Upon the release of her new book- Inside Out Parenting: How to Build Strong Children from a Core of Self-Esteem, Dr Holan Liang tells us what the main reasons are for unhappiness in children.
- Children don’t feel listened to – Parents complain that children don’t tell them anything about their days, but children complain the reverse: parents don’t listen. Listening carefully when children are young creates a culture of listening in the home, and your child will feel confident to continue to talk to you as they grow older.
- Children feel criticised – Criticising children, although often due to good parental intentions doesn’t usually lead children to change their behaviour, but more often makes them conclude that talking to you is unhelpful. Listen kindly and supportively to your child.
- Children feel judged - Children are exposed to a culture of comparison and judgement from peers and society. Everything from weight, looks, grades, material possessions and more, can become a comparison point made exponentially worse by the social media. Model a non-judgemental attitude in your home. If your child is sensitive to peer comparison: suggest turning off social media.
- Academic expectations – parental anxiety regarding future outcome for their children in an increasingly competitive world is passed on to their children. A competitive school system can over-excite many parents and this is to the detriment of children. Parents should focus more on understanding their children’s abilities and supporting their personal achievement rather than status goals and expectations.
- Social expectations - Remember that the weight of expectations can be felt for all aspects of life e.g. weight, appearance, popularity, sporting achievement and generally “having it all”.
- Children feel helpless – anxious parents feel increasing pressure to control their children’s lives; leaving little room for children’s choice and independence. A feeling of agency, choice and independence is required for happiness. Experiments show rats unable to control their environment are more prone to stress and develop a state of learned helplessness where they remain unable to function when control is restored them. Teach your child to evaluate and make their own decisions fostering independence and its flipside responsibility.
- Children feel lonely – many unhappy children report that they cannot talk to anyone about their problems. Sometimes this is due to parents being busy or disinterested, sