According to William Glasser and his Choice Theory, there are five basic human needs: survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun. When our needs are met, we are happier, productive, and on a forward-moving path; suffering and emotional pain result from our needs not being met.
When children are given developmentally appropriate ways to meet their needs, they develop a sense of agency and internal motivation that allows them to make choices that strengthen their inner world and relationships. Children who learn to respond in ways that meet their needs develop stronger connecting habits and understand what is within their control and what is not. As a result, those children can respond instead of reacting, have a better ability to regulate their emotions, and express their feelings to get their needs met.
I talk to many parents about how setting appropriate limits and boundaries gives children a sense of safety and stability. At the same time, it is equally important to provide developmentally appropriate opportunities for children to exercise their autonomy and independence. Children’s lives are very structured, and the adults in their lives need to provide opportunities that help them exercise their ability to control.
The need for power is the desire to matter, to show competence, and the ability to achieve and make a difference. This need encompasses self-esteem and the desire to have an impact. Examples include: winning a board game, having peers asking for help in math class, having a specific responsibility in the classroom, receiving a compliment, and improving a sports skill.
The need for freedom means age-appropriate independence, choice, and autonomy, making choices without restrictions, which also includes creative freedom. Examples include choosing clothes, identifying activities to participate in, deciding when to do homework and chores, making food decisions, selecting the movie for family night, managing their own homework, and free unscheduled time.
When the need for power and freedom are met, a child develops their internal locus of control, which means that they believe in their own inner strength and their ability to make choices that influence their lives. These experiences work together to create patterns of achievement, confidence, and a strong sense of self, which, along with love and self-acceptance, establish the foundation of self-esteem.