Let's face it: your kid(s) has needs that you need to meet. Some are needs (little n) and some are NEEDS; honestly, at times, it can be hard to distinguish between the two. And, to make things even more complicated, thanks to commercialism, our whiny children, and the powerful effect of peer pressure (both adult and youth), it can be hard to determine what can help meet those needs. You, as a parent, are constantly bombarded by what you need to accumulate (read: if you don't buy it, clearly, you are a bad parent). It doesn't matter if you are on your first time venture into the parenting realm, or have five+ children you call your own. It can be so overwhelming trying to figure out what your child NEEDS, versus what is extraneous waste of money (and believe me, for every age, there are a LOT of things that are a complete waste of money... and space!). I'm here to tell you that there are actually very few things your kids NEED. There are, however, 5 gifts you absolutely should give your child.
Your presence. Yes, with a 'c' not a 't'. I repeat, there are just a few things your child NEEDS (trust this, too: there are at least a dozen each day they will ask for, so be ready to hone your negotiating skills). One of the top needs, though, is your presence. You being there, actively present and invested, paying attention, and honestly interacting. Not on your phone, not on your computer, not watching tv. ACTIVELY present and interacting.
Diverse socialization opportunities. With you, yes, but also with other kids, and with other adults, and in different settings. Let them figure out who they are around other people. Give them the opportunity to hang out, to enjoy time with and negotiate activities with their own peers and, if possible, other adults. Let them develop their own persona. That is, after all, the end goal of parenting: to help an independent, intelligent, and thoughtful person enter the world and find their way, right? They cannot successfully achieve that unless they learn how to be their own person without your telling them what to do. As they are younger, you are their bowling bumpers, right, keeping them on the proper path, helping them not stray too far off path. After a time, though, you need to lift those bumpers and let them go at it on their own. Given ample and diverse socialization opportunities as a they are younger, they will have a strong set of skills to use, to intelligently navigate their way through the minefield of life. As much as you might want to, you can't always be there. Let them figure it out on their own. Yes, there will be some failures, but those, too, are amazing learning experiences.
Unconditional acceptance. You love them, no.matter.what. They will always be safe with you, no.matter.what. You are their safe person. You are their number one fan, even if you are telling them what they might try to do better for next time. You have their back even if you are making them 'fess up to their own mistakes and make things right. You love them completely even when you are making them do chores to earn the money to pay for (insert broken appliance/device/house fixture here). You are their confidante, even when you are making them to choose the option that best suits them. You are their favorite teacher even when you are making them write a proper apology note. You love them, no.matter.what.
Space to explore their curiosity. Kids are interested in amazing things. They make the most fabulous connections. Given ample room to romp around, they will make discoveries you may not have imagined. They actually care what color the rose is when they stop to smell it; they look down, around, and all over, and see things with a clarity and with color you no longer have time or patience to explore. Yes, their pockets will be filled with things you might not be able to identify, but that stick has a purpose as do those other things. Give them the chance to do explore, ask them about their discoveries, and then listen to them when they tell you about it. I promise you, you will learn something new.
Space and opportunity to have plenty of physical movement. Kids need to move. Kids need to have space to run, jump and climb. Sure, you can give them various pieces of equipment like a trampoline, basketball hoop or bike, but they don't need those things. They need space. Space + a ball? Even better. Space + a ball + a friend/sibling? Best thing ever. Especially if you throw in a couple trees and big rocks to climb on. You don't need to sign them up for expensive lessons, or join a gym. One of my kids' favorite places to explore is a park with a creek. Free, and beautiful! (I do recommend packing a change of clothes, though, for an afternoon like that!) Space to move, to run, to get sweaty and grimy, this is an amazing gift. If you don't have a yard, find a park or two. Give them the gift of space, and they will develop a love of movement that will serve them well over the course of their lifetime.
My friends, your kids will tell you they have a lot of needs. They will tell you the iPhone is necessary, and they NEED those new blue shoes. They will tell you their backpack is completely unacceptable, and they just can't live another day without their very own ripstik. All plausible, but not completely credible statements. What they really need - besides food, water, safety and security - is an easy list to achieve. All of it free, all of it a gift from you. Invest in these gifts for your kids, and they will benefit hugely, as will you because these kinds of gifts also come in kind.