The Basic Needs of a Child: 9 Essential Things Every Child Needs to Thrive

A child’s basic needs include their physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

mother showing daughter affection during breakfast by hugging her

All children need their basic needs met in order to thrive throughout childhood and adulthood.

When a child’s social, emotional, and physical needs are met, they’re given a sure foundation on which to experience a happy childhood and achieve their full potential.

It’s also important for parents to recognize that many of their child’s behavior problems or issues often stem from not getting basic needs met.

We’ve all experienced the meltdown of a child who is overly tired or hungry. But children also act out when their emotional needs of affection, attention, and empathy are missing.

Most parents and adults are aware of what their child’s physical needs are including:

  • Adequate shelter
  • Eating nutritious and healthy meals on a regular basis
  • Drinking enough water
  • Good dental care
  • Good health care
  • A good education

Beyond these very basic needs, children also require the following less tangible needs from their parents or caregivers:

9 Things Every Child Needs to Thrive

Once a child’s physical needs are met, the following needs lead children toward a healthier life and development.

Secure Attachment

A primary need of infants and children is a secure attachment to their parent or caregiver. Forming a secure attachment in early childhood not only creates the foundation of a healthy parent child relationship, it also leads to resiliency in kids as well as better physical and mental health.

Children with a secure attachment feel that their parent or caregiver will protect them, help them when distressed and calm them when upset. This is especially important during the first three years of a child’s life when the most brain development occurs.

Parents form a secure attachment with their child through physical affection, a lot of quality time, responsiveness, and making their child feel seen and known, valued, and comforted.

See related: Secure Attachment – From Childhood to Adult Relationships

Unconditional Love

Children who are loved unconditionally – without strings attached – are able to blossom into their true selves which provide a sense of security and leads to high self-esteem. 

Most parents feel a strong, powerful and what they consider to be unconditional love for their child. But what many parents don’t realize is that their actions sometimes express a conditionality to their love.

Wherever a parent withholds affection in the name of discipline or shows disapproval for their child’s lack of achievement, they’re sending the message that their love can vary based on circumstances.

While it’s important for us to guide, coach and encourage our children, it’s also important, for our child’s healthy development, to express love without limits.

See related: 5 Secrets to Love Your Child Unconditionally


Similar to unconditional love, children need to know they’re accepted by their parents.

All parents have hopes and dreams for their children but it’s important not to let those dreams drive our relationship with our child ( such as: my daughter will be a scientist or my son will excel in baseball).

Instead, we need to be alert to our child’s unique personality, varying needs, passions and support and encourage them as much as possible. 

Other subtle ways our child can feel rejected by us include: being made fun of, lack of quality time, demonstrating a preference for another sibling, and dismissing your child’s communicated emotional and physical needs. 

See related: The Effects of Rejection in Childhood 

Emotion coaching

One of the biggest challenges for young children is trying to understand and regulate their own emotions. When parents emotion coach their children, they’re helping them develop these skills which support their child’s emotional health and helps them form healthy social bonds.

Emotion coaching means helping your child navigate their emotions in a calm, empathetic and supportive manner. It also means comforting your child when they’re distressed, demonstrating active listening with your child, and respectfully helping your child problem solve solutions. 

Through your coaching your child will be more resilient, have better coping skills, better social interactions, and will be better equipped to navigate the ups and downs of their childhood and adult life. 

See related: The 7 Emotional Needs of a Child That Influence Confidence and Self-Esteem


As young, immature human beings, children seek security in their lives. While attachment to a parent or caregiver is essential for this security, a consistent routine can also be a source of safety.

When parents establish a daily routine with their child, they’re providing cues for what happens next during the day. When children know what to expect in their everyday activities, they’re less thrown off by changing events and therefore less likely to act out or meltdown emotionally. 

Routines also provide the means for better sleep habits, increased independence, and instruction in time management skills

See related: Establishing Kids Routines


As children get older, they have a basic need to demonstrate greater responsibility and independence over their lives. It’s important for children to practice these skills at home so they can adequately care for themselves as young adults.

Parents of young children can encourage a sense of responsibility by having their child help clean up their toys or messes. As children get older they can take on more responsibilities such as getting dressed independently, making simple meals such as school lunches, and contributing to household chores

See related: How to Stop Doing Everything for Your Kids and Teach Responsibility

Positive discipline

As new creatures in our world, our children yearn to understand how the world works including important boundaries and the best way to behave. Positive discipline helps coach and teach children in a constructive way while maintaining a strong and loving parent child bond.

Unlike punishment that aims to inflict pain and suffering on a child for wrongdoing, positive discipline recognizes that children’s emotional regulation and cognitive development is immature. And because of this, kids need positive instruction in how best to behave.

Parents who use positive discipline respectfully provide their children with appropriate guidance in emotion coaching, boundaries, and collaborative problem solving. 

See related: Raising Self-Sufficient Kids with Positive Discipline

Good role models

In addition to having parents who teach boundaries and proper behavior, children additionally need good role models to understand the best way to interact with and relate to others, establish healthy habits, and generally live life. And parents are the most important role models in a child’s life.

In fact, despite the saying: “Do what I say, not what I do.” children tend to do the opposite. Starting when they’re very young, children pick up on the behaviors of their role models – mimicking what they see their parents and others do. 

The way we as parents interact with other family members, in social situations with people outside of our family and respond to mistakes all serve as lessons for our children.

See related: The Importance of Parents as Role Models

Time to Play

While play may seem like a frivolous activity to many adults, it’s actually essential to child development. Through play, children learn and grow as individuals. Play contributes to children’s cognitive, social, physical and emotional well-being. 

In fact, the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights feels it’s so essential that it’s declared it as a right of every child.

Parents can both make sure their children have dedicated free time to play daily and should seek out care options that allow for free play. 

See related: How to Encourage Imaginary Play (and Why it’s so Important)

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About Kerry Flatley

Hi! I’m Kerry, the mother of two girls and a certified parent educator. I believe it is possible for parents to have a supportive, loving, and warm relationship with their kids while raising them to be independent and ultimately self-sufficient. Over the years, I’ve read numerous books and articles that support this belief and I’ve put these ideas into practice with my own kids. Read more about me and Self-Sufficient Kids here.