Lesson 6 of 7 - Learn how to parent effectively

Kids' Normal
Developmental Needs

Keys to Healthy Adult Independence

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/parent/d_needs.htm

Updated 03-31-2015

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      This is one of the articles in Lesson 6 - learn how to parent effectively. The range and scope of major social problems suggests that many parents are failing at this.

      This brief YouTube clip previews some of what you'll read below. The video mentions eight self-improvement lessons in this site: I've reduced that to seven.

      This article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Web site and the premises underlying it

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 5

  • Erik Erickson's 8 stages of child development

  • perspective on human needs

  • research on maternal stress, bonding, and child development  

  • research on kids from "risky" (low nurturance) families

      The purpose of this article is to alert family adults and supporters to what their dependent kids need informed adult help with as they grow. Each child depends on you all to know their web of needs and how and when to fill them well enough. A family's nurturance level (low > high) measures how well the needs of all members are filled as their family evolves.

      Many of kids' developmental needs are concurrent, which can overwhelm kids and caregivers alike. Some needs are more primal and impactful than others. Kids' "acting out" is often an inarticulate cry for help with this heavy load, for typical boys and girls lack the understanding and vocabulary to say what they need. This summary worksheet doesn't attempt to suggest what age kids should be at to best fill particular needs,

      Many caregivers and family supporters can't describe (a) all these needs, (b) when they're best filled as a child develops, or (c) how to best fill them. This risks ineffective caregiving, and dependent kids' developing significant psychological wounds and crippling knowledge deficits. 

      Reality-check this summary. See...

  • if you needed knowledgeable adult help to fill each of these developmental needs to become an independent adult, and see...

  • whether you got enough competent adult help filling them.

     Then picture each minor child you care about one at a time, and reflect on how you adults are progressing in filling each of these vital needs for them, so far...

      A primal need of all kids and teens is to have had two wholistically-healthy parents wisely choose if and when to conceive or adopt a baby. Many survivors of low-nurturance ("dysfunctional") childhoods can't do this, which promotes (re)creating low-nurturance environments for their own kids and grandkids. Self-improvement Lesson 4 in this Web site is about making wise mate-selection choices. Lesson 5 is about evolving a high-nurturance home and family.

      A core need underlying all the needs below is to form a secure attachment (bond) in early years with a primary caregiver - e.g "mother." Without that, filling other development needs is significantly harder.

      Option: test yourself. Before reviewing this inventory, write down as many normal child-development needs as you can. Then compare your list with the one below.

      This need-checklist is not exhaustive or prioritized. Option: try rank-ordering these by importance - to you, your kids (if any), and in general

Typical Young Kids Need to Learn...

  • awareness and self-management skills, and...

  • communication and social (relationship) skills, and...

  • practical skills, and...

  • knowledge about people, history, and the world

Awareness and Self-management Skills

__ 1)  Learn how to be objectively aware of what's going on...

 _ inside themselves,

_ inside other people (empathy)

_ between them and other people, and

_ in the environment around them and other people,

_ now and _ over time.

The personal value of these awarenesses is proportional to accurate knowledge of people and the world.

 __ 2)  Evolve a harmonious personality guided by their resident true Self. The alternative is suffering the dominance of a short-sighted, reactive group of subselves called (here) false selves. Filling this keystone need is unlikely if one or more caregivers are often controlled by false selves. The wide scope of common social problems suggests this is common in most families. 

__ 3)  Learn how to understand and recognize _ normal and _ excessive shame ("low self esteem"), and how to _ convert excessive shame into stable, non-egotistical pride and self respect.

      And typical young kids need to...

__ 4)  Learn how to _ understand and recognize normal and excessive guilts, and how to _ identify life-rules (shoulds, have tos, musts, cant's, etc) inherited from other people, and _  revise or replace them with thoughtful personal rules;

__ 5)  Learn how to _ value and _ manage anxiety (worry) and fears, and...;

__ 6)  Learn how to see their inner and outer worlds as they really are, rather than distoring reality;  (e. g. . denial, numbing, catastrophizing, idealizing / etc.)

