In addition to meeting children’s basic needs for food, water, safety, etc., it is also the caregiver’s role to meet children’s emotional needs. These relate back to Maslow’s needs for belonging, love, esteem and accomplishment.
Here are just a few recommendations for creating an environment that supports children’s emotional needs:
- Respond to children’s cues consistently and with a pleasant demeanor. Yes, working with groups of young children can be frustrating, especially when two or more children are signaling that they have unmet needs at the same time. Responding in a positive manner to every child’s needs, every time, is a professional practice that caregivers must master.
- Engage in serve and return interactions with children. This simply means that when you notice a child making eye contact or babbling (the serve), you respond with a similar gesture (the return). You can read more about serve and return here
- Engage in meaningful conversations with children. Consider your communication with children. Is more of your time spent in conversation or in direction-giving and correcting behaviors? Look for opportunities during arrival, departure, mealtimes, and play time to engage children in meaningful conversations.
- Help children understand their emotions. Teach emotional vocabulary and self-calming strategies. Give children tools to be more successful in their interactions with peers.
- Encourage and capitalize on mistakes. We all learn from our mistakes, especially when we have someone beside us supporting our learning. Rather than seeing mistakes as something to correct and punish, begin to think about the lessons that can be learned through mistakes. If a child spills milk, it is an opportunity to learn about responsibility. If a child gets angry with a peer, it is an opportunity to learn self-calming strategies.
- Create activities that encourage children to learn about one another. Discuss differences and similarities and how each person contributes to the classroom. Don’t compare children to other children. Identify and accentuate each child’s strengths and contributions.
- Introduce growth mindset practices. Generally, this means that you communicate with children in a way that highlights children’s accomplishments, regardless of how small. Growth mindset communication focuses on the efforts children make, rather than the accuracy of the final outcome. You can learn more by taking CUR121: Establishing Growth Mindset Practices in Early Learning Environments.
- Ensure that you are adjusting the curriculum to challenge children appropriately. At times, it may be necessary to adjust your expectations and lessons to focus on the emotional needs of children, before expecting them to be ready for academic content. Remember, according to Maslow, children’s basic needs must be met before they can focus on meeting their emotional needs; and those must be met before children can begin to focus on meeting the need to reach their full potential.
Implementing these strategies will help you build strong and supportive relationships with children, which scientists have identified as a contributing factor to children developing healthy stress response systems.
For the main article on Meeting Children’s Most Basic Needs, CLICK HERE
For the article on Children and Toxic Stress, CLICK HERE
For the article on Taking Steps to Meet Children’s Basic Needs, CLICK HERE
For the article on Director’s Corner: Supporting Families to Meet Children’s Basic Needs, CLICK HERE