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Behavior Model Series

Part II: The Seven Primary Needs

There are seven primary human needs, and until they’re met, students are not likely to focus on studying, learning, and school work, or any other task relative to the classroom.

Relating to and motivating a roomful of students every day—with their different wants, needs, and abilities—is not an easy task. Yet, it’s a prerequisite for successful teaching and for managing individual as well as group behavior. Before we can even begin the task, however, we must be aware of seven primary human needs. These needs must be met before anyone, including students, can be motivated to be self-disciplined, much less activated to study and cooperate, be respectful, and reach for academic goals.

The Primary Needs Are the First Place to Look

They apply to every student—those we reach as well as those we don’t. That’s important because even if we’re successful with the majority, it’s our failure with the few students who are our discipline problems that causes us so much disappointment and grief. Unfortunately, overlooking these primary needs is often the reason behind our failure to get kids to behave in the classroom.

These motivators, called the primary human needs, are physiological and unlearned. They are:

Hunger, Thirst, Sex, Air, Rest, Escape from Pain, and Elimination of Waste.

These primary needs must always be tended, checked, balanced, cared for, and fulfilled before the secondary needs can be considered. This is paramount because it’s within the secondary needs that children are motivated to behave, cooperate, work, be considerate, prepare for the future, or excel in school. All research states explicitly that teacher action as simple as a demonstration of caring can alter the student-teacher relationship as well as the entire climate in a classroom or school.

Primary Needs One and Two: Hunger and Thirst

There are countless reasons students come to school hungry—and many do. Never assume that every child who lives in a nice home has a parent who gets up to prepare breakfast. Likewise, family financial problems or spending lunch money on something else may be the cause of hunger. Medical problems such as diabetes, or eating something salty, can accent the thirst need and can also be the reason behind motivational problems. Proper eating and drinking supports good behavior and learning—empty stomachs do not.

Primary Need Three: Sex

Sex is revealed frequently as a primary need which results in misbehavior. There are the typical boy-girl problems as well as girl-girl and boy-boy friendship problems we see every day. Also, difficulties caused by not being included in the group and being overdeveloped or underdeveloped physically are real problems kids experience which cause unacceptable behavior.

Primary Need Four: Air

The fact that the highest population density per square foot exists in school is a factor when it comes to the primary need of air. Whenever large numbers of people are put together in a confined space, behavior will be altered. In the classroom or halls, it’s difficult for a child to find space or privacy.

Primary Need Five: Rest

We’re all aware of the human need for rest. Yet, we may not remember that kids may not be getting their rest because of worries, family problems, illness, or responsibilities at home. Likewise, we need to remember that the need for rest extends beyond sleep. Students also need rest from pressure and work.

Primary Need Six: Escape from Pain

Fear is a big motivator. In fact, it may be one of the biggest in the lives of people, including students. A close look will reveal that an attempt to escape from pain is often the reason for a lack of learning motivation as well as for certain misbehavior. For instance, students may get into trouble for skipping school or talking back to a teacher, but they feel that such behavior won’t cause them nearly as much pain as everyone finding out they can’t do classwork.

Primary Need Seven: Elimination of Waste

This isn’t a need which can be predicted by a child. Neither is it a need which is necessarily satisfied immediately—and finally—because a trip to the restroom has been allowed. We also need to realize that some children are embarrassed or afraid to use school restrooms.

The primary needs affect how students come to class and react while in class. If a student comes to school hungry, tired, or burdened with the countless problems that can exist at home, school and its demands are secondary. Students who cause the most trouble in class may be struggling with a primary need. Sometimes, simply by demonstrating an awareness or small consideration, we can help the situation. That’s why we must observe students in the halls, restrooms, and cafeterias as well as in class. Knowing that the primary needs must be met before good behavior and learning can ever seem meaningful to students is all the motivation we should need to keep close track of them.

If you missed the first post in this series, you can read it here.

This blog post is excerpted from the book Before You Can Discipline

Thought for the Week

Simply pulling a strategy “off the shelf” or defaulting to the most recently read article or staff development session topic may not generate the results we seek.

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