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Getting Back to the Basics: Understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Trying to motivate our kids, or even ourselves for that matter, can be tricky. There is a fine line, almost invisible at times, between motivation and bribery. Real motivation starts from within ourselves, rooted in our own desires and needs. As a teacher, a principal, or a parent I would find myself using all types of external treats, rewards, and gadgets to motivate, inspire, and achieve all sorts of objectives. This is a natural approach and for the most part works, as we typically experience quick short-term progress. However, it doesn’t usually stick! Meaning, that people are motivated by quick rewards, but they tend to lose interest after a while and they don’t move from an external state of motivation to an internal desire for change or progress. 

In 1943, Abraham Maslow wrote a paper titled "A Theory of Human Motivation," as well as a book titled "Motivation and Personality." If you have had any basic psychology class you have probably studied this infamous triangled tower of needs. His theory proposed that every human has a hierarchy of needs that must be met in a specific order for people to be motivated. As a veteran educator with close to 30 years under my belt, I would agree that his theory provides valuable insights for educators and parents. His theory provides a simple yet complex explanation, helping us understand the essential elements required for a child's well-rounded growth. In this week’s newsletter, we’ll take a refreshing plunge into each level of Maslow's Hierarchy, and discuss practical strategies for teachers and parents to support the holistic development of children.

Level 1: Physiological Needs

At the base of Maslow's pyramid are the physiological needs – the basic requirements for survival. Teachers and parents play a crucial role in ensuring that children have access to nutritious food, adequate sleep, and a safe environment. By meeting these fundamental needs, caregivers create a foundation for optimal learning and emotional well-being.

Level 2: Safety Needs

Once physiological needs are met, individuals seek safety and security. Whether we are talking about a home or a classroom setting, this translates to creating a supportive and stable environment. Teachers and parents can foster a sense of security by establishing clear routines, setting boundaries, and addressing any concerns or fears that may arise.

Level 3: Social Belongingness and Love Needs

The third level of Maslow's Hierarchy focuses on the need for social connections, love, and a sense of belonging. Teachers and parents can facilitate healthy social development by encouraging positive relationships, fostering a sense of community, and addressing any issues related to friendship or peer interactions. In our current world driven by digital screens and flashy technology, social skills are developed in a different way than in earlier generations. Paying close attention to screen time and digital habits is essential when trying to develop social connections. 

Level 4: Esteem Needs

Esteem needs involve feelings of accomplishment, recognition, and self-worth. Caregivers can play a pivotal role in boosting children's self-esteem by providing authentic constructive feedback, recognizing achievements, and fostering a growth mindset. 

Level 5: Self-Actualization

At the pinnacle of Maslow's Hierarchy is self-actualization – the realization of one's full potential. Caregivers can empower children to reach this level by encouraging autonomy, fostering creativity, focusing on developing their executive function and by supporting individual passions and interests. 

Understanding Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs equips teachers and parents with valuable insights into the various dimensions of a child's development. By addressing each level of the pyramid, educators and caregivers can create an environment that nurtures not only academic success but also emotional well-being and lifelong fulfillment.

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