In an era of ads and promotions directed at kids — from toys to Disneyland — many parents wonder what kids need most.
We asked Dr. Harley Rotbart, Professor and Vice Chair of Pediatrics at Children's Hospital Colorado, and the author of No Regrets Parenting - Turning Long Days and Short Years into Cherished Moments for Your Kids, for advice on identifying kids’ needs and providing for them.
Question: What do kids really need from their parents?
Answer: Years of research in child development have identified eight essential requirements for kids to become happy, successful adults. None of them involve high-tech gadgets, video games, or fancy clothes. Your kids need:
- Security—Kids must feel safe and sound. This means providing them with basic survival needs: shelter, food, clothing, medical care and protection from harm.
- Stability—Stability comes from family and community. Ideally, a family remains together in a stable household. But when that ideal breaks down, your child’s life must be as little disrupted as possible. Kids and families should also be part of larger units to give them a sense of belonging and cultural continuity.
- Consistency—Parents must synchronize their parenting. No “good cop, bad cop.” Consistency also means that important values should not be changed casually or for convenience.
- Emotional support—Parents’ words and actions should facilitate kids’ trust, respect, self-esteem, and, ultimately, independence.
- 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, they must know that you love them and that you’ll always love them.
- Education—Make sure your kids get the best possible education for their future. This, of course, includes school. But it also includes the invaluable lessons about life that you provide during the time you spend together.
- Positive role models—Parents are their kids’ first and most important role models. Be the kind of person you want them to become.
- 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.
Q: How can parents best provide for their kids’ needs?
Answer: Time is the miracle solution for most dilemmas of parenthood. Time spent with your kids, taken in minutes or hours, gives you the opportunity to provide your kids with all of their essential needs.
The converse is also true: Not spending enough or the right kind of time with your kids deprives them of some or all of their needs. Equally important, not spending enough or the right kind of time with your kids deprives you of the wonderful privileges of parenting.