Understanding a Child’s Needs

Posted: October 11, 2010 in needs

This past week I was fortunate to spend a much-needed vacation away from Colorado. Though it pains me to tell you that I spent my vacation in Indiana of all places, I have returned rested and refreshed. The reason – the only reason – I spent my vacation in Indiana is because of the close friendships and relationships I have there. When all was said and done, it was always about the people. The love and friendship I experienced in Indiana was a good reminder of the unique needs I have in my life.

We all have certain needs in our lives. You and I can probably articulate the needs we have more than a middle school student can. Some of those needs can be filled by anybody; some can only be filled by loved ones. There are surface-level needs – which may more aptly be called “desires” – like a middle school kid wanting affirmation for his clothing style, which he will look for from his peers. But then there are the deep-seated needs which only parents and trusted adults can meet.

On October 2 we had something called the “Faith Steps Summit” at Vanguard Church for our Grove Family Ministry. It was a focus group designed to create an environment where parents and ministry leaders could come together and discuss the topic of “Relationship Parenting.” After worshiping together, our guest speaker Kevin Rohrer from Shield of Refuge Counseling presented a talk on this topic before we all separated into age-specific breakout sessions to discuss the implications of his content for our kids.

Today I’d like to review one particular part of his presentation that focused on understanding every child’s needs. I think this is so important for us to understand as youth workers and as parents that I wanted to dedicate this week’s blog to this particular topic. Kevin articulated 5 specific needs that every child has. (I contribute all of the following content to his presentation. Further questions can be directed to him at shieldofrefugecounseling@q.com)

First, there is STRUCTURE. When a child’s need for structure is achieved, the child feels, “I am safe.” The child knows that she can trust her parents and they are able to take care of her. The parent leads, and the child follows. Structure includes the expectations and the rules that parents set in order to protect/teach the child about life.

Second, there is NURTURE. When a child’s need for nurture is achieved, the child feels, “I am lovable.” Kevin noted, “The parent is to provide healthy love, affection, and touch in order to teach the child his/her significance.” Another interesting point is that eye contact increases emotionality. When a parent makes consistent eye contact with the child, love is communicated.

Third, there is CHALLENGE. When a child’s need for challenge is achieved, the child feels, “I am capable.” Kevin noted, “The parent is to provide opportunities that encourage the child to stretch out and overcome our expectations of them.” In other words, give them chances to explore their capabilities and find out that they are skilled and gifted. The parents should show the student that they believe in their child!

Fourth, there is ENGAGEMENT. When a child’s need for engagement is achieved, the child feels, “I am significant.” When there is engagement, the parent pursues a relationship with the child and communicates that the child is interesting and fun to be with. I like to think of this in terms of how God engaged us. He sent His Son to be with us and suffer with us instead of staying removed from us outside of daily life. He gave us His presence as He engaged us.

Fifth, there is PLAYFULNESS. When a child’s need for playfulness is achieved, the child feels, “I am delighted in.” This obviously looks different for every age group, but even adults need to play every once in a while. A parent should provide chances for the child to play and for the parent to join in.

As I listened to Kevin present on the five needs of a child, I reflected on how all of these elements looked like in my life as I grew up. Where was there structure in my life? How was I nurtured? When was I challenged? Did I feel engaged? Was there playfulness? I want to issue you the same challenge. Wrestle through what these five elements looked like in your life. There is no perfect parent or perfect family, so there will always be one or two that are not as prominent as the others. And my guess is that you either neglect the same area or over-compensate in that area because you didn’t have it.

If you’re a youth pastor, leader, or volunteer, think about the students with whom you have relationships. Think about their home life. You might be able to guess what needs aren’t being met based on how they react in group settings. You’ll never be able to play the role of parent in your student’s life, but you can make huge steps towards becoming that trusted adult they need in their life if they don’t have it. In any case, try to partner with parents and communicate with them about their child. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt more capable of ministering to a student after great conversations with their parents. They have a much better glimpse into the student’s life than we ever could.

My biggest hope is that the church and the family don’t work separately to love their students into a relationship with Jesus Christ. We are much better in partnership than as lone rangers. Let’s open the communication lines and introduce them to the Savior, the Father who will meet every need they have!

 Next week I’ll continue debriefing Kevin’s presentation with “Control Strategies” that kids will employ when needs aren’t being met.


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