How to help your kids feel happy
If you’re a regular Muddy reader you’ll know that I love to scoot along having fun and looking for the best things in life (happily they’re free – just ask Janet). But even I can’t sugar coat some subjects.
I have three mudlets myself, all school age, so the current reading in the newspapers is pretty depressing. The average onset age for depression was 45 in the 1960s; today it’s 14. Young Minds claims that three children in every classroom have a diagnosed mental illness, and that one in 10 will develop an eating disorder before their 25th birthday. Hospitalisations from self-harm have doubled in the last three years.
Wow. Aren’t you glad you’re not a kid these days? What a relief when we were growing up for no social media, non-pushy parents, only 3 channels on telly (yes, I’m that old). The pressures of modern childhood are smashing self-esteem and affecting all areas of little people’s lives.
But how to solve it? It’s a question that could rage for years, but we can’t wait that long, so I’ve been talking to Emma Goldsmith, head of Winchester House School on the Bucks/Northants borders. As someone with over 300 children in her daily care, and four of her own, has some really useful ideas into the issue, so if you’re having trouble with your kids, I hope these insights into improving their self-esteem can help.
I know this sounds counter-intuitive as parents want their children to feel loved and supported and confident, but it’s a real trap to overpraise a child. What we need to build into children is resilience, what we call bounce-back-ability, so that when something goes wrong – they come last in a race, they fail an exam, they’re not chosen for an audition – they have the tools to work out the issue, dust themselves down and try again. It’s the children who think they’re brilliant and unbeatable will struggle psychologically when, inevitably, they are beaten.
Don’t expect too much of your children
Parental expectation is a huge issue with children with self-esteem issues. Those at independent schools perhaps see it more, because the parents are paying for their child’s education and understandably they want results. Knowingly or subconsciously the children can pick up on those vibes. It’s hard for parents to swallow but their child might not be brilliant at everything. Grades are important of course, but fundamentally we all want our children to be a well-balanced, kind, happy people, and maybe schools have a responsibility to recognise those attributes more formally as well as parents. At Winchester House we have a ‘good egg’ award in our boarding house and we have annual award such as the “glass half full” cup.
Get wise to social media
This is perhaps one of the most difficult issues for parents to deal with because so often the children understand social media so much better than we do. Some parents put their head in the sand, hoping that what they don’t know won’t hurt them (or their kids). We ran a forum on e-safety recently with a children’s discussion group followed by one for the parents. The parents were shocked at what was fed back to them from the children’s session.
The fact is that these young children are on Instagram, largely unchecked by adults, looking at people with seemingly perfect lives, inviting them to judge their own lives to be deficient or failing. At this stage of childhood, I’d say that Instagram is the main culprit in denting self-esteem as it’s totally dependent on image rather than words. At Winchester House where we help the kids to interpret social media – to know that images are manipulated, to know that celebrity sites are managed and marketed directly at them, and also how to be thoughtful on social media – how not to put up photos of a party that only half of the class were invited to. But these conversations should also be had at home, so opening communication about social media instead of shutting it down can really help. Take a look at what the children are playing, have a go. It’s not your world but it’s definitely theirs for the years to come, and it’s not going away.
Look in the mirror
It’s uncomfortable for us to think it, but we often push our own issues unknowingly onto our children. There’s a massive issue now with young boys wanting to have a six pack, for girls to think they’re fat. Some of this comes from magazines and social media but if parents are permanently talking about being overweight and trying to diet or perhaps are high achievers who let it be known that anything under a B in an exam is a failure in their eyes, you are feeding negative thoughts to young impressionable people. Try to contextualise these subjects for children –explain why some people have longer legs than others, how the body develops differently from person to person; explain that success and happiness in life is not only found in a clutch of A grades.
Talk it out
It may be your idea of hell to discuss sex and pornography with your child, but perhaps better you than with a 12 year old in the playground! At Winchester House we ran a forum on sex and relationships, one with children and another for parents, and again the parents were unsettled to know that the older boys knew all about porn, and discussed sex openly with friends. We will be running these forums annually now (we also do them on drugs, and e-safety) because it definitely helps parents start those difficult but essential conversations, and also allows them to share tips with others going through the same issues.