Children´s needs

Children have many needs. If their needs are not met, they will tell us, not always by words but more often by actions, that they have unfulfilled needs. (And to be honest – don´t adults not express their needs by actions as well?) If a child needs attention, he will probably not say to his Dad: ”Daddy, please give me some attention.” He will more probably hit his younger broter – because then his Dad will give him some attention!

Children don´t always know what they need, they just have a feeling of that something is missing. That feeling might be very strong, and they act out from that feeling. The action is what we often call a ”bad behavior”. But instead of labeling the action as a problem, we can choose to understand it as a call from the child that he has an unmet need – and try too meet the need!

The four biggest needs of children (and adults as well) are:

  • Love – to belong
  • Joy – to feel happiness and meaning
  • Freedom – to be able to make choices
  • Power – to know that I am capable and that I have some sort of control over my life

(You can read more about these needs in Robert Sullo´s book ”Teach Them To Be Happy”.)

List of children´s needs

Children need:

  • enough to eat and enough sleep.
  • to be loved and to show their love.
  • to be touched and to touch.
  • to be seen and to be alone.
  • to connect and to be free.
  • to be needed and to relax.
  • to know what is expected from them and to do it their own way.
  • other people to set up boundaries and to have their own boundaries respected.
  • to be in control and to trust that someone else is in control.
  • to have power over their own lives but they don´t want to have power over others’ lives.
  • to feel that they arecapable but they also need new challenges.
  • to understand and to be understood.
  • to show their feelings of sadness, anger and happiness.
  • to forgive and to be forgiven.
  • protection but not to be overprotected.
  • a hope and a meaning.

Love, love, and more love

”What children need is love, love and even more love.”

This is a quota by the well known Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. And it is so true. In every child there is a lovetank, that needs to be filled with love. If it is not filled with love, the child will not listen. A child needs to know and experience that he is loved.

There is also another tank that we easily fill with criticism and negative attention. That´s the tank we often fill first when the child is not obeying. The problem is that filling the criticism tank will not change the child´s behavior. It is only by filling the lovetank that we can help anyone to change. Children need at least as much as five times more love than ciriticism.

Children need love in many differents ways. There are many love languages. By observing how your child GIVES love you can understand how he prefers to RECIEVE love.

For some children it is hard to recieve love. They might not understand my words and actions as love, becuase they have problems in understanding other people´s intentions and actions. It can also be that the child has bad experiences and can not trust others. These children have a hole in their lovetank, a leak. We give and give, but nothing stays. Healing can happen, but it takes a lot of time and effort. And sometimes we need to accept that the leak can not be totally healed.

The need of belonging

The need of belonging is extremely important, and a lot of the behaviors of children that we are worried about, are the child´s way to express that he doesn´t feel that he belong.

To belong is to

  • feel loved
  • know that there is a place for me where I can be who I am
  • feel safe
  • know that whatever I feel like, there is love for me!



Every child needs one or two attachmentpersons. An attachmentperson is a safe base, that I can always come back to, to find security.
Someone that sees me, tries to understand me and my needs, and tries her best to meet my needs.
Someone that wants to share my emotions and ”harbour” them.
A ”gas” station where I can be refueled with love.
A safe harbour where I can put my anchor down, attach myself, and rest.

Children need a safe relationship to a safe attachmentperson.

To find a person to attach to we use

  • Eye contact
  • Closeness
  • Imitation
  • Smiles and laughter
  • Special voice and words

To be separated from an attachment person can be really painful.

Reactions when we belong v/s not belong

Children need a safe relationship to a safe attachmentperson. But they also need to feel that they belong to other people and groups.

When I feel that I belong

  • I want to cooperate and follow the rules.
  • I respect the others.
  • I care about the others and their stuff.
  • I want to contribute.

When I belong

  • I feel secure.
  • I feel needed and loved.
  • I understand end I feel that I am understood.
  • I feel that life is meaningful.
  • I know how to handle life.

When I feel that I don´t belong

  • I do not want to cooperate and follow rules.
  • I do not respect others.
  • I do not care for others and their stuff.
  • I do not want to contribute.

When I don´t belong I feel

  • scared
  • alone
  • threatened
  • confused
  • lost
  • misunderstood
  • that life is not meaningful

As soon as a child shows ay of these signs or emotions, try to find out how you can help the child to get a better sense of belonging.

Ulrika Ernvik