In the educator’s world, there is this popular phrase, for students to learn, they have to Maslow before Bloom. Maslow here refers to the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory whilst Bloom here refers to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning. Parents are often concerned about their child’s learning to progress in school. However, as teachers or educators, we know that our students need to have their needs to be met before they would be able to effectively embark on their learning journey.

What is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory is a theory of motivation that states five categories of human needs which affects an individual’s behavior. The hierarchy of needs is presented in a pyramid format with more basic needs being presented at the bottom while higher level need being presented at the top of the pyramid.

The five needs are physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs and self-actualization needs. Physiological needs refer to our need for shelter, water, warmth, food, rest and health. It is believed that physiological needs must be to be met before one move on to the next level of needs. Safety needs refer to how we need to feel secured and safe, both physically and emotionally. Love and belonging needs refer to how one fulfills the need by building relationships – friendship, companionship and romantic relationship. Esteem needs refers to how one views self as well as how others view self. This is where value in relation to self as well as value in relation to contribution to others matters to the individual. The final level, self-actualization, refer to fulfillment of one’s fullest potential, desire to be the best version of self.

Why is it important?

Before we address the first physiological needs, we know that our body function regularly – we know when we feel tired or in pain. We are able to communicate our thoughts and feelings. However, for children with special needs, they will need support in this area. Thus, the need for behavior therapy or occupational therapy to address this body function, communication or self-regulation. Once we are able to support our child to communicate better or manage their sensory input better, subsequently, we can address their other needs.

By understanding their needs, it helps you to figure out your child better. Your child’s behavior could be a result of them trying to fulfill their needs or a way of them communicating with you of their needs. For example, when your child throws a tantrum, say, by hitting their head, you would need to first ask is that a sensory condition or is that a need that your child is trying to communicate with you. As our child with special needs may have limited way of communication, one happy incident and another frustrating incident may trigger same behavior, e.g., hitting their head. Thus, as parents or caregivers of children with special needs, you need to spend time figuring out, eliminating possibilities and investigate what your child with special needs is trying to communicate with you.

Read more on Does your child need a sensory diet? to look at sensory concerns which may affect your child’s behavior.

Exploring the Needs

Physiological needs: The need for shelter, water, warmth, food, rest and health.

This is the most basic need for a person. Is your child able to communicate with you to tell you that he is hungry? Or sleepy? Does your child know when he is cold or need a drink of water? Are you able to fulfill this most basic need?

There’s a saying – a hungry man is an angry man. If your child is hungry and not able to tell you verbally or communicate that with you, expect behavior from your child. Or if your child is not able to let you know that his tummy ache or he is having a headache.

You would need to find a communication method to support your child to identify when he or she is hungry, thirsty, not feeling well, tummy ache, headache, etc. Let if be verbal or picture or sign language. Any form of communication to express his or her condition to fulfill this most basic need.

Safety needs: The need to feel secured and safe, both physically and emotionally.

Does your child feel safe? Is he or she constantly is put under watch? Or would he or she is constantly reprimanded with their every action? Routine or habits provide a form of safety in your child’s life. This is one of the reasons why our children with special needs struggles with changes in routine or unexpected change in situations.

To support your child to overcome the challenge in “strict” routine, introduce disruptions into their life. In order to support your child to deal with his insecurities when you use a different route to bring him to school, practice with your child when you take a different route to school. Describe the route to your child. Provide as much information as you can. This will reassure your child that it is one of the regular routes which you can take when bring him to school. Make the irregularities regular.

Love and belonging: The need to feel loved and belonged

Does your child feel your love? Does your child feel accepted by you? Or do you only love your child when he or she behaves? If your child being constantly reprimanded, do you think he feels loved? Your child may express his or her love to you differently. Spend time to read the 5 Languages of Love where it explores the 5 different ways, we can express our love and to receive love. Your child may express his love when he picks up a stone he found on his way to the park and presents it to you as a gift. If you reprimanded him for picking up stone by the pathway because it is dirty, your child may feel rejected.

Find out how your child express their love and how they receive your love best. This will provide a lot of opportunities to improve your communication with your child.

Esteem needs: The need on how one views self as well as how others view self

Understand that your child is a person. He or she has every right as any other human being in this world. Your child wants to be respected. He or she would want to express their thoughts and want to make their own choices. Provide opportunities for your child to express their thoughts and wants. Pause and be curious with their choices. Explore their choices – to further understand their thought processes, which may be a different way they make their choices.

Self-actualization: The need to fulfill of one’s fullest potential

Your child wants to be someone – whether they are able to express it clearly or not. Children, from young, wants to emulate their parents or primary caregivers. The person or even superhero they would look up to may change as they grow and their exposure to the number of people grow. Support their interest – be it Spiderman or SpongeBob. Use their interest to explore strengths and characters of their superhero. Share with your child how their superhero deal with their challenges or tricky Math questions.


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory is a theory of motivation of an individual. Maslow’s theory can help you identify your child’s needs and thus, providing an opportunity for you to support your child in managing their needs.

Read more on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs here from VerywellMind.

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