In business, when we successfully appeal to our customers’ needs, we will have a click through, an email enquiry, or best of all a sale to show for our efforts. Conversely, one of the challenges of parenting is that there are very few tangible outcomes to show for your efforts, despite it being the busiest (and often most thankless) job many people will ever do.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has long provided a useful framework for marketers to target their customers by developing messages and marketing tactics that successfully address their needs. If you’re not familiar with it, Maslow’s theory suggests that we are all motivated by the same levels of needs and that we move up the hierarchy as each level is met; we cannot consider pursuits that satisfy our higher needs until our most fundamental needs are met. To use an example from marketing, there’s no point doing a sales pitch for a technology product when lunch is overdue as your prospective customers will only be receptive to something edible that satisfies their hunger.
Our children’s needs are not all that different to our customers; ok, they may be more plentiful (and more frequently and loudly vocalised), and children are of course more dependent on us to satisfy these needs than our customers ever are. This adds pressure and gives us an enormous sense of responsibility as parents, but it also means there is a great opportunity to succeed. If you take a lesson from marketing and think about your actions in terms of meeting your children’s needs, you might just start to feel like you’re winning.
There is a great diagram on the PhD in Parenting website which breaks down the ‘Child’s Hierarchy of Needs’. I’ve put together an adapted version here to show how you can more tangibly measure your parenting actions against each set of needs:
Physiological needs: this is ‘the bare minimum’ level of parenting and you should be able to give yourself quite a few ticks every day here: providing drinks, lovingly preparing all those nutritious Annabel Karmel recipes (even if they are sent to a horrifying floor splat in a split second) and providing a warm and cosy bedroom. That bedtime routine that helps encourage them to wind down? Whether or not it works, you are facilitating a peaceful environment for one of human’s most basic needs: sleep. All the cuddles you give them? The need for human touch is universal – it’s probably best avoided when interacting with new customers though.
Safety and Security: this essentially translates as ‘keeping the kids alive’. Every time you strap your baby into a highchair, or hold your toddler’s hand as they cross the road explaining for the 1000th time about the green man, you have succeeded in protecting your child’s need for safety. Tackling difficult conversations about personal boundaries, comforting a child when they wake from a nightmare, doing up shoelaces, painstakingly researching the rear or forward facing car seat dilemma: each and every time you do these things, give yourself a pat on the back.
Let’s not also forget the daily wrestles to get teeth brushed, baths done, hair washed and nappies changed: all of these actions satisfy very important health needs – ironically, you may need a caffeine hit to get through each one.
On the bad days, you might only make it to this second level, but that’s ok: your children are still alive aren’t they?
Belonging: Do you take your children to playgroups and activities? While it may have started as a way to help them expel energy so “they should definitely have a nap this afternoon”, helping your children to socialise is critical for meeting their needs to build friendships and ‘belong’ – every day when my daughter asks ‘what we doing today?’ it’s not the place she’s interested in, but who she is seeing. Watching her playing with her friends and knowing I’m facilitating that is a big reward for battling the wind and rain with a double buggy instead of hunkering down at home. Having said that, making time for just you and them to play a game, read books, or go on at outing, is also important for their sense of ‘family’. So if you’re feeling guilty for taking them to the same park again, stop: chances are, they associate that park with a sense of happiness and special mummy/daddy time.
How successful these activities are is of course dependent on whether your children’s first two levels of needs have been met; if they’re hungry or overtired, it’s unlikely that they’ll be open to suggestions to do some crafts or play in the park, so it’s good to plan in some peaceful moments and always have some snacks with you (see my previous blog post on Event Management for more on edible bribes).
Esteem: Children crave your approval and, of course, as your children are extremely intelligent and creative (as are mine), it’s fairly easy to meet their esteem needs if you praise them genuinely and frequently. Encouraging them to try things and do things for themselves, recognising and reinforcing good behaviour and gently steering them towards the kind of behaviour you want from them is also important.
As with marketing to your customers, in order to meet your children’s needs, you need to think about the messages you’re giving out and be responsive to the feedback you get. When you get it right, the rewards are huge. There’s nothing like watching your child voluntarily sharing a toy or comforting another child or telling you “you’re my best friend today” to realise the importance of your – albeit repetitive and patience-testing – actions here.
Self-actualisation: If we take the version of self-actualisation that refers to fulfilment of personal potential, there is much we can do here to succeed as parents: helping your children to explore their creativity when your inner self is crying out ‘not painting again, please’, helping them dress up as a princess and enact a scene from Frozen (I knew the phenomenon would reach us eventually), helping your child learn how to construct towers by repeatedly reaping destruction on your Duplo creations. Whenever you encourage your child to play and learn, whether it’s a language, a sport or cycling, you are meeting their needs for self-fulfilment.
It is often in this last category, through the pride and happiness at our children’s successes and self-achievement, where we feel the real tangible ‘wins’ as parents, but we should not underestimate our success at satisfying the first four levels of their needs which has enabled us to reach this level of need satisfaction.
Unlike with marketing where you can choose the level of need your product is targeted at and adjust your message to address that specific need, meeting your children’s needs is a constant juggling act – and whilst we can’t rely on statistics and feedback to reinforce our success as parents, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can provide a helpful reassurance of our parenting success.