Brazelton, T. B. & Greenspan, S. I. (2000). The irreducible needs of children: What every child must have to grow, learn, and flourish

Drs. T. Berry Brazelton and Stanley Greenspan, generally considered to be giants in the fields of infant and child development and infant mental health set forth to identify specieis- and culturally-specific “irreducible” needs for children to thrive. The book is based on years of clinical experience as well as synthesis of literature on the subject of child development, and synthesizes the substantial evidence of what is needed for children to develop successfully.
Their primary emphasis is on the importance for children to have a continuous, close relationships, and how these relationships work – especially in the first three years of life, to form the foundations for developing warm, understanding relationships as well a “moral compass.” “Only secure, well-nurtured individuals are capable of joining together and embracing a broader ethic of shared humanity.”

Brazelton and Greenspan contend that the fundamental building blocks for childrens’ higher-level emotional, social, and intellectual abilities are:

(1) “The Need for Ongoing Nurturing Relationships;”

(2) “The Need for Physical Protection, Safety, and Regulation;”

(3) “The Need for Experiences Tailored to Individual Differences;”

(4) “The Need for Developmentally Appropriate Experiences;”

(5) “The Need for Limit Setting, Structure, and Expectations;”

(6) “The Need for Stable, Supportive Communities and Cultural Continuity;” and

(7) “Protecting the Future,” which is defined as the need for international cooperation to meet the needs of children around the world.

The authors identify the fundamental requirements of a healthy childhood and compare them to the current practices of parents, teachers, and policy-makers in meeting those basic needs.  They maintain that when there are deficiencies or absences of these fundamental requirements, children are more likely to lack motivation, and their development of reasoning ability may be impaired.  They point out that too much stimulation (or too little) for the child’s stage of development can negatively affect development.

The authors call for a fundamental change and contend that, “Simply doing more of what has not been working will not prove helpful, nor can you teach a child simply by testing him…” “Similarly, greater accountability without teaching innovations will also be unlikely to produce improved results, any more than (as the old saying states) weighing a cow over and over will fatten it” (p. 86).  Brazelton, who founded the Touchpoints Centers to train professionals in preventative outreach for children, and Greenspan, who is the founding president of Zero to Three: The National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, offer clear, specific recommendations for multidisciplinary community-based services.


Brazelton, T. B. (1992), Touchpoints: Your child’s emotional and behavioral development Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.

Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper.