Self Esteem and Wellbeing
Parents have always focussed on their child’s achievements, and that’s increased with an education system increasingly focussed on testing, and the comparison culture of social media.
But now, more than ever, the focus of parents needs to be on their child’s mental wellbeing, and there are a number of simple ways we can help our children become the confident, happy individuals they deserve to be. This is important whether they are 2 or 12 or 22, but particularly important as your pre-schooler prepares for school, to make sure they are in the best frame of mind for learning. A sad or anxious child just won’t be able to access what school has to offer in the same way as a secure, happy child who knows they are loved whatever they do – and anxiety in children has understandably shot up in recent months.
Spend time with them and listen to them – nothing says I love and value you as much as I want to spend my time with you, and offer you my undivided attention. Even a short period of focussed time on a child each day or week will boost their sense of self-worth far more than any amount of money spent on them. And try to listen to what they are saying to you: children will react to stress in different ways to adults. Signs may be emotional (being angry or tearful, having tantrums), behavioural (being more defiant or scared to leave you, having problems sleeping or regressing to younger behaviours like bed wetting) or physical (stomach ache can be a sign of anxiety)
Take care of your own mental health – if you can deal with a situation calmly and confidently, you not only reassure children that they are safe, but as their role model you can show them how to be in any situation. Talking about your feelings, and showing them you may be worried or scared or cross and then how you deal with it effectively will help them gain these skills too.
Praise their efforts, not achievements. Praise which focuses on achievements such as spelling test scores or learning to ride a bike can actually lower a child’s self-worth. Instead praise their effort, progress and attitude with phrases like You’re working really hard at that, I’m so proud of you for keep trying, I can see it isn’t easy. This will help a child to believe they can do anything if they work really hard, and this is another thing you can show them as a role model. Young children are often easily discouraged by not being able to do things easily, but showing them that even adults find things hard and have to keep trying can help them to overcome this.
Find ways for them to spend time doing things they are good at. It’s so tempting to focus your time on what your child isn’t achieving, and schools also do this: a child who is behind in maths will spend more time working on maths for example. But research shows that giving a child more opportunity to do the things they are good at and enjoy, to use their strengths, can boost their self-esteem and also improve their ability on the things they are not so good at. The sense of achievement this brings will also improve behaviour and their willingness to have a go at new activities, which is absolutely vital as children start school.
So if you want to help your child be ready for school, please worry less about whether they can write their name and focus more on helping them be ready to learn, by being able to try and struggle and keep trying without feeling that they are failures.