Children's Hospital Colorado
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Just Ask Children's


What Every Child Needs

A woman in a light beige shirt sits in a park facing a young girl with light brown hair and wearing a bright pink tank top.

In an era of aggressive marketing toward kids and parents alike, many parents wonder what kids actually need. Turns out, there's a pretty clear answer.

"Years of research in child development have identified eight essential requirements for kids to become happy, successful adults," says Harley Rotbart, MD, a nationally-renowned parenting expert and vice chair emeritus of Pediatrics at Children's Colorado. "And none of them involve high-tech gadgets, video games or fancy clothes."

The eight things kids need to thrive

  1. Security

    Kids must feel safe and sound, with their basic survival needs met: shelter, food, clothing, medical care and protection from harm.

  2. Stability

    Stability comes from family and community. Ideally, a family remains together in a stable household, but when that's not possible, it's important to disrupt the child's life as little as possible. Kids and families should be a part of larger units to give them a sense of belonging, tradition and cultural continuity.

  3. Consistency

    No "good cop, bad cop." Parents should synchronize their parenting and make sure important values stay consistent.

  4. Emotional support

    Parents' words and actions should encourage kids' trust, respect, self-esteem and, ultimately, independence.

  5. Love

    Saying and showing you love your kids can overcome almost any parenting "mistakes" you might make. Even when your kids have disobeyed, angered, frustrated and rebelled against you, show them you love them and that you'll always love them.

  6. Education

    Make sure your kids get the best possible education for their future. This includes school, of course, but it also includes the invaluable life lessons you provide during the time you spend together.

  7. Positive role models

    Parents are their kids' first and most important role models. Instill your values and teach children empathy by being the kind of person you want them to become.

  8. Structure

    Rules, boundaries, and limits: Without them, kids are forced to be adults before they are ready, and they lose respect for you and other adults.

The "miracle solution": kids need time

Perhaps the most important factor of all is time. Without enough time to spend with kids and be a parent, "You miss out on the wonderful privileges of parenting," Dr. Rotbart says. "And kids miss out on some of their needs."

The converse is also true.

"Time is the miracle solution for most dilemmas of parenthood," says Dr. Rotbart. "Taken in minutes or hours, the time you spend with your kids gives you the opportunity to provide your kids all their essential needs — and much more."

Learn Dr. Rotbart's advice for creating quality time with your kids.

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