow’s hiearachy lists what we often refer to as basic needs: air, food, clothing, shelter, water.
Babies are totally dependent on their caregivers to provide basic needs. As they grow, the level of dependence & independence changes relative to the child’s level of development.
Sustainable survival. The next level in the hierarchy involves physical & emotional safety, a consistent job to provide for the above needs on an ongoing basis & a sense of security, such as the roof will still be on the house when you wake up in the morning.
As it relates to child development, much of the need for safety & security comes from the caregivers & the physical & emotional environment they provide.
In the middle of the pyramid, Maslow places the need for love & belonging. As soon as we are able to think beyond our physiological & safety needs, we desire to feel loved & accepted, to belong.
Some argue these needs are actually foundational, but perhaps the hierarchy represents the level of which we are aware of our needs. If you can’t breathe or you are hungry, you are likely not thinking about love, yet provision of air & food would enable you to consider your need for love.
Some would say the desire to love is equal to or stronger than the desire to be loved, but undoubtedly, they are related. This level is a good reminder for caregivers to practice self-care in order to avoid burnout.
Connection leads to confidence & a desire to give to others out of what you have experienced. At this level, we see personal acceptance leading to success in other areas of life. An example would be a sibling or classmate offering to share a toy or read to a younger child. We often see moments of this in very young children.
Your Highest Potential. The ability to be creative, to enjoy the moment, to accept who you are, who others are & your world as it actually is, as opposed to how you wish it was. We all experience moments of peace, yet also see areas of our world that we wish were different. The serenity prayer is used by some organizations to express this level of Maslow’s Hierarchy:
God grant me the Serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
change the things I can;
and the Wisdom to
know the difference.
Permission to Be
We all have a many universal & unique needs. We feel hungry, & then, we don’t. We feel loved, & later, we are convinced we aren’t. We also often feel uncomfortable – a bit squirmy – hearing of, experiencing or admitting need. Why is that?
Rather than a list to compare, what if the pyramid gives us permission…
Permission to be hurt, to feel hurt & to understand why you hurt.
Permission to be grateful, to feel joy, to love.
Need is part of what it means to be human.
So give yourself permission to be you today… to have your needs & to acknowledge them.
Dare to express them, & be willing to listen to someone else’s…
maybe even your child’s.