I’ve talked before about my worries about the pressures on our teenagers today. I’ve also written about how we could be causing anxiety in our children. I read about how anxiety, depression and mental illness is on the increase and I’ve seen a rise in anxious children in the primary schools I’ve worked in over the last 20 years. As teachers, this is often a topic of conversation in the staff room. Why is it that young children, some aged just 9, are becoming more anxious about life? It is a real worry. This post is not meant to cause offence and these are my own views but I’m talking about real situations that I have witnessed.
I’m wondering if our modern lifestyles are one of the reasons for the rise in our children’s anxiety?
Every child deserves a worry free childhood where they feel loved, secure, happy and cherished. For this to happen, children need loving, available adults in their lives, adequate sleep, a balanced diet, physical activity, a chance to play creatively in an unstructured environment with other children and clear guidance with a chance to develop independence.
I wonder if many modern children are actually getting distracted, stressed parents, inadequate sleep, too much sugar, not enough time outside, digital babysitters, instant gratification with a lack of boredom, too much academic pressure and parents that overindulge their children? I’ve seen these children in my classes; children that can’t wait their turn, children that have a tantrum when mummy doesn’t sort out their bag, parents who insist it’s my fault that their child is not reading when they never have time to hear them read, children that are over weight, children who cry if they get a spelling word wrong because mummy will be upset and children who come to school and tell me they’ve been given a iPhone for their birthday when they are 6. This is something that I have seen happen over the past 20 in my career as a teacher and I’m not sure I like it! I’m not talking about being a perfect parent as there is no such thing but I do worry that the mental health of our children is often overlooked.
So what can we do about this and how can we help children have the childhood they deserve?
1. The greatest gift we can give children is our time.
Spend time with your children. Take back control and gadgets at the dinner table and talk to each other. Engage in conversation and find out about what they are doing in school or what they like. Play board games together, listen to your child read, make up funny rhymes with your child, go on bicycle rides and encourage them to make dens. Please put away your phones as not every waking moment needs to be documented. I’m certain that if you asked your child what they wanted more than anything else in the world, it would be to spend more time with you. It’s only in spending time with our children that we get to know what they need.
2. Control their diet and say no to too many treats.
You are the parent so say no if you don’t want your children to have too many treats. Again, I see this all the time and I just don’t understand it. I know it’s easier to give in to your children but when it’s your child’s health at stake, saying no is easy! There is an increase in children’s tooth decay in the U.K. I would be horrified if either of my children had teeth removed due to tooth decay! I see children in school that can’t run because they are so over weight. Why don’t their parents see this as a worry too? You should be able to see an average 7 year olds ribs when they raise their arms above their head.
3. But age appropriate presents.
Does you 6 year old need an iPhone or a Fitbit? Of course they don’t! They may think they want one but it’s possibly because they have seen them being advertised. What they really need are toys that will spark their imagination and creativity such as Lego, dressing up clothes, games, scooters, chalks, paint, small world toys and outdoor toys. During the last 20 years, I have noticed that children find it more difficult to use their imagination to create games and they get bored very easily. The children who find this the most tricky are those that spend all their free time on computer games. I don’t think computers are bad by the way but I do think that young children’s time on them should be limited. Children need to be bored so that they come up with activities for themselves; remember, you are actually doing your child a favour when you don’t fill up all their time with planned activities.
4. Get your children outside as much as possible.
I understand that many parents worry about their children playing outside without supervision but they can still play at the park after school with you there or kick a football in their garden (if they have one). I used to stand outside on the estate where we used to live and watch my children play on their bicycles with their friends. As they got older, they were allowed to go out of my sight for increasingly longer periods of time. This meant they could go to the local park from about the age of 10 as long as they were back within the hour. If you don’t want to allow this, you could still walk to school or try to get outside with them. Being active as a family will ensure they are getting enough exercise as well as fresh air.
5. Allow independence.
Children want to be independent but we often don’t allow it to save time or our patience! I’m not talking about going places alone but learning age appropriate skills such as making a sandwich or putting away their things. I see so many parents carrying the bags of their children on the way to school or parents getting involved in their children’s friendship woes. Allowing children to grow up and manage their own lives in small ways help them to become independent. Ask yourself, could my child feed themselves and tell me when they are full, at age 5? Of course they can! Stop babying your child, they won’t thank you for it!
I do think that the increase in anxiety in our children is multifaceted. Our education system is seriously flawed and there is far too much emphasis on results for my liking! As you know, I’m very passionate about education but feel increasingly sad that young children are worrying about their GCSE results in Year 7. That is another post for another time. However, what we can do is look at our own parenting and decide if we need to make small changes that may make a difference.
Do you agree? Maybe you think my views are outdated? Do leave considered comments….I love a good debate! Take care. X