First Hour Needs: Optimizing your child’s well-being

Needs…we all have them. Hopefully our needs are met on a routine basis. In this post we will be reviewing some of the basic needs your child may have to function optimally. Specifically, we will be looking at addressing these needs within the first hour from when the wake in the morning. These are call first hour needs.

Two years ago I read a book that transformed how I handle my morning with my kids. The book was called The Dance of Interaction by Jeanine Fitzgerald. In it Jeanine discusses first hour needs and how meeting these needs are critical to developing a secure relationship with your child.

As stated throughout many of Champion Dads other posts– Behaviors are an end result. When the child’s needs are met they develop and exhibit good behaviors. When the child’s needs go unmet they develop and exhibit problematic behaviors. The key is to address the child’s needs as soon as possible in the morning. By meeting their individual needs the child is off to a great start and has the space to deepen their resiliency while taking on the day.

Since reading her book, I have made meeting these needs a habit for me and my kids. The results have been amazing and have really assisted in starting off the day on the right foot. I have provided an example below of my interaction with both of my kids. Then I have listed out the ten needs with a short definition. Keep in mind that that my kids are both under 8 years old and as they grow I will adjust how I meet these needs going forward (needs never go away). Also, you don’t have to meet all the needs listed but I make sure I meet some of them every time (Acknowledgement/Touch/Encouragement/Nutrition).

I am consistently the first one up in our house. So when I hear the footsteps on the stairs I get ready to pause whatever I am doing to acknowledge my kids. When one or both appear I make eye contact, smile, and wave them over (acknowledgement). From there I give them a big embrace and tell them how happy I am to see them (communication & touch). I ask them how they slept and what they are going to do with their day. I let them talk as long as they need while I slip in some goofiness (socialization & humor). At this point I ask them what they would like for breakfast let them go get started with a word or two of inspiration mixed in (nutrition & encouragement).

First Hour Needs

  • Acknowledgment: Acknowledgment is the greeting we provide our children to welcome them to the new day. It delivers the message that we welcome them as part of our household. A child who does not have this need met right away may nag and seek your attention (or someone else’s) throughout the day.
  • Nutrition: Nutrition is one of the most basic needs of the child. If this need is not met it will be difficult for the child to move on to higher needs during the day. This results in a child whining about hunger or constantly seeking to eat anything.
  • Communication: Some children after a night of sleep and processing need to share/tell stories when they wake. It is vital that we create a home environment where the child feels safe enough to communicate with us. Listening allows the child to decompress and feel significant. By feeling heard the child will be able to better manage their day ahead.
  • Socialization: Some children need time to socialize and play with others when they wake. My son fits this category as he gets right “to work” when he wakes. This usually entails him telling me how he is figuring things out and things he really wants to do. Other times, he may need me to sit with him and help him get started on a game or task.
  • Touch: The need of touch is often tied to how a child gives and receives love. It is a love language. My daughter has this need. When she wakes she seeks me out to give a giant good morning hug. This also happens when I come home from work where she has not seen me all day. Hugs, holding hands, cuddling on the couch fills the child with enough love to take on the day.
  • Humor: Humor is a very serious business for some children (I have this need still to this day). Humor serves as a stress buffer and a positive coping strategy. Research suggest that children (people) who use humor suffer less from fatigue, tension, anger, and depression.
  • Physical Activity: This needs is common among children. My son has this need. He can’t seem to sleep in. As soon as he wakes he is off into his day looking for things to do. He needs to move. Oftentimes, shortly after he has woke he asks to go outside to play. Meeting this need is allowing the child to move about and use their physical capabilities. This can be achieved indoors or outdoors. We should make appropriate space for our children to be always on the move.
  • Structure: Predictability and order in an environment provide children with a sense of safety and stability. Structure is attained my meeting the child’s expectations through routines and schedules. A good example would be to be consistent with the order on how things get done each morning (wake, use bathroom, brush teeth, dress, then go get something to eat).
  • Relaxation: There is a strong connection between body and mind. This means that emotional and psychological reactions effect our physical health and well-being. Some children need time to get warmed up to the day. My daughter requires this need. She does not function well when rushed right when she wakes. An approach that works for her is time spent with a personal activity (usually drawing or writing). This allows her to balance out and get ready on her own terms.
  • Encouragement: A child who has this need will demand reassurance before taking on a task. You may recognize this need if you hear the phrase “but I can’t do it”. Meeting this need is as simple as starting the day with some positive affirmations or a little pep talk (“I believe in you and know that you are going to have a great day”)

As you read through the above list, chances are you began to think about how you have these same needs. Just like your children, if you have an unmet need, you can expect your behaviors to be less than stellar throughout the day. So, hopefully this post has brought awareness and insight on how to optimize your mornings.

Observe your children and discover what types of needs they exhibit. Work with them to create an environment and routine that brings out the best in them. You will be blown away by how addressing first hour needs can transform your relationship and put them on a path of well-being.

Be well


Photo by Simon Matzinger via Unsplash

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