As emotional beings, we all need more than food and water to feel satisfied and healthy. Eric Berne, a psychologist, first coined the term “psychological hungers.” Three of the psychological hungers he first identified were stimulation, recognition, and structure. Berne found that if one or more of these hungers was unsatisfied, people became off balance and emotionally unwell. If the hungers remained unsatisfied for a long period of time, both mental and physical health were affected.

If children’s emotional needs for stimulation, recognition, and structure are not met, they will try to meet them on their own. Take stimulation as an example. The brain actually experiences understimulation as stress, so people will do something to change that chemical experience in the brain by  increasing their level of arousal. Adults may start a conversation, infants may rock, and older children may run around and make a lot of noise. Since children have fewer resources than adults, they often choose an aggressive, loud kind of stimulation.

Recognition is the hunger for attention. Children want to feel they have an impact on someone in a way that creates a response. If they can affect the world, they know they exist. Because the need for attention is so innate, children will seek it out one way or another. If they cannot get the recognition they need by behaving in a positive, healthy fashion, they will resort to behaviors that are not welcome. If a child receives attention only by screaming, crying, and being naughty, he or she will do all those things. When you offer your child loving attention, he or she will feel recognition in a positive way.

Children also need structure. Structure in the psychological sense refers to rules of the house, routines, and rituals. Consistent messages also help create a sense of structure. Even planning a task-focused “game,” such as looking for a certain type of fruit on a trip to the grocery store offers structure that will also feed the need for stimulation and recognition.

Empower yourself as a parent by looking at your child’s needs rather than simply looking at behaviors.