Meeting Our Children's Needs Reduces Stress and Helps to Minimize Discipline Problems

Barbary Bushey

by Barb Bushey
PCI Certified Parent Coach® and PCI Instructor

As a continuation of my first article "Please Put Down the Remote and Pick Up the Children's Books," I would like to further share with our readers how we can use literature to meet our children's needs. If we see our children acting out or withdrawing, we become concerned. As well, we should. However, we are often times at a loss as to what the problem may be.

I have used Dr. William Glasser's five basic needs and Gloria DeGaetano's Vital Five® (DeGaetano, G., 2004, Parenting Well in a Media Age) to assist me with these problems and situations. We all have five basic needs according to Dr. William Glasser. The first need is the need for survival this includes air, water, food, shelter, and good health. If this need is not being met, we will do anything possible to get it met. The four other basic needs are love and belonging, power, fun, and freedom. You may be saying to yourself what does this have to do with my child's behavior. These needs are directly related to both our behavior as parents and our children's behavior. If our needs or our children's needs are not met, we will behave in ways to get these met. This behavior can be positive or negative and especially as a child, we don't care what these behaviors are as long as we get these needs met (Glasser, W., 1998, Choice Theory, pp. 25–43).

Gloria DeGatano states, "There are five basic essential needs of all humans that if not met, keep us from blossoming into the rich, full individuals we are meant to be." The Vital Five® are "1) a loving parent-child bond, 2) a rich inner life, 3) the capacity for image making, 4) the ability for creative expression, and 5) participating as a contributor" ® (DeGaetano, G. 2004, Parenting Well in a Media Age, p. 56).

Love and belonging is our strongest need after survival. Love and belonging is the need to be involved with people. We need to feel that we are loved and we need to be able to love others and to feel that we belong with those we love. When this need is not met we feel alone. Children who do not have a loving bond with their parents or who feel that they do not have a loving bond with their parents will seek love from other people.

Power is not physical strength. It is a feeling of self-worth and feeling important. It is being proud of ourselves and being listened to by others. We have a need for accomplishment and achievement. We need to feel that we have some control over our own life. When this need for power is not met, we feel out of control.

Fun seems self-explanatory, but it also includes the need to enjoy life, laugh and to see humor in our lives. Fun also includes relaxation and creativity. When our need for fun is not met, we can become bored and depressed.

Freedom is the right to make choices and to decide things for ourselves. It is our need for independence, liberty, and autonomy. When our need for freedom is not met we have feelings of rebellion. We can also become frustrated.

When we feel our needs are not being met, we will then act to meet these needs. The behavior can be appropriate or inappropriate. Our only goal is to have our needs met. Our behavior is intrinsically motivated not externally motivated. We do what we do to satisfy our needs.

Bullying, screaming, stealing, deliberately disobeying, temper tantrums, and talking back are just some of the behaviors a child may exhibit when their needs are not being met. Some behaviors give us a clue as to which need is not being met. For instance, the child who is bullying may feel their need for power is not being met. By bullying the child feels important and that they are being listened to by others.

So what can we as parents do to help our children meet their needs in appropriate ways? The most important thing we can do is to love them and show our love for them to them. We can also give them developmentally appropriate jobs to do which will give them the opportunity to develop a positive feeling of self-worth and achievement. This will help to satisfy their need for power. We can give our children opportunities to make choices when it is developmentally appropriate. This will assist the child in meeting their need for freedom. We can help to meet their need for fun by playing with them.

When our children exhibit inappropriate behaviors, we need to assist our children in developing a plan to change their behavior and get their needs met in appropriate ways.

The plan I follow is an adaptation from the book, My Quality World Adapted for Early Childhood. I ask the following series of questions. These questions will need to be adapted for your child's age and the wording of some of them may need to be changed to adapt to your and your child's personalities.

The first question I ask is, "What happened?" This is one question I do not change, because it is a neutral question. It does not put blame on the child, as does the question, "What did you do?" It allows the child to tell what happened from his perspective. This often will give us as parents insights into our child's thinking and our child's feelings and point of view. We need to remember that a person's (child's) perspective is his reality. This does not mean that the perception is right so we may need to assist our child in developing a more accurate perception.

The second question I ask is, "What do/did you want?" The answer to this question often surprises me and again allows our child to tell what happened from their perspective. It also gives us as parents insights into our child's thinking, and our child's feelings and point of view.

The third question is, "Is your behavior (name the behavior, hitting, yelling, etc.) helping you to get what you want?" (Name what it is that they want.) "Was this a good choice?"

The fourth question is, "What can you choose to do next time this happens?" "Do you need help making a plan or can you make one yourself and share it with me?" With young children, they will usually need help making a plan. With older children, I will often tell them to find a quiet place where they can think and develop a plan. I ask them to write out the plan. When they have finished developing the plan, I ask them to share it with me, and we both sign it. I also ask them if there is anything I can do to help them with their plan.

Lastly, I ask, "How will you know that your plan is working?" "How will you know that this is a better choice?"

This process takes time, but in the end, your child will grow, learn, and know how to handle future situations. And best of all, you are not the BAD GUY. Your child will begin to understand that it was their choice and their behavior that caused the problem and it is their responsibility to plan a solution to solve the problem.

Book Recommendations

Below is a brief list of stories that can be used to help children learn about their basic needs, how to develop responsibility, and how to make good choices. I also listed the values that these books will help your child to learn

Moral or Value Book
  • DeLuise, D. 1990. Charlie the Caterpillar. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers.
  • Silverman, E. 1992. Big Pumpkin. Scholastic, Inc.
  • Lionni, L. 1963. Swimmy. Alfred E. Knopf.
  • Williams, V. 1982. A Chair for My Mother. William Morrow and Co.
Pride in themselves
  • Carlson, N. 1988. I Like Me! Viking, Penguin, Inc.
  • Bourgeois, P. 1991. Franklin Fibs. Creations, Inc.
  • Ross, T. 1992. The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Penquin.
  • Cheltenham Elementary School Kindergartners. 1991. We Are All Alike…We Are All Different. Scholastic, Inc.
Courage of their convictions and beliefs
  • Pinkwater, D. 1977. The Big Orange Splot. Scholastic, Inc.
  • Lionni, L. 1967. Frederick. Alfred A. Knopf.
Friendship, positive relationships
  • Lionni, L. 1959. Little Blue and Little Yellow. Ivan Obolensky, Inc.
  • Udry, J. 1961. Let's Be Enemies. Harper Collins.
Unconditional love
  • Hazen, B. 1981. Even If I Did Something Awful. Aladdin Paperbacks.
  • dePaola, T. 1988. Now One Foot, Now the Other. Putnam.
  • Hutchins, P. 1996. The Doorbell Rang. Greenwillow Publishers.
  • Viorst, J. 1972. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Athaneum.
  • Piper, W. 1991. The Little Engine that Could. Plat And Monk.
  • Carle, E. 1997. The Very Quiet Cricket. Putnam Publishing Group.
  • Flack, M. 1997. Angus and the Cat. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
  • Birdseye, T. 1988. Airmail to the Moon. Holiday House.
  • Galdone, P. 1985. The Little Red Hen. Houghton Mifflin.
  • Kenkes, K. 1996. Lily's Purple Plastic Purse. Greenwillow Books.
  • dePaola, T. 1997. Strega Nona. Simon & Schuster.

Young children often find it difficult to label their emotions. These books are very helpful in not only assisting your child in labeling their emotions, but also understanding their feelings and emotions.

  • Curtis, J.L. 1998. Today I Feel Silly. Joanna Cotler Books.
  • Gainer, C. 1998. I'm Like You, You're Like Me. free spirit publishing.
  • Berry, J. 1996. Let's Talk It Out Series, Scholastic.
  • Seuss. 1996. My Many Colored Days. Random House.
  • Loomans, D. 1991. The Lovables in the Kingdom of Self Esteem. H.J. Kramer, Inc.

Books I Use as a Parent and Parent Coach

  • Trelease, J. 2006. The Read Aloud Handbook. Penguin Books.
  • (1999) The Barnes & Noble Guide to Children's Books, Barnes & Noble Press.
  • Codell, E. 2003. How to Get Your Child to Love Reading. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
  • Buck, N. 2000. Peaceful Parenting. Black Forest Press, I just love this book.
  • Glasser, W. 2002. Unhappy Teenagers. Harper Collins Publishers
  • Adams, C. 2009. The Self-Aware Parent.
  • Sullo, R. 1998. Teach Them to be Happy. New View Publications, Post Office Box 3021, Chapel Hill, NC 27515-3021.
  • DeGaetano, G. 2004. Parenting Well In A Media Age. Personhood Press, P.O. Box 370, Fawnskin, CA 92333 or (800) 429-1192.


DeGaetano, G. 2004. Parenting Well In A Media Age. Personhood Press, P.O. Box 370, Fawnskin, CA 92333 or (800) 429-1192.

Glasser, C., Bushey, B. 1996. My Quality World Adapted for Early Childhood. William Glasser Inc.

Barbara J. Bushey, Instructor for PCI, PCI Certified Parent Coach®. Barb is a retired elementary teacher who has always loved children's literature. She is now a PCI Certified Parent Coach® and often suggests to parents that using children's literature can be a valuable tool in parenting. You can reach her at