Unification News for January 2000

The Needs of Children

Diesa Seidel
Red Hook, NY
January, 2000

For any successful child development effort, it is important to be fully aware of the needs of the child. Meeting those needs is like the fertile soil in which the seed of guidance and instruction can bear good fruit. There are basic needs which all children have at all times; however, there are also more specific needs to be met depending on the age, situation and disposition of the child.

One can distinguish essential internal and external needs in raising children. External needs include adequate nutrition (food, vitamins and water), ample sleep and sufficient exercise. Moreover, the internal requirements for productive child development outweigh in importance the external. Society often tends to concentrate on the physical aspects of development, and overlooks some of the critical internal, mental conditions the child goes through.

The most important internal requirement for a child is a loving atmosphere. The child’s parental unit should primarily provide this atmosphere. By creating this comfort zone, the child may develop a sense of security and harmony in its new world. This atmosphere is one ingredient which should remain potent throughout the duration of the child’s development.

Psychodynamic theories emphasize that development is a product of the child’s responses to life’s challenges. According to Erikson’s psychodynamic theory of Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development, a loving atmosphere should be established during the first year of the baby’s life. Erikson refers to this preliminary stage as one of "trust versus mistrust." As long as the child’s caregivers are always guided in their child-rearing efforts by a strong desire to provide that loving atmosphere, surely they will succeed.

Further internal needs which contribute to the child’s well-being are to provide encouragement (especially for a sense of independence) and praise for their good deeds. With a positive outlook provided for children, they will be more inclined to take charge themselves and develop a healthy self-esteem later on. Erikson stresses these points in his psychosocial theory during the second and third stages ("autonomy versus shame and doubt" and "initiative versus guilt"). These two stages of growth occur between ages one and six years. During this phase, providing good role models for the child would in return instill a sense of security for their direction in life. If the caregivers are persistent and dedicated to providing their children with strong emotional support during their early years of life, then I believe that they will become likelier to grow up secure, stable and socially healthy individuals.

Guiding children to have a sense of freedom and responsibility is yet another factor in child development. Often our society confuses the two, or does not associate them with each other. With freedom comes responsibility, and with responsibility comes freedom. To some extent, Erikson incorporated these points into his theory of the adolescent years of maturation. "Industry versus inferiority" and "identity versus role confusion" (the fifth and sixth stages) both emphasize that the child should acquire an understanding of himself or herself and where he or she stands in the social hierarchy of society. Establishing a concept of what they can accomplish alone or with the help of others allows them to gain a degree of respect for themselves. This paves the way to implement a sound recognition of their identity.

The last stages that Erikson discusses deal with the later years (adulthood through old age). These stages are all directly related to the preliminary stages discussed previously. The eighth stage, "integrity versus despair," is directly associated with all the introductory stages of life maturation. This is considered to be the last stage of life where one reflects on one’s past actions and contributions. If children have been brought up in a secure, loving and peaceful environment, it seems more probable that they would have a nourishing adulthood, charitably pass their knowledge and experience on to their children, and feel they have lived a memorable, worthwhile life.

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