Wellbeing and positive parenting
Last week I had the privilege of addressing a meeting of Independent Primary School Heads of Australia (IPSHA) on "The importance of early intervention to enhance wellbeing and mental health in young people".
My presentation focused on three key areas but this article will focus only on the third area (parental support):
1. Student education and the importance of programs and activities to equip students with the necessary social and emotional skills to navigate the journey of life with confidence and compassion.
2. Teacher professional learning to ensure that teachers have the knowledge, and awareness of the latest research into mental health and wellbeing. Teachers need ongoing professional development to both identify and support students with difficulties AND to also understand and respond to the growing emotional and social needs of our children.
3. Parent support and the need for a shared understanding and shared language between school and parents in regards resilience and wellbeing.
Being involved in your child's life and caring about what happens to them is what parents do and should be doing. However, some parents are labelled as helicopter parents or lawn mowing parents as they want to smooth the road ahead for their child so they never experience any disappointment. While this care comes from a place of unconditional love for a child, we now understand that allowing a child to experience setbacks and disappointments and to be responsible for and to accept the consequences of their actions, is very important in developing resilience and enhancing their wellbeing in the longer term.
Research by Kouros et al., (2017) has found that "helicopter parenting predicts lower levels of wellbeing for female students, but not males, possibly because parents use more controlling behaviours and less autonomy- granting behaviours, with their daughters compared to their sons".
This research is supported by Locke's research (2015) where it is stated that if parents are overly involved they could be too invested in their child's academic achievements and this can result in "excessive emotional reactions if the academic expectations are not fulfilled".
Kouros et al. reinforces that the warm and supportive parenting side is very important but the high levels of control and the over involvement in a child's life are the factors that are potentially causing long- term harm.
Parenting is complex. As parents we need to nurture resilience and autonomy not just "nurture". Allow your child to do what they are capable of doing. Step back, provide them with the autonomy to step up and to learn and grow from their mistakes and setbacks. By listening and validating their feelings, we are then able to support and guide children to work out an action plan for a way forward from disappointments and thereby help them to grow and become independent.
Having said this, we need to be careful about the messages our children pick up from adults about resilience. As children grow and develop they need to appropriately express emotions, both positive and negative, as they arise. Adults need to help children to validate these emotions. So when something sad or bad happens, we help them to understand that it is appropriate to feel upset or worried. If children only hear the message that they need to be brave and resilient we may be inadvertently teaching them to suppress emotions such as sadness, anger and worry to meet adult approval. (kidsmatter.edu.au) We know this suppression of emotions can be detrimental to positive health and wellbeing.
The other caution is to ensure that children understand that resilience is NOT always within their personal control. When they are not coping they may believe that it is their fault. We know that children are the most resilient when they know they have access to support from caring adults and we need to teach them that having a bad day and asking for help is appropriate.
With R U OK? Day approaching on September 14, this is an excellent time for us to reinforce the notion of seeking help when needed.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article, please email me or call 9473 7836 .