We all want our kids to be happy, confident and resilient. So, what steps can we take to support them when they are not?
Child Mental Health For Learning
Many years of training in behaviour support, emotional development and child mental health have given me these great insights on encouraging good mental health and emotional growth. Unhappy children don't learn as well as their peers, so building happiness, confidence and resilience in your child will support their education too.
Allow them space to express their thoughts
Put aside time to listen to them every day without a Spanish Inquisition. Choose a gentle activity they love; gardening, colouring, baking, building; and spend the time chatting about their day. How did they spend their break? What did they do in Maths today? What’s the funniest thing that they saw or that happened to them today? Having an activity alongside your chat is a light distraction, so if there’s a quiet moment then the pressure to talk evaporates. Regular conversations like this build trust and assurance, opening the way to sharing more troubling thoughts.
Ask them to quantify their problem
If your child is often in a state of anxiety then every problem can feel as big as the Universe. Give them a scale from one to ten and ask them to put their finger on how bad the problem is. Using a physical scale makes it easier for even the reluctant talker to express their worries as they can place their finger without breaching their silence. Work through solutions with them and go back and check how they would judge their problem when it’s solved too. You might start with a lot of nines and tens but as children start to understand their problems and see easy solutions they will soon start to see some things are not such a big thing after all.
Praise, but make it smart praise
If you’ve ever had a relative who called you ‘smart’, ‘sassy’ or ‘strong’ all the time then you’ll know that after a time it becomes unrelatable and just something that they say. We all like to be given a reason for praise as it’s empowering to know you’ve done well at something and achieved. Smart praise puts those achievements into context and gives a child belief that they have really succeeded. Try phrases such as:
I really like the way you did…
You were really smart when you…
Well done for…
Remember when you did …… really well? I think you’ll be good at this too.
And as they drift off at night, whisper a positive, “You did great today when you…,” in their ear too.
It’s hard for all of us to see the work that goes into becoming great at something. For children, persevering through hard work is one of the biggest issues they face. Difficult, long tasks can frustrate or overwhelm them and lead to giving up and developing a mindset of ‘I am bad at…’
Breaking down larger tasks into small chunks and praising their success at each step helps them to recognise their growth and see a pattern of success that keeps them going.
Check in emotionally each morning
This really is my favourite tip. I couldn’t count the number of children who I’ve been able to help with an emotion wheel as it’s done its job at least weekly through my whole teaching career. Children often don’t know how to express their feelings so by using an emotion wheel you make touching base easy. I have one on my classroom door and as children come in they point to how they are feeling. It’s a great way of discovering immediate problems and tracking their moods in a gentle, approachable way.
Sarah is an independent online tutor who has previously taught in UK primary schools for 17 years. She has taught across a range of settings & all primary year groups, and prides herself on having a holistic approach to teaching.