If growing up and going to school wasn’t challenging enough already, it has been extra complicated in 2020. With the coronavirus crisis, what you can and can’t do seems to change constantly. There is no precedent to base yourself on, and no possible way to predict what the next weeks or months will look like.
All this change and uncertainty can be a breeding ground for stress, especially for children - and, as a result, for their parents. Many are feeling powerless and confused when it comes to helping their children navigate this new school year.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are many ways parents can help their child thrive and improve their well-being going into the new year. Here are some tips to help keep your child happy, healthy and achieving in 2021.
- Develop independent learners
Many students will have to learn from home at least some of the time. Being an independent learner who is able to motivate themselves and work hard is especially important. One way to encourage this in your child is to give them a sense of purpose, by helping them to identify exactly how studying right now will help them achieve their goals. Being aware of this will engage and motivate students in their work, and make it more enjoyable.
- Learn how to spot fake news
Of course, the Coronavirus is a popular topic of conversation right now, and a choice candidate for false information. Fake news can spread rapidly, fuelled by social media, causing a disruptive path of panic and anxiety. YouTube videos with false information are shared more often than videos from the 5 leading broadcasters combined. Children are usually not as well equipped to spot exaggerations, and may be more vulnerable to accepting this misinformation without question. Parents can overcome this by staying up to date on current news, from a reliable source, so they can then reassure their children when they’re worrying about something they’ve picked up online that is far from true.
- Develop good sleep habits
Sleep is not only important for attention, memory and school performance, but for health, the immune system and well-being too. Despite this, most students don’t get the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep a night. There are many ways parents can help their children to sleep well. Getting them to exercise during the day and having a structured bedtime routine work particularly well. Most importantly, getting your child to turn their phone off before bedtime and store it in a different room during the night can make a massive difference.
- Develop physically active children
Like sleep, the benefits of physical activity are endless: boosting brain power, enhancing sleep, buffering stress, improving mood… The NHS recommends physical activity as one of the 5 main strategies to improve well-being. Parents can help by building a little physical activity into their child’s daily routine - doing it together could help you stick to it. You don’t even need to organise a big thing either, a simple walk in the fresh air will have a great benefit.
- Develop intrinsic motivation
It can be hard to motivate your child to work well. As a parent, you may have fallen into the trap of using rewards to boost hard work: chocolate, pocket money, a nice trip… surely, that should give your child a boost? Unfortunately though, excessive rewarding can damage intrinsic motivation, which is the motivation to work hard to master something, develop skills for yourself, and to do well in life. As well as getting children to think about long-term goals, parents can boost intrinsic motivation by encouraging their children to set specific, challenging but realistic goals to motivate them into action. Also, let your child know that you have high expectations. They’ll then strive to reach those expectations and achieve their potential, rather than settling for average.
- Develop empathetic children
Empathy, an important part of emotional intelligence, is the ability to take on someone else’s perspective, in an accepting and non-judgemental way. Empathetic children are able to recognise others’ emotions and reflect these back to them, making others feel understood and supported. It is key for developing lasting, supportive friendships. Albert Bandura once showed that children learn behaviours through watching others. So, the best way to develop an empathetic child is to model empathy yourself, not only towards them, but to others too.
- Help them reduce their mobile phone usage
Most teenagers (and many adults, too) find it difficult to be without their mobile phones. Some even call it an addiction: when you compare teenage phone use behaviours with those seen in alcohol addictions, the resemblance is worrying. Research shows that excessive phone use reduces sleep quality, and can worsen student grades. Parents can help by informing their children on the effects of excessive phone use, so they can then decide how to manage it better. Our downloadable guide to phone management strategies can help you.
- Delay gratification
In the famous Marshmallow Experiment, children who could resist eating a marshmallow for a period of time were also rated by their parents as more attentive, sociable, hard working, and able to deal with stress. Being a student is all about resisting marshmallows… or delaying gratification. Removing tempting distractions such as phones is necessary to focus on work. They have to limit having fun with friends, putting hard work and achievement first. Parents can help their children to delay gratification by encouraging them to remove distractions and maintain good energy levels (again, sleep is important). Students should also develop a plan, with specific goals they are motivated to meet and will sacrifice some pleasures for. But don’t forget, students should eat the marshmallow every once in a while. It can’t be all work and no play.
- Ask good questions
Talking to yourself is the first sign of madness, right? Wrong! Actually, it has performance benefits, because asking yourself questions forces you to come up with answers. Students can ask themselves questions like ‘how much time do I have?’ ‘what do I need to do first?’ ‘why is this true?’ or ‘how can I do better?’ to improve their concentration, memory and learning. Parents can kickstart this process by asking children these questions, so that it eventually becomes a habit.
- Focus on solutions, not problems
It can be hard not to focus on the problems that we face. But fixating on them without coming up with a solution won’t change anything. Parents should encourage children to focus on solutions rather than problems, as this puts them in control. Focusing on what they can control will help children feel better in uncertain situations which might otherwise cause emotional stress and anxiety. Being solution focused also helps children to develop a growth mindset and to reach their goals.
Parents play such an important role in the lives of their children. Sometimes, it can be hard to know how best to help your child, especially in difficult circumstances. Hopefully, our 10 tips will help parents support their child even better in 2021.