Providing What They Need
February 1, 2013
Many parents are familiar with the Five Basic Needs set forth by noted psychologist Abraham Maslow that deal with what we as humans require to live a full and rewarding life. These include the need to be healthy, to be safe, to be part of a group, to have strong self esteem, and to fulfill our potential. Not long ago I encountered an interesting twist on these needs at a school conference run by noted author, lecturer, and child psychologist Deborah Roffman. I thought her ideas were particularly applicable to life at Vermont Commons.
Ms. Roffman revealed that there are essentially five things we need to give to our children because until they are adults, they cannot supply them for themselves. Certainly children of different ages require more or less of these, but it is safe to say that with all these needs intact, one would be healthy and mature by adulthood. They are:
- Affirmation: Children cannot affirm their own goodness; adults need to do that for them. As parents and educators we spend a great deal of time on this one – making certain that our kids feel good about themselves. We praise them, congratulate them, and reward them.
- Information: Children do not know everything, adults need to inform them. This includes not only school knowledge, but information about how the world works too. These days there is so much for a child to learn! Kids absorb information in different ways, so it is up to us to figure out their best channels for processing, remembering, and expressing it.
- Clarity of Values: Values are essential to every community and every child. Clear values are easy for children to understand, adopt, and apply. As adults, we pass these on to our kids in many ways: modeling, discussing, and emphasizing what we value and why. Family values, community values, and national values all require teaching and clarification.
- Limit Setting: Children often struggle with setting their own limits, so adults need to help them, and in some cases do it for them. We all know that kids like to know where the boundaries are no matter how tight or loose you hold the reigns. Setting clear, reasonable, and firm limits always seems to work best.
- Anticipatory Preparation: Anticipating needs is difficult for children. As adults, we need to look ahead and see what they cannot. We need to help them learn how to plan, foresee, and deal with the ups and downs of life.
In hearing the lecture, I realized that a good school such as VCS addresses many of these needs for students. Schools may seem like just a conduit of information about Math, Social Studies, or Language Arts, but we affirm young adults, set appropriate limits, and prepare them to anticipate the future too. Most importantly, we try to clarify values for them by emphasizing respect, caring, hard work, and service to others. In all these ways, we are working with parents to achieve exactly the same goals.
The environment at Vermont Commons allows teachers to specifically focus on the needs of every child. Whether it is assisting a student through a tough science problem, congratulating them in front of the school for a job well done in a recent athletic contest, or helping them see the value of working as a group on a service project, we have many opportunities to address the “basic needs” of each individual. We create these unique opportunities to support teens on their road to adulthood, and our graduates consistently attest that we succeed at it. As a small school dedicated to the proper education and growth of each child, we are capable of knowing them personally, providing the support and guidance they need, and paving the way for them to become mature adults. Abraham Maslow and Deborah Roffman would be pretty proud of us, and we should be too.