Well being…I have been thinking of this more recently with regards to myself but overwhelmingly it comes to mind when I think about my girls’ well being. I have spoken before about our philosophy for free play, unstructured time and the importance of boredom. More recently I have been thinking about how I really need to be intentional when it comes to the well being of my girls. Allowing them freedom to play independently and manage their own risk is one thing…often it means backing off; allowing them to work something out for themselves; but intentionally creating space and time to allow freedom from pressure is a different one altogether.
I don’t know about the education system where you are, but here in Northern Ireland our children sit three transfer tests at 10/11 which grades them for grammar or secondary education. Our eldest sat the first of these on Saturday. She is a beautiful girl, creative, musical and a bit of a dreamer but when it comes to sitting any kind of test, she hits a wall. As a result I have watched her wrestle with her self esteem and self worth as the scores of the practise tests come home on a weekly basis.
Learning and a love of learning have been replaced with a machine like conveyor belt where the commodities are assessed and allocated their place in the next level of the education system. Yes, I know that if you live here then you have probably sat the test yourself…we have all been through the system. And yes, there needs to be some way of assessing children for entrance into their next school but at the moment all I can see is pressure.
Pressure on a child.
And how do we teach them to manage it when we can’t remove it. How do we care for them, for their well being?
I have started this post many times over. Because it causes pain. The kind of pain that is for someone you love and that can’t really be changed.
Watch as the lies are poured over her; You are not enough. You don’t score highly enough. The school you go to won’t be good enough. Lies. And we tell her this. But they are still lies that worry her, make her fearful and fill her with insecurities and doubts about her abilities and worth. Worth that is based on a test and measure how well you read and process information.
How do we care for a child’s well being when they are under pressure, potentially not from the home but from peers and the school setting itself? When they are too young to manage it for themselves?
As parents, we try to speak truth into these situations. As people of faith we tell her that she is a child of God…loved for who she is and not based on what she does. Intrinsically and perfectly loved. We tell her that we cannot be good at everything, and that just because she finds this difficult, does not mean that she is worth any less. We encourage and build up where her gifts are and allow her time to share these.
Physical space, away from people and also space from academic work. We build in each of our girls a day off over the course of the school year…a day to spend with me and to do simple things – a walk, baking, out for messages or a milkshake and a scone. Just this week I have sent a note to the teacher saying she will not be completing any written homework. Because she needs time to just ‘be’. We know our own children, when they are feeling overwhelmed and when they under pressure we need to build in pockets of time for rest.
I found the book ‘Simplicity Parenting’ a game changer. An amazing book, which walks you through how overwhelming the world can be to young children and how to make it a calmer place. Simplifying her bedroom as well as her after school activities at a time that is pressurised can maintain a sense of well being and ease the sense of anxiety.
We have found as they have grown and are up to settle for bed that they start to play. Or write. Or draw. This is a good and lovely thing but quite often it stimulates their wee minds and sleep comes later than you’d like! We are starting a new earlier to the bedroom routine which involves an earlier bedroom time and then one of us goes up to read, chat and tuck them in. Lights out at their allocated time. A full night’s sleep and a restful sleep makes for children who are better able to cope with pressure.
Despite growing and being on the cusp of the teenage years…our eldest loves to cuddle. Quite often I find when she is anxious and feeling the pressure this will result in tears and frustration. My first reaction is not to embrace but is actually to scold for not managing her emotions and perhaps being cheeky. Of recent I have been trying to dissolve the situation with affection. This does not mean there are not consequences for rude or bold behaviour but simply, where I have an opportunity to be affectionate, I am trying to take it. I don’t always get it right but on the whole, I think it works better and situations that could have escalated are avoided. Love is the perfect remedy to well being…a bit cliched but true none the less!
I am no expert and children manage pressure in different ways, but I have found through thinking about my decisions a bit more intentionally that I feel I have strategies rather than becoming emotional myself and reacting to outbursts. I have to consciously remind myself that I am the adult. That I have to teach her how to manage pressure and her feelings as a result of pressure rather than berating her when she doesn’t.
Parenting is such a steep learning curve. I often think you learn more about yourself than you realise, that there is this mirror that is held up and reflects back your lack of patience, your inherent selfishness and your anger issues. But that is where I think my girls have taught me, spoken truth into my heart and made me into a better person. Painful at times but worth it.
How about you…are there any other ways you help your child to deal with pressure or stress? I’d love to hear.