We've been talking a lot in our house about human needs lately. With a daughter who recently started kindergarten, it's been interesting to see how she transitioned to being away from home, immersed in a new environment with new people, new rules, new routines and new information coming at her all day long.
Like most kids, there have been some bumps along the way, but she settled into her new rhythm with much enthusiasm. Where we continued to be challenged was at the end of the long day, back at home together. Bickering with neighbors, sibling arguments, and general crankiness were becoming a daily occurrence.
As parents, we have a couple of choices when we're living with Crabby Appleton. We can go on insisting on "good girl" behavior, continue intervening in these daily disagreements trying to find peaceful solutions OR we can step back and look at the big picture. What is the underlying unmet need driving this behavior?
In the 1940's Psychologist Abraham Maslow published his theory on the Hierarchy of Needs to describe what motivates humans as they grow and mature. When the needs are not met, humans display an array of behaviors to compensate. We can look at any problem through this lens and we can always be curious about how to help our loved ones meet their needs.
In our own house recently, my husband and I had to first stop resisting the fighting that was happening; then we were able to meet it with compassion and get down to the unmet needs. For our Kindergartener there's definitely some need for food and rest at the end of the school day, but we also observed that our daughter wanted autonomy. She wants to be able to decide for herself what to do, how the game will go, and what will come next. Self-directed play in the truest sense of the term!
The truth is that there isn't much time for this kind of play in the public schools today. From morning bell until dismissal, children's choices are directed or limited by others. Providing freedom after school can be so nourishing for children. In my family, we created space and freedom when we decided to forgo most after school activities, only play with the neighborhood kids once in a while, and keep toys and art supplies easily accessible for unstructured play.
We've been happy to see the return of smiles, laughter and light-heartedness after school. It's an excellent reminder that we DO know our children, and that if their behavior is changing dramatically, we never have to accept that it's the way things have to be. Our children- like each of us- are just trying to have their needs met.
Read more about Autonomy in Early Childhood Education.
Read more about Emerging Autonomy and family dynamics.