Remembering Child Development During the Holidays

It’s hard to believe that 2022 is almost over!  We hope you had a year full of all of the things that made you happy.  Whether you achieved big goals or spent the past year taking things slow, we are glad to have been a part of your experience.

We hope that you take time during this transition into 2023 to recognize the important role you play in the lives of the children and families that you support.  That support comes in the form of direct day-to-day care and in the resources and information you share with families.  This month’s CCEI newsletter focuses on the convergence of the holiday season and child development. The holidays bring with them hustle and bustle, family gatherings, excitement, and stress. Children are not immune from the feelings of stress and anxiety that many adults feel during this time of year.

It is important for adults to keep in mind how stress impacts young children who are often put in situations that they are not yet developmentally ready to handle. Keeping the characteristics of different theories of child development in mind can help educators create learning environments that reduce stress for young children.  Educators can also share this information with families so that they can create realistic expectations for their children and help reduce stress at home.

In the newsletter, we reviewed a few well-known theories of child development that can shine some light on how children experience the world around them, including the extra stress of the holiday season.  Here, we will review Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which attempts to explain the elements that must be in place for a child to reach the highest level of fulfillment.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is often depicted as a triangle containing 5 levels with the most basic needs at the base of the triangle. Maslow’s theory states that human motivation is linked to meeting needs in a particular order. To reach the top of the triangle, one must progress through each of the lower levels.  Here are the levels from the base of the triangle to the top:

Physiological needs – This refers to the elements that humans need to survive, including water, food, and a warm environment. These are basic survival needs and they take precedence over all other needs, according to Maslow.  Consider a time when you have been extremely hungry.  At that moment, you were probably more concerned with finding something to eat than you were with becoming a better version of yourself.

Safety – Once a person’s physiological needs are met, they can shift focus to creating and maintaining a safe environment. Safe environments are not only physically safe but also emotionally safe. Humans seek safety in places that are predictable and familiar. Finding safe spaces reduces stress and opens the door for the next level of need.

Love and belonging – When a person lives in an environment that addresses their physiological needs and feels safe and secure, they are better able to focus on meeting the need to connect with other humans.  We are social beings and feelings of acceptance and belonging are important to our overall fulfillment. According to Maslow, a person may find it challenging to address the need for belonging and love if they are focused on meeting the need to feel safe, physically or emotionally.

Esteem – This level of need relates to feeling good about oneself. According to Maslow, people seek to feel confident in their abilities and see themselves in a positive light. People want to contribute to their community and feel proud of their accomplishments. In Maslow’s Hierarchy, this can occur after the needs for belonging, safety, and physiological security have been met.

Self-actualization – At the top of the triangle is the need to feel as though we are fulfilling a purpose that is important to us. What is important to each person is unique, so this will look different from person to person. According to Maslow, the need to fulfill this purpose is something that is not reached by every person.

When we think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as it relates to children, we can see that adults are responsible for helping children meet these needs at every level.  Adults must provide food and water. They must ensure that the environment is safe, both physically and emotionally.  They must create environments where children can feel a sense of belonging and where they can begin to feel confident about their skills.  From there, helping children discover things that make them feel fulfilled is a critical responsibility.

Unfortunately, there are situations in which this support is not available to children. This is rarely intentional and is often the result of circumstances or a lack of awareness of the importance of helping children feel safe, loved, and confident.

Educators can use the information from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to evaluate their learning environments.  Look for opportunities to create safe, predictable environments.  Find ways to recognize and celebrate the contributions of all of the children in the group. Help children make connections with their peers and do things in the classroom that they thoroughly enjoy.  Remember, this may be different for each child, so offering a wide variety of activities can help children meet these needs.

Think about how the stress of the holiday season may impact the children in your group as they seek to meet their internal needs and share information with families to raise awareness of this important theory of development.

Wishing you all the best this holiday season!