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Children’s Emotional Needs


My previous few articles looked at the idea that we come into the world with a set of emotional (as well as physical) needs that have to be met if we are to be emotionally healthy and resilient to stress and mental illness.

There is broad agreement today about what these needs are and some of the most important are: Security, attention (to give and receive it), a sense of autonomy and control, emotional intimacy (to know that at least one other person accepts us totally for who we are, “warts ‘n’ all”), feeling part of a wider community, privacy — opportunity to reflect and consolidate experience, an emotional connection to others, sense of status within social groupings, sense of competence and achievement and most important, a sense of meaning and purpose — which comes from being stretched in what we do and think.

This article focuses on children’s emotional needs and how we, as parents, have a responsibility to help our children get their needs met:

Sean: A Case Study

Over the past ten years I have given out discussion exercises (based on fictional case studies)  to groups of adults in the classroom, as part of a Carers qualification. The first exercise I’m going to share with you is about a 13 year old boy, Sean:

Sean is a 13 year old boy who lives with his parents and his older brother who is 18 and at college. They are a well-to-do family, with both parents working as solicitors in the family law business, often putting in long hours. Sam is very bright and enjoys online games, particularly war games and fantasy. The family moved some way out of town to a big new house a year ago and these days he rarely gets to meet up with his school friends outside of school hours. He used to enjoy team sports but now it’s difficult to arrange transport to and from training and matches so he’s pretty much dropped out. He uses social media a lot to keep in contact with them and new friends he meets through gaming. Now in 6th class, he is finding school a bit boring and unchallenging. While the family go on at least 2 holidays abroad each year and money is never a problem, Sam is finding that he is spending more and more time alone in his bedroom on his computer. He loves his parents but wishes that they had more time just to stop and chat to him. He misses hanging out with his friends.

Looking at the Emotional Needs Audit, how would Sean score?

Students would comment that although Sean is well looked after on a material level and there is no suggestion of lack of love in this household, that he is becoming more and more isolated and relying more and more on online games rather than the team sports he used to love. Taking part in team sports allowed him to get many of his emotional needs met, including a sense of purpose, of being stretched, of achievement and competence, of social connection. He may well be aware of a lack of control – that even when he really wants to meet up with friends and just “hang out”, he simply can’t. Instead he is limited to social media. His parents have become so busy that they are not able to meet his needs for attention and he is feeling more and more isolated. All this, combined with the fact that he is feeling that school is becoming boring and unchallenging, is putting him at high risk for  emotional difficulties. Some teenagers can start to “act out” in order to get attention, others respond by becoming withdrawn. He is likely to become more mentally lethargic and more prone to stress and anger.

In our teenage years, more than at any other  time of life,  we have a need to connect to something bigger – to fit in, to be one of the gang, to have  close circle of friends. These are also years when our brains constantly hunger for stimulation and creativity, new things to think about and new things to do. When this is denied we get bored, anxious and stressed.

Emotional needs in the classroom

Check out this excellent article about meeting emotional needs in the classroom:

How are your own needs being met?

Check out how well your own emotional needs are being met right now! If you would like a free copy of the Emotional Needs Audit , click here:

Need some advice and support?

If you would like to discuss any of the  issues raised in this article further, or perhaps look at ways that you can start to get your own or  your family’s emotional needs met in a balanced way, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.

Book a counselling session today!

See also Essential Tools to help us Meet our Needs, Emotional Needs Audit, Emotional Needs