Needs of children

In her pioneering work, Dr Kellmer-Pringle (1986) identified the four main needs of children that need to be met in equal measure as: Love and security, new experiences, responsibility and praise and recognition. The need for love and security is met when a child experiences a stable, continuous, dependable and loving relationship with their parents or adults (such as teachers, extended family, godparents, etc). These relationships form the basis for children's self-worth and healthy personal development (the control component of mental toughness).

New experiences are a prerequisite for intellectual and cognitive growth. A child's mastery of tasks, appropriate to each stage of their development, provides stepping stones to accomplishing more difficult tasks in later life.

It is key that new experiences are relevant to the child's development progress and that they are not continually forced to do something that they are afraid of. Holt (1983) suggests that if we push a child to do what they are afraid of, they will use their resources and energy not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid pressures placed upon them. The key is finding the balance to encourage new experiences without pushing a child too far beyond the limits of their courage.

The need for responsibility is met by allowing children to achieve independence. This can first be done by allowing a young child to take care of themselves (washing, dressing, feeding, etc.) and gradually extend the responsibility to other areas as they grow and develop.

The need for praise and recognition enables a child to grow into a self-reliant adult, however it requires an extensive amount of emotional, social, and intellectual learning.

One of the key ways to improve the confidence component of a child's mental toughness is through effective praise and recognition and is a fundamental need for a child's learning, growth, and development.

In addition to the needs identified by Dr Kellmer-Pringle, I would also add that children need space and time to develop and experience an element of boredom. It is during this time that they can develop their imaginations and learn how to be self-reliant. Over recent years there has been a pendulum swing too far which has resulted in a lot of children being over-managed with various activities and clubs and ferried from one thing to another, rather than being given freedom to create their own entertainment. The trick is in finding a suitable balance and allowing them to learn to live and be comfortable with themselves without relying on others to provide feedback or entertainment. Mueller and Dweck (1998) surveyed 400 children aged ten to twelve years. They conducted a series of intelligence tests for the children with feedback at each stage. The group of children who received praise for achievement and intelligence were less likely to enjoy the tasks and showed a reluctance to try harder. Children who were praised for effort rather than ability felt encouraged to try harder, regardless of the consequences, and were more motivated to try harder in each stage of the tests.

Hartley-Brewer (2005) also suggests that children need to be told that they are capable in order to flourish and that non-verbal praise such as hugs, smiles, and rewards have a significant part to play.

In order for praise to enhance a child's self-esteem and confidence and willingness to try new things, it has to be effective.

Matheson (2004) suggests that if praise is indiscriminate, it teaches children to lower expectations and can reduce motivation. Positive expectations can, however, help develop resilience and coping skills in preparation for life's future challenges.

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