What every child needs
‘Daddy Owen’ has released a very powerful Swahili song known as ‘Mbona’ which addresses the issue of people with ‘special needs.’ In this song, he stresses the fact that these people are just like you and me and they have the same needs. They are human beings. I remembered the words of this song after an afternoon spent talking to a mother with a special needs child. Listening to her talk about the challenges she has encountered was very educative.
She talked about acceptance – that as parents we harbour various dreams for our children; playing a sport, watching them grow, attending their wedding, having grandchildren etc. When faced with a special needs child it takes a long time for one to accept that this may not be the natural progression of their child’s life. She talked about divergent emotions – upon first diagnosis, a family or couple goes through extreme emotions from anger, to guilt, to blame, to helplessness and hopelessness. These emotions if not addressed or dealt with can cripple the family.
She talked about ignorance – just because a child does not meet their physical developmental needs does not mean that that child’s emotional needs differ from the ‘normal’ child. It is not uncommon for parents to learn everything it takes to physically take care of the child while neglecting the emotional aspect of their lives. Yet emotional needs are an important component of every child’s all round healthy development. Due to this, my friend felt that it is important especially for parents with children with special needs to know what the basic emotional needs are. Below is a break down of this at each stage including the fears experienced and key tasks that need to be mustered at each stage.
Key emotional needs – Love, security, physical contact and bonding.
Fears – that they will starve; any sense of hunger therefore is met with a sense of panic.
Behaviours – crying, being irritable, totally dependant and mostly immobile and soiling.
Key task – To develop the ability to trust; as caregivers provide reliable, care, nurturance and affection, a child develops the ability to trust others and their environment.
Key emotional needs – Approval, attention, safety, boundaries, support, opportunities to explore and independence.
Fears – that my parents will leave me if I am not a certain way; as a result, they will do anything to please.
Behaviours – attention seeking, tantrums, disobedience, eating problems, sex play, over activity, anxiety when parents leave and testing boundaries.
Key task – To develop a sense of personal control over physical skills e.g. toilet training and a general sense of independence especially in their mobility. Success in this task leads to a feeling of autonomy whereas failure results in feelings of shame and doubt.
Key emotional needs – Mastery of various skills and recognition.
Fears – I will never be good at anything, I will be destroyed or defeated by others.
Behaviour – Perseverance, competitive, fighting with friends and siblings, appearance, instant gratification at other’s expense.
Key task – Children need to cope with new social and academic demands. Success in this leads to a sense of competence while failure leads to feelings of stifling inferiority that can stay with an individual for a life time.
Key emotional needs – Freedom, direction for their future lives, finding own values compared to their parent’s values, defining who they are as individuals
Fears – That peers will not accept me, that I will be like my parents, that I will not be successful in later life
Behaviour – Rebellion, rejection of parental values and being at constant logger heads, experimentation could be with drugs, alcohol, sex, adopting or coming up with ‘new age’ ideas that set them apart from the ‘old’ ways of doing things.
Key task – To develop a well rounded sense of self and unique identity. Success in this leads to the individual’s ability to stay true to themselves, engaging in what they believe in regardless of peer pressure. Failure leads to a sense of loneliness, confusion, isolation and formation of a weak, personality.