__ 7)  Learn _ how to accurately discern who and what to trust, and _ how to adapt to people, ideas, and circumstances they don't trust enough. This includes _ learning to trust their own judgment and abilities; and...

__ 8)  Learn how to feel, receive, and give love, including non-egotistical self-love, and...

__ 9)  Learn how to think critically, objectively, clearly and independently, in order to make realistic sense out of the world and make wise daily decisions. This includes many sub-needs, like mastering abstract (non-concrete) thinking, sorting and synthesizing unrelated ideas, discerning information patterns, and effective logical deduction.

      More self-management skills young kids need help to develop:

__ 10)  Learn how to _ understand and _ manage ''inner pain''  in healthy ways, vs. numbing, addictions, aggression, affairs, denial, hyperactivity, gangs, and/or depression; and... 

__ 11)  Forge a realistic personal identity to satisfy the primal questions "Who am I?" and "How am I like and different from my parents, grandparents, and other males and females?"

      Part of this developmental need is _ evolving a stable, healthy way to seperate themselves from their caregivers' needs and visions of who they want the child to be. Filling this need includes each child _ identifying and accepting his or her unique talents and limitations without undue guilt, shame, and anxiety;

__ 12)  Learn how to _recognize and _ grieve significant physical and invisible losses (broken bonds); and...

__ 13)  Learn how to _ feel, _ name, and _ express their emotions in socially-acceptable ways; and...;

__ 14)  Learn how to _ differentiate, _ recognize, and _ use frustrations and anger; and... 

__ 15)  Learn to _ understand, _ value, and _ care effectively for their changing body in order to promote ongoing wholistic health and healing. This includes _ Learning to make responsible, healthy decisions about sex and child conception, and _ beginning to learn fundamental ideas about child, human, and family development and high-nurturance (effective) parenting;

       And young kids also need to...

__ 16)  Learn how to make balanced decisions between...

_ short-term pleasure vs. long-term safety and satisfaction;

_ pleasing others vs. themselves;

_ attitudes of pessimism, idealism, and realistic optimism; and learn to balance...

_ work, play, and rest.

__  17)  Learn how to recognize surface needs from underlying primaty needs; and...

__  18)  Learn how to _ set realistic goals and _  to make viable plans to reach them; and....

__  19)  Learn how to accept and learn from their mistakes and failures, rather than shaming themselves. And kids need to...

__  20)  Evolve meaningful answers to core life questions about spirituality and religion, life and cosmic origins, destiny, fate, good and evil, and death; and learn to revere, trust, and include the spiritual part of themselves in life decisions; and...

__  21) Learn to want to take full responsibility for the outcomes of their decisions and behaviors without coaching. Popular alternatives are denial, projection, repression, blaming, forgetting, explaining (justifying), "confusion," etc., and

__  22)  Learn how to...

  •  learn, evaluate, retain, sort and prioritize, and apply new information; and...

  • how and where to get needed information, and learn...

  • how to make their own minds up about themselves and the world, rather than blindly accepting other people's beliefs and "truths"; and learn...

  • how to unlearn old attitudes, beliefs, habits, and values that no longer fit current life reality and goals; and...

\__  23) _ Evolve an authentic (vs. borrowed or rote) framework of ethics and morals to discern what's "right and wrong," and "good and bad" in any situation, and _learn how to apply those judgments effectively toward filling daily and long-range needs;

__  24)  Learn how to ask for and accept human and spiritual help without excessive guilts, shame, and anxieties, when life becomes chaotic and overwhelming;

__  25)  Evolve a meaningful plan about where they want their life to go in the next several years and beyond. The alternative is living each day as a random experience, with no plan or life purpose. This risks David Campbell's wry observation fitting: "If you don't know where you're going, you'll probably wind up somewhere else."

__  26)  And over time, kids need to learn to live comfortably enough with ambiguity and insecurity, and to forge credible-enough answers to the eternal questions about conception and life, aging, death, origins, God, evil, "senseless change," trauma, joy, hope, love, miracles, and epiphanies.

