You may have heard of the term “hangry.” You may even be feeling it right now.
The term means you are angry because you are hungry. This is because when we are hungry we have shorter tempers, less patience and less control of our emotions. The same goes for when we are tired or thirsty. These needs are what Psychologist Abraham Maslow terms our physical needs.
You may know Maslow from an intro psychology class you took in college. He created Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a theory that self-actualization, or success, only comes when our physical, safety, connection and confidence needs are met.
Maslow depicts this hierarchy of needs as a triangle, with physical needs at the bottom. Then safety, connection, confidence and the top being success.
Physical needs are at the bottom because if these needs aren’t satisfied, no other need can be met. Our physical needs are the foundation for success.
Our children have the same needs as us, although they may express them in a different way. We can be helpful by guiding our children and being an example of effective management of emotions.
Children have energy and movement needs (exercise, rest when tired, calming practice when overexcited), sensory needs (more or less stimulus, vision or hearing difference, relief from pain) and cognitive needs (differences in processing speed, memory or learning abilities.
When our child is acting out, we can use the pyramid to help alleviate the situation and guide our child through their emotions. We can start at the bottom with physical needs, then work our way up.
Here are a couple of ideas when trying to care for physical needs:
Help children be more in touch with their bodies
Try checking in with a body area or taking a deep breath as a transition activity. For example, say, “Before we go or move on, let’s check in with our shoulders, jaws, feet, stomach while taking five slow, deep breaths.”
If you as an adult think this sounds kind of silly, you might consider experimenting with a mindful, physical check-in for yourself! It’s good for your physical and emotional health.
Try a sensory snack
Pass out a cracker or one of their favorite snacks and spend one minute mindfully eating. Consider its taste, texture, flavor, smell, sound and appearance. Invite your child to share what stood out to them to emphasize that we all have different sensory sensitivities.
Get children up to move! Try pacing back and forth while reading. Throw a soft ball around. This is even appropriate with older kids.
They may think it is silly, but that’s okay. Sometimes you need to lose your dignity to find your kids!
Provide roaming freedom
Allow freedom for kids to move around the house to help moderate visual or auditory needs, or find space to take a sensory break.
When our child is screaming at the grocery store, our first instinct is to try to get them to stop. While it can be difficult in the moment to think about the “why” behind their behavior, the pyramid can act as a game plan for us during these heightened situations. The next time your child acts out, try remembering the pyramid and meeting physical needs, safety, connection and confidence. When we meet the needs of our children, we enable them to thrive.