Did you know that 1 out of 4 people experience mental health challenges?
When I heard that, I took a look at my family.
We are a family of four.
When you do the math that way, it really hits home.
For children specifically, 1 in 5 experience, at some point during their life, a seriously debilitating mental illness. (ref: CDC: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Here’s the thing, being successful at school is really only possible when our kids feel okay – physically, mentally, socially and emotionally. That means their well-being is the most important component to achieving their best. However, the typical parental response – albeit well intended – usually doesn’t help as much as we think it does. In fact, parents go-to response is usually one that tries to fix and/or find a solution for the problem. When we do that, the short-term negative effect is our children don’t feel heard and understood. In the long term, we are actually doing a disservice to our child, especially if we don’t give them the space to experience their emotional discomfort or we don’t give them the opportunity to cocreate a solution.
Most parents want their child to be happy and successful.
So what is the best way to support our kids to be their best?
There are three key components that will help your child (and you) have a successful school experience, with ease, on a neurobiological level.
1. Reducing Anxiety: By now, we all know that anxiety isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, we need it to keep us safe and alive). However, when we don’t keep it in check, it can spiral down a deep dark hole – running our lives for us, instead of us leading the way.
From a neurological perspective, the brain needs predictability, so when there are unknowns (what will my teacher be like, who will be in my class, will the school work be easy/hard, etc), it can set your child’s neurobiological system into a reactionary state (fight/flight/freeze/fawn). This is done on a very subconscious level, however, it shows up in many different behavioural ways (school refusal, sleep issues, emotional outbursts, etc).
Typically, parents will try to soothe their child by saying something along the lines of: “Don’t worry, everything is going to be okay, remember last year this happened and you got through it?” These are wonderful words to say to your child, however, there is something you need to do first: acknowledge and validate your child’s emotional experience by mirroring to them. Mirroring is part of the C.A.L.M Technique which, as a Certified Connected Parenting Practitioner, is one of my expertise. This technique works like magic, and when done correctly, it releases the love-connection natural hormone: oxytocin. When we get a surge of oxytocin, we feel heard, loved, understood and connected. We want our kids to know and feel – on a neurobiological level – that we get them. In a very simple example, this is what it could look and sound like: “Oh my, that’s a lot going… so many big feelings that you’re dealing with. You don’t know who’s in your class, and who knows if the work will be easy or hard. Gee… I can get how overwhelming that can be.” Then PAUSE. Allow space for their emotional experience. Then you could ask: Do you want a hug?
2. Increasing Motivation: We all want our children to succeed, but coming off of a no homework, play-all-day kind of mentality is a big barrier to getting a child back into the grind of it.
Here’s the truth – maintaining motivation is a learned skill that helps to build resilience and grit. So showing them that they have what it takes to do difficult things (despite them not wanting to do it) is a lifelong skill!
Typically, parents will “remind” (or nag) their kids to do their work, then, they often become frustrated, yell or perhaps even use bribes and threats. There certainly is a time and place for rewarding great choices and behaviour, however, my intention is to help kids be intrinsically motivated (not externally). There is another point to consider: we are not just parents, we are our kids substitute frontal lobes! The frontal lobe is largely responsible for executive functions such as planning, organizing, inhibiting, critical thinking and maintaining motivation! The frontal lobe, however, is not fully developed until age 25! Clearly, helping our kids be independent in this respect will take a bit of a process, and there is one incredible strategy that works almost every single time. Get your “must-dos” done before your “can-dos”. When we help our kids identify, organize and prioritize what must be done (e.g., homework, walking the dog, unload the dishwasher, etc) before what can be done (e.g., watching t.v., playing with friends, using their cell phone, etc.), we are helping them learn many life skills (such as cause and effect and natural consequences) while we guide them to build grit and resilience through maintaining motivation.
Here’s the really neat part: even if they complain or roll their eyes or say your the worst parent for making them do their must dos (which you would use the C.A.L.M Technique and mirror), once they complete the horrible homework and/or chores – they will feel a sense of confidence. They will see that even when things are difficult to do (whether literally or because they think it’s boring), they have the ability to do it! This builds up their sense of self and increases their confidence and self esteem. A win-win! The only caveat is that it truly can be a process and may require lots of patience (and mirroring) from parents. This is where my coaching supports clients – it can be grueling – but I’ve got you.
3. Strengthen the Connection: As our kids get older, the only thing we truly have with them is our connection.
Human beings – regardless of age – were meant for connection! As our littles get older, they are evolutionarily designed to separate from us – gaining independence is their (subconscious and sometimes conscious) goal. So how can we maintain connection with them when they want to gain independence from us and how does it impact their well-being?
There are so many possible things to try, but there is one that will almost always make a world of difference and that is baby-play. For almost 3 decades, Jennifer Kolari realized the power of connection and bonding that baby-play delivers. Here are two quick examples that you can try right away:
Look at baby pictures and/or watch videos of your kiddos when they were small.
When the brain sees and recalls events that were joyful and loving, there is an emotional bio-chemical reaction: oxytocin floods your system and your child’s! You’ll feel closer AND your autonomic nervous system will be in a calm ventral vagal state, meaning your system feels safe, connected, present and at ease. In this state, one is at their optimal level to listen and learn. In other words, it is easier for kids to listen and learn when they are flooded with oxytocin and their autonomic system is in ventral vagal. Imagine the power of that for school success!
Typically, if you have a teen or you’re in a situation where your child may not be interested in baby-play – parents will want to get their child to do this with them. Don’t stress about this because there is good news. This powerful strategy can still work on you, even if your child is not participating! When you’re in that flow of oxytocin and you feel a calm and grounded state of being, you can parent in a thoughtfully responsive way which is usually more inviting for your children.
Every child-parent dynamic is different, so consider approaching baby-play in a way that meets your child where they are at; tweaking little nuances when engaging in baby-play can make all the difference. Feel free to book a free Connection Call with me and I’ll help you get started.
Remember, parenting is not about perfection. I tell parents it’s about progression – even if it’s just baby steps. See if you can take a couple of minutes each day to engage in baby-play (even if it’s by yourself) because this will build a solid foundation to support your child’s mental well being.
When you are playfully and authentically connected with your child, it will be easier to mirror their emotional experiences and they will be more likely to cooperate when you ask them to do their must-dos.
To a school year full of ups and downs and all arounds – helping our kids be resilient while empowering them to grow their confidence and sense of self is a wonderful success story for any parent!