We want our children to have a great education, so what is the secret? We tend to look hard at what is on offer: the quality of the curriculum, how well organised is the school, are the teachers inspiring and committed. We wonder about the quality of parent/teacher partnership and how to get that balance right, being supportive but not a tiger parent. All these factors are important, don’t get me wrong, but as a Child Psychologist my questions always start from the child: what helps children to get on well at school, to be happy, confident and free from stress?
So you’ve chosen a great school, the staff are dedicated, highly experienced and inspiring. Tick.
The curriculum is varied,interesting and stimulating. Tick.
You are confident that as parents you will be supportive and involved and create a positive environment for learning. Tick.
So what else do we need now to help your child make the most of what is on offer? How much depends on natural ability or are there skills we can help every child to learn? Here are my Top 10 “must haves” which will help a child to flourish at school. This top 10 is based on firm evidence from Positive Psychology.
1. Emotional wellbeing: a worried or unhappy child is pre-occupied and their feelings take first priority. Helping children feel safe, secure and valued is the foundation for wellbeing. Once children feel safe and valued they can begin to learn to recognise and manage difficult feelings. Parents and school together need to make exploring any unexplained changes in behaviour a top priority.
2. Positivity: is an attitude of finding the positive in a situation rather than about being in a good mood bubble. When we are positive we are more likely to get involved, try new things and keep going when things get tough. All of these are important to broaden and build your experience so that learning and growth take place. Life satisfaction depends on taking positive steps to find meaning and purpose in life. For young children this is often through being encouraged to take up hobbies and interests initially and through satisfying relationships with family and friends. Later on they realise how they can create opportunities for themselves through how they positively manage their school life.
3. Focus on Strengths: Children need to feel competent and able to manage aspects of their lives independently. Ensuring a healthy balance between learning new skills and using and developing personals strengths is vitally important. Young children in particular can feel overwhelmed by all that they cannot yet do. Mild frustration is a motivating factor but severe frustration definitely is not.
4. Resilience: learning can be hard and children need to have slow and gentle introductions to challenges which they can successfully handle. Children who are protected from challenges or have them resolved for them do not develop the confidence in themselves to cope and problem solve successfully. Little and often builds resilience through the experience of successfully coping with challenges.
5. Optimism: Seeing the future as a good place where you will have made progress is essential for a healthy learning mindset. Indeed thinking about the future at all is the basis of education and without the sense of “why am I doing this” children loose focus. Children do need to enjoy the time they spend in class so inspiring teaching is essential but unless a child is beginning to ask who am I? What do I want? then the day to day lessons at school are merely entertainment.
6. Growth Mindset: the idea that IQ drives performance is outdated. Current research shows that mindset is important. When you consider learning as a skill rather than an ability you are more likely to work harder and get better results. In contrast a belief that learning ability is fixed can lead to children giving up when faced with challenges.
7. Setting goals: Setting goals is another aspect of optimistic forward thinking. Goals demonstrate that you believe in yourself and that you have ideas of where you would like to go. People who are “planners” tend to be happier with their lives and more confident in their ability to make things happen.
8. Positive Communication: Having the confidence to talk to others and ask questions is essential for learning. Seeking help when its needed and sharing new knowledge with enthusiasm creates a healthy relationship with others in schools. Thinking depends on asking yourself questions so the dialogue in the classroom is a very important aspect of learning to learn.
9. Relationship skills: Making friends is essential but so is learning to deal with others who appeal less to you, both are an essential part of adapting to life in a busy classroom. Children who spend too much time on the social side of life can become distracted in class but equally the shy or anxious child can find the social side of life an unresolved pre occupation. Teachers who inspire are often those who understand the importance of creating strong, positive and collaborative relationships in class.
10. Appreciation and celebration: Savouring and celebrating what is going well can sometimes get lost as we hurry on to the next task. Children need time to use and explore what they know and to appreciate what they have achieved. Taking time to share what went well is a great wellbeing booster. Positive feedback is vital to young people so they fully understand what they have achieved and can consider what to do next.