Needs and Wants in Behavior Activities

Instructor: Shanna Fox

Shanna has been an educator for 20 years and earned her Master of Education degree in 2017. She enjoys using her experience to provide engaging resources for other teachers.

Identifying needs and wants and behaving appropriately in response to each is an important life skill for students. Use these activities to engage upper elementary or middle school students in distinguishing between and reacting to needs and wants.

Needs and Wants in Behavior Activities

Students can typically identify physical needs and wants. However, they may have difficulty identifying the emotional side of things. That's why it is important to explicitly teach necessary skills that help students manage needs, wants, and behavior. These team activities, designed for upper elementary and middle school students, will develop skills in the area of identifying emotional needs and wants and their impact on behavior choices. Students will differentiate between needs, wants, and behaviors. In addition, they will understand the importance and value of incorporating structure into their lives. The essential skills embedded within these activities can benefit students beyond the classroom and throughout their lives.

Perspective Shifts

Needs and wants change throughout our lives. It's easy for students to identify physical wants and needs, such as food and shelter or a new cell phone. However, when it comes to emotional needs that impact behavior, they may have trouble identifying them. In this activity, students gain valuable skills in identifying and tracking changes in their emotional wants and needs over time.

Write the following sentence starters on the board:

  • ''As a baby, I needed…''
  • ''As a young child, I needed…''
  • ''Right now, I need…''
  • ''As a high schooler, I may need…''
  • ''As a college student, I may need…''
  • ''As a working adult, I may need…''
  • ''As a parent, I may need…''

As a class, discuss how needs and wants change as we grow up. Have students identify one need for each of the sentence starters above. Write them on the board. Be sure to reinforce that each need should be related directly to the stage in life. For example, a baby needs comfort when he cries, a young child needs structure to function well, and a parent needs security to take care of her family. If students mention a want instead of a need, record these responses in a separate area of the board labeled ''wants''.

Groups students into teams. Transition from sentence starters to a brief team discussion about how needs and wants change over time. Ask students to identify their current needs and wants and how they behave accordingly. For example, they might share ''I want to feel happy all the time. I need to know I am safe.'' Students can also discuss how they feel and react when their needs or wants are not met. For example, ''When I don't feel happy, I worry that I never will again. When I don't feel safe, I get scared and anxious.''

  • Materials: sentence starters, discussion questions

Drilling Down

Often, students do not recognize the underlying internal feelings that preface their external behaviors. It's important for them to distinguish between the two, identify what they can control, and use what they know to make healthy behavior choices. In this activity, students identify problematic behaviors at home and at school and drill down to the underlying need or want.

Start with a class brainstorming session and list problematic school or home behaviors. Group students into teams. Ask teams to select two behaviors. Teams then identify the need or want behind the behavior and determine an alternative, healthier reaction. Teams can present their discussion results with the class. Wrap up with a brief journaling activity in which students identify a problematic behavior in their own lives and analyze the need or want and a positive reaction.

  • Materials: notebook paper, writing utensil

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