Hierarchy of Needs & Child Development

Abraham H. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs lists five levels of human development 12. He wrote them in response to previous work by Freud and Skinner because Maslow felt that there was more to humans than the theories postulated by behaviorists. There is a noticeable relationship between the stages of a child's development and Maslow's Hierarchy 12.

Bottom Level, Physiological: Food, Water, Shelter, Warmth

Maslow postulated that all humans had basic needs, and that until those needs were met, all other needs would be perceived as subsets of those needs. Therefore, a man who was cold, hungry, homeless and friendless might simply describe himself as hungry. However, it's important to note that Liddle Kidz, a foundation for homeless children, states that children who lack sufficient nurturing touch in the early months of their lives fail to thrive even when they are warm, sheltered and fed 4.

Second Level, Safety: Security, Stability, Freedom From Fear

Returning to the homeless man, imagine for a moment that he has food and shelter and has managed to get warm; but he would still need safety and security, freedom from fear. Maslow wrote that once an adult's basic needs were met, he would then turn his attention to other needs. By age three months, babies will respond to familiar faces and smile at a primary care-giver and calm when held, showing that they feel secure.

Third Level, Love: Friends, Family, Spouse, Lover

Maslow stated that once the hypothetical man was fed, sheltered and safe, he would respond with affection toward those around him. He noted that this was especially true of children, who would give their trust to adults who saw to their well-being. Modern child development charts from the Child Development Institute list that a 1-year-old might become very upset upon being separated from his mother, indicating that the bonds of affection would be very strong by this age 3.

Fourth Level, Self-Esteem: Achievement, Recognition, Mastery, Respect

The representative man has his physical needs satisfied, he feels safe and he is loved. Now he has a need to make a place for himself in the world by getting a job, earning awards or mastering a trade. He wants to be respected by his peers. Between age 9 months and age 2, a baby makes tremendous strides toward mastering his world. A secure baby explores his world, confident that his achievements will be admired.

Fifth Level, Self-Actualization: Creativity, Pursues Inner Talent, Develops Spiritually

When the man has achieved real world mastery, he needs something more. This is the stage at which people fulfill dreams or carve out inner peace for themselves. Some types of fulfillment are unlikely for young children, but when they are secure and happy, they love to pursue creative endeavors. Building with blocks, painting pictures or making mounds in a sandbox may come under this heading. They feel secure from criticism and engage in imaginative play.

Some Food for Thought

In modern times, Maslow's Hierarchy as been adjusted by adding cognitive and aesthetic needs between his fourth and fifth stages 12. Transcendence, or helping and teaching others to achieve self-actualization, has been added as an eighth stage. Every generation seems to develop a new theory of child development and child rearing, yet babies continue to grow in much the same way in spite of all the theories.