“Positive parenting” – who could argue? I don’t hear anyone advocating “Negative parenting”.
But the phrase can be misleading. I believe that behind every child is a parent asking themselves questions such as:
- ‘Am I giving them the best chance at succeeding?’
- ‘Have I made the right choices on their behalf?’
- ‘Am I pushing them too hard/or not enough?’
- ‘Am I keeping them safe from the darkness of this world?’
Many parents feel a subtle social anxiety that they are not doing enough; but that is far from reality.
In a parent talk I attended; I remember the speaker sharing an old saying “we are only as happy as our saddest child”. Why does this saying ring true? Because, as parents, we are so deeply connected to our children, entangled in their hopes and dreams, and intertwined in their relationships. However, as our children grow into their teen years and into adulthood the connectedness changes. We are not as entangled and intertwined, we have taught them self-sufficiency, autonomy and independence, all of which are really important life skills.
Nonetheless, it leaves me wondering if I have taught them the importance of seeking help when things don’t feel right?
In schools, the mental health, wellbeing and emotional stability of students is very much in the front of our minds. It is addressed within the curriculum, through pastoral care time, and more implicitly through the culture of a caring environment.
Special days, like R U OK day? shine a light on the importance of checking in on our friends. In church communities we have opportunities to raise prayer points and meet with elders who offer support. Many of these initiatives seem natural and simply occur because we want to be supportive.
So how can we best raise a generation of help seekers, people whom know where to go when they are not feeling right, people unafraid of the stigma attached to asking for help?
Much of the help seeking and a solutions focused attitude begins in the home
We know that our young mirror our behaviours and pick up on the subtleties. Therefore, simple questions around the home can help to build resilience and change a mindset. Try asking some of these:
‘What’s the next step?’
‘How did you overcome that issue?’
‘Who did you talk that through with?’
When we encourage our child to support a friend, we can equip them with language like ‘Is there an adult you can share your feelings with?’
Adolescents want agency over their decisions
Conversations about help seeking can be more difficult with adolescents. Often, they can’t see a way forward and the fear of peer judgement can be crippling. This can be the time when a third party is needed, such as a trusted adult, a school counsellor, or a psychologist. Data indicates that our young people, particularly 12-17, are most likely to first turn to their peers in times of distress. Therefore, we should consider how we can equip our adolescents to provide peer to peer support.
This could look like the:
- Peer to peer friendships where they encouraging a genuine relational space for each-other, device free, kicking a football, going for a walk and/or having a meal together.
- Parents modelling and asking the right “warm-up” questions which can lead to a bigger conversation, ‘Are you looking forward to Math’s today? Or ‘What was the hardest part of your day today?’… pausing and waiting for a response, further probing may be required to get depth to the answer.
- Validating and affirming your child’s efforts to inquire about the wellbeing of others. Explicitly acknowledging these instances affirms the significance of empathy in healthy relationships.
- Supporting your child in developing their judgement and critical reasoning skills, whilst reminding them that you’re there for them if they need to bounce anything off you.
Young people who know how to hold space for others and are equipped to ask the right questions will surely develop greater confidence as they navigate life’s seasons and will ultimately strengthen the calibre of communities that they form – a generation of help seekers and help givers.
Mrs Emma Davidge / Head of Senior School