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Many of us may already realize the influence that childhood has on adulthood and beyond. This stage of development is more than just learning how to use our senses- it is responsible for building the foundation of our lives. 

Consider the build of a house. When a house has a weak foundation, it is vulnerable to all sorts of damage. A house built on a strong and reliable foundation is essential for it to be a dependable and long-lasting home.  

Similar to the foundation of a house, our childhood sets the foundation of our lives. It is crucial to understand all of the many ways that your childhood sets the foundation for everything in your life, especially your mental health. 

Defining Childhood as A Foundation

Early childhood plays a critical role in shaping an individual’s life. Experiences that occur before age 8 are detrimental to an individual’s brain development, as it sets the tone for future learning, behavior, and general health. As a person ages, the brain’s ability to adapt and grow reduces significantly. 

Childhood sets the foundation for several areas of development, including:

  • emotional development, such as an individual’s ability to feel their own emotions and understand the emotions of others
  • cognitive development, such as an individual’s ability to use critical-thinking skills, learn and retain knowledge, and develop other cognitive skills
  • behavior development, such as understanding healthy vs harmful behavior

Growing up in a positive and nurturing atmosphere empowers a child to feel safe and secure in their environment. If a child is exposed to supportive and loving relationships while they are young, they will be more likely to express their needs clearly and effectively as adults. 

Oppositely, growing up in traumatic environments causes a child to experience long-lasting psychological trauma. If a child is exposed to abuse, neglect, or problematic behavior while they are young, they will be more likely to not know how to voice their needs as adults. 

Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs

A valuable way to understand how childhood sets the foundation for your mental health is by taking a look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This concept is a theory in psychology that identifies the five tiers of human needs. 

This theory identifies different needs that motivate human behavior. The lowest needs on the pyramid model must be satisfied first before an individual can attend to the needs above them. In order from bottom to top, the hierarchy needs are as follows: psychological, safety, love and belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization. 

Childhood is associated mostly with the first three levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, including psychological, safety, and love and belonging needs. 

The first stage, psychological needs, are required for human survival. These needs include:

  • Having clean air to breathe
  • Having healthy, appropriate food to eat and water to drink
  • Having a reliable shelter or home, providing warmth and comfort
  • Having access to reliable and appropriate clothing

The second stage, safety needs, are required for understanding order and control in life. These needs include:

  • The ability to identify dangerous stimuli or situations
  • The ability to feel safe and secure in the home environment
  • Having awareness of general health
  • Understanding personal security, such as body or property
  • Understanding financial security 

 The third state, love and belonging needs, are required for us to create and maintain healthy relationships with others and with ourselves. These needs include:

  • The ability to feel loved, appreciated, and accepted
  • The ability to experience connection with others 
  • The ability to receive and give affection

All of the needs listed above are essential in forming a healthy foundation for life. During childhood, we are too young to understand that these concepts are basic needs. Children rely fully on their parents, siblings, and peers to meet these needs for us.

Take any of the needs listed above and reflect on what factors in your childhood played a role in how you understand and experience that specific need in your adult life. Focus on using a mindfulness lens as you do this, being as objective as possible. 

Reflect on your past and present psychological needs. For example, maybe you had a reliable home during your childhood, but you did not grow up with your own room or had your own space. As an adult, you wonder why you prioritize alone time so much, even when that means spending less time with friends. This is an objective way to understand how your childhood experiences set the tone for your adult needs and habits. 

As another example, consider your safety needs. If you grew up in poverty, money may have always been the topic of conversation in your household. You had to get a job at a young age so you could help pay for your family’s bills. As a result, you are a money-conscious adult and never let yourself buy anything, especially for yourself. 

There are so many behaviors that we exhibit as adults and we wonder where they developed from. If you allow yourself to look back on your critical childhood years, you are likely to uncover many of these unknowns. Reflecting on your childhood helps you to understand and give reason to your behaviors and actions as an adult. 

Reflecting back on your childhood can teach you many things about your adult self. Childhood sets the foundation for who we are as people, especially noting our thought, feeling, and behavior patterns as adults. It is important to understand what needs of yours were and were not met during your childhood so you can better understand your needs as an adult. West Coast Recovery Centers understands that childhood sets the foundation for the rest of our lives. We are a comprehensive treatment center that offers several different therapeutic approaches that help you to better understand your mental health needs. Mental health treatment is more than just reducing symptoms of distress- it is about discovering who you are at your core. For more information about the different treatment options we offer, or to learn more about how your childhood sets the foundation for your life, give us a call today (760) 492-6509