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The Hierarchy of Needs in Babies

by Leah Campbell, studioD

Abraham Maslow’s paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” was published in 1945. Identifying a hierarchy of needs, this theory of personality development and human behavior has been utilized in a variety of contexts ever since. According to Maslow, each tier on the hierarchy must be achieved before the next can be successfully focused on. Infants are perhaps the best examples of Maslow’s theory in practice, as they are not yet capable of providing for any of these needs themselves.

Instinctual Needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can be broken down into two categories: the instinctual needs and the growth needs. The first four levels on Maslow’s hierarchy, the instinctual needs, are the most applicable to babies and children. These are the needs that, if not fulfilled, will gain importance and focus as a child becomes highly compelled to fill them. The levels, which fall into the instinctual-needs category, are physiological, safety and security, social needs and esteem.


The physiological tier includes nutrition, oxygen, hydration, shelter, rest and human touch. This level involves meeting an infant’s most basic needs so that he can be nurtured to a higher stage of development. Without meeting these needs, an infant will likely suffer from a failure to thrive, and he will not be able to develop trust in his care givers.

Safety and Security

At the safety and security level, parents need to protect their children from danger and maintain a safe and stable environment. Babies become concerned with this stage once they are confident that their physiological needs have been met and will continue to be met. This is the stage where structure becomes important and when a child is most likely to begin expressing fear or worry.

Social Needs

The next tier on the hierarchy involves a child’s need to feel unconditional love and acceptance. Children must first feel family stability in the safety and security level before they can begin seeking social interaction outside of the family. For a baby, this is the stage when distrust in strangers and separation anxiety should begin to fade as comfort in the family structure increases. Babies will become more open to exploring and playing, as well as interacting readily with others.


The esteem level on the hierarchy will occur when your baby enters childhood. This is the stage when he will begin to focus on his own self-worth. Encouragement and respect are important, as is positive discipline and the opportunity to learn life skills. During this tier, children will begin to build upon confidence and independence.

About the Author

Living in Alaska, Leah Campbell has traveled the world and written extensively on topics relating to infertility, dating, adoption and parenting. She recently released her first book, and holds a psychology degree (with an emphasis in child development and abnormal child psychology) from San Diego State University.

Photo Credits

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