      Pause and notice what you're thinking and feeling now. Did each or your parents get all these developme2ntal needs filled by their childhood caregivers?

+ + +

       And girls and boys also need empathic adult help to...

  Learn Communication  and Social Skills

__ 27)  Learn how to communicate effectively with other people in calm, intimate, and conflictual settings. This comes from learning the answers to these quiz items.

      And young kids and teens need to...

__ 28)  Learn and practice effective social and relationship skills like

tact ("diplomacy")

asserting / confronting

teamwork / cooperation


gender differences


handling silence

handling rejection





problem solving





breaking up










      Learning these skills requires _ being able to answer these questions about relationships;

       Growing kids also need to...

__ 29)  Learn how to respectfully grant other able people full responsibility for their decisions, behaviors, feelings, health, and welfare, rather than trying to rescue or "save" them; and...

__ 30)  Learn how to understand, negotiate, and balance the norms and responsibilities of common social roles, like





spiritual being



team member


independent wo/man


sexual partner




__  31)  Learn to _ know and respect social laws, and to _ respect (vs. fear) professionals who enforce social laws

      A vital fourth part of developing kids' (teens) needs is to...

  Learn Practical Skills

__  32) The range of skills varies by kids' family, social, and geographic environments. Typical common skills they need help to learn include......

_  acquiring and holding stable jobs and preparing to become self-supporting;

_  earning, budgeting, investing, spending, and saving money.

_  driving and maintaining one or more types of vehicle

_  evaluating, buying, and preparing food, and _ maintain a healthy diet

_  acquiring and caring for clothing and personal gear

_  preparing to choose and maintain a dwelling

      More practical skills young kids need to learn

_ seek and benefit from post-high-school education

_ evaluate and select appropriate insurance

_ how to use local and long-distance modes of travel

_  how and when to use appropriate health and medical services

_  (add your own)


      Pause again, and notice what you're thinking and feeling now. The fifth group of needs developing kids must fill are to...

Learn About People, History, and the World

__  33)  To live independently, typical kids need adult help over ~18 years in gaining at least a high-school education on a wide range of topics. If successful. this prepares fortunate children for a college or trade-school education..

+ + +

__  34)  (add other developmental needs you feel should be included...) 


__  35)  Evolve autonomy and self confidence from filling all these needs well enough over many years, and use those to leave home without undue anxiety, guilt, and confusions. This is a family system project, not an individual one.


      Notice how you feel now, and where your thoughts go. Have you ever seen a summary of kids' developmental needs like this? How likely is it that typical parents and grandparents could spontaneously describe and monitor all these  needs? Could your parents describe them? How does this summary of needs compare with your own ideas?

      Note that family systems (like yours) have developmental challenges and stages just like persons do. Family adults are challenged with simultaneously managing personal + family + kids' + grandkids' developments. Two keys to meeting this lifelong challenge are family members helping each other develop personal awareness and knowledge. Are your family adults doing this?  


      Effective parenting requires adult caregivers to know what their dependent kids need for healthy development. This article proposes 34 normal developmental needs to stimulate your thoughts and discussion. This summary is unique in that it includes the common needs to adapt to wounded, unaware caregivers.

      These child-development needs are common to all dependent kids in any setting. Kids in low-nurturance families and/or kids in divorcing, foster, and step families - have up to four additional sets of concurrent family-adjustment needs  Without Parental awareness and help, this can feel overwhelming.

      Use this summary to help your family adults and supporters assess (a) what your dependent kids each need, and (b) how they're progressing with their mix of needs. For more perspective, see this article on effective childcare when you finish this worksheet.

      Healing adult wounds and learning these topics are the most effective way to provide high-nurturance homes and families and to guard against bequeathing this lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle.

      Pause, breathe, and recall why you read this article. Did you get what you needed? If so, what do you need now? If not - what do you need? Is there anyone you want to discuss these ideas with? Who's answering these questions - your wise resident true Self, or someone else?

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