February 03, 2021
You’ve Got This
By Dr Kathy Weston
Last week, I interviewed the Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Cambridge University, Michael Lamb. Clearly, he knows his stuff about every single aspect of child development and parenting, and I was honoured to have an hour of his time.
Professor Lamb has had decades to research, digest and consider what the most important factors are in parenting, which affect children’s outcomes and life chances. In my experience, the more eminent the professor, the simpler the message they have for parents. So, what exactly did he say?
He said that, more than anything else, parents need to be authentic in the ways in which they relate to their children, interact with them and love them. In a world of noisy guidance, Professor Lamb reminds us that parental instinct should never be undervalued. We will always be our children’s most powerful teachers and the passionate love a parent has for their child is a child’s greatest asset. On a personal note, the interview reignited my own commitment, not to tell parents what to do, or have them look to me for parenting rules, but to provide templates and encouragement for richer conversations and quality interactions to happen between parent and child. Ultimately, my job is to help parents have greater confidence in their own abilities.
People often ask me why I don’t work directly with children and young people. The reason is that, like Professor Lamb, I believe that the most efficient way to help children to thrive is by empowering their parents or carers. When parents feel good about themselves, supported, and confident, the likelihood is that their children will too.
It is Children’s Mental Health Week this week, when we are invited to pause and consider where we are, as a nation, in terms of children’s mental health.
The stark facts are that 50% of psychiatric conditions are diagnosed before the age of 14; these earlier years are critically important. The bulk of other psychiatric conditions are diagnosed before 24. Adolescence spans the ages of 9 to 24, so what children experience and are exposed to within this time frame clearly matters a great deal.
However, let’s take the lead from Professor Lamb and not over-complicate this. We know exactly why children thrive and why they don’t. They need to feel loved, secure, safe, heard, valued and supported. They need to develop a positive sense of self and self-worth, which is in part shaped by a matrix of interactions and experiences. They need to feel that they belong; to school, to the community and to a wider family circle.
In short, ‘children’s mental health’ begins at home and is essentially an ‘identity’ project. How do they feel about themselves? Who do they feel that they are and how is the world responding to that emergent self? Sense of self is fragile and is commonly compromised by factors such as persistent parental conflict, insecurity, inconsistency, erratic discipline, trauma and both permissive and authoritarian parenting.
One of the things that Children’s Mental Health Week may erroneously imply is that we need to ‘work on our children.’ Frankly, first and foremost, we need to work on ourselves.
As Professor Lamb points out, “if you don’t have self-esteem and confidence as a parent, then it is much harder to fully invest emotionally in the relationship with your child”. So, this week, think about how you can seek help and support to reach your goals, reflect on who is there for you in your life, and how you can access them.
Consider things you would like to change in your life and take steps towards mapping this out. Avoid doing things that make you deeply unhappy and amplify all the aspects of your life that give you joy. Stay away from those that ‘drain’ you and stick close to life’s ‘radiators’.
In short, try to stay close to the things that make you feel ‘more like yourself’. In doing so, you model self-acceptance, self-compassion and self-love, giving your children the very best chance of feeling this way too.
Are you a Tooled Up member?
I urge parents or staff in Tooled Up schools to check out our newly added Stress Less resource. This activity, created for parents and carers, will help you to think about what might be stressing you out and consider strategies for lessening your load. After the success of last week’s ‘Parenting Through a Pandemic’ live Q and A webinars, I am pleased to be holding a second evening for Tooled Up parents and staff, this coming Sunday (7 Feb). Register for either, or both, of the sessions, each lasting 40 minutes: 7pm for parents of teens and 8pm for parents of primary age children.