All children are born with emotional needs. These needs must be met by the adults in their life if they’re to grow into confident and independent adults. The acronym PARENTS summarises children’s needs (Protection, Acceptance, Recognition, Enforced limits, Nearness, Time and Support).
Protection: It’s crucial that all children feel safe and secure. This is essential for their very survival – and all children fear rejection and abandonment. They need a sense of order and predictability, routine, peace and stability – so they can learn to trust others, and build relationships. However, if trust is absent, and they feel insecure, they’ll start to put up walls to keep other people out, and they’ll find it hard to trust and get close to anyone.
Acceptance: All children need to feel that they are loved and accepted - for who and what they are – without any strings attached. They so desperately want to be worthy of acceptance, and cherished and loved despite their limits and their failings. This is crucial information - for their parent is a mirror who reflects back to them the world’s perception of the child. It should tell them they are valuable and worthy of love – so the child learns to value and believe in themselves. However, if a parent is demanding, harsh or critical then the child will develop chronic low self-esteem.
Recognition: Children have an innate need to make their parents happy, and are desperate for praise, and to hear their parents say: “I’m so proud of you. You did a fabulous job.” But if approval is withheld, so the child feels they are worthless, they’ll likely give up hope, and they will lose the will to try. This may show itself in angry, acting out behaviour … or the child may withdraw, and expect little in life.
Enforced Limits: Children need a sense of predictability. They need to see that rules are followed, so life is NOT chaotic. For the world feels scary and doesn’t make much sense if boundaries are fluid and “just anything goes”.
Nearness: Expressing love is crucial for communicating love - so children need to be held and be hugged by their parents. In a very concrete way, this sends the powerful message that the child’s needs matter, and their parents care for them.
Time: Children don’t distinguish between quality time and just hanging out, and spending lots of time with parents. They need to be in their presence, and to have their full attention, as that sends the message “I like being with you.” They then believe that others will like and want them, too.
Support: The outside world is a scary place for children. It’s full of unknown dangers and unmet challenges. Thus, to launch out and discover they can cope and survive, children need to be certain that their parents’ will be there. That is, they need their encouragement, their affirmation, their constant support and their belief in the child. That helps the child to venture into and explore the outside world, so they develop independence and increased autonomy.