Correcting Your Child’s Behavior by Meeting Basic Needs

Sometimes kids act out. It's a fact of life. Many of us have been taught that when our children act up it's a display of disobedience and the child just needs more discipline. But this ignores the fact that it's a child you are dealing with and not an adult. A child that sometimes doesn't know how to express his or her feelings about what it is they need or why they are misbehaving.

Many behaviors that your child may be exhibiting can be dealt with easily by identifying a need that they are trying to communicate. This need could be either emotional or physical. The next time your child begins to act out and doesn't want to listen, try meeting one of these needs. If your child is old enough, ask them what is bothering them and give them some guidance to help them communicate their needs to you.


Kids need to eat often. It's easy to forget that their tummies are so much smaller than ours and they feel hungry much more often than adults. Don't try to force big meals on your kids. Instead, focus on smaller meals and several snacks throughout the day.

Just as you would nurse a baby on demand, have your older children listen to their bodies as to whether they are hungry or full. It's amazing what a snack can do to brighten a child's mood.


Always have water available for small children and remind them to take a drink often. Thirst is the easiest physical need to ignore, but when we do, it can lead to a cranky and dehydrated child.

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Some toddlers are more sensitive than others to a wet or dirty diaper. If your child is potty training or new to using the restroom on their own, remind them to use the toilet. Misbehavior could just be the “potty dance” in disguise.


As adults, it's easy to become engrossed in our own activities of the day. After a child has exhausted all other ways of communicating their need for attention, they may resort to acting out to appear on your radar.

Over time, children may automatically resort to negative behaviors to gain attention from adults. Satisfy your child's need for attention often, and don't ignore their cues that they may be feeling a bit neglected.


Babies need lots of touch and affection from their mothers, caregivers, and family members. Your older child may not need as much, but they still need your affection.

When your child is be doing everything in their power to make you upset, sometimes the best thing you can do is hug, cuddle, and kiss them. Make sure that you are fulfilling your child's need for touch and affection. It will put you both in a better mood.

This is obviously not a full list of your child's needs, but it's a starter list of things to check when your child is having a difficult time listening or doing the right thing.

It may be that your child is just displaying his or her will against yours, which is also completely normal. If this is the case, it's amazing what a change of activity, pace, or scenery can do. Being aware of your child's individual personality and good communication is key.

Vanessa Pruitt, PLMHP, MS

2 thoughts on “Correcting Your Child’s Behavior by Meeting Basic Needs

  1. All of the above unmet needs are great reminders! We also need to add “sleepy” to the list. That is a huge basic need that should be met for kids

    1. Kim, you are so right. Sleep is a major need for our children. Thank you for stopping by and giving your input!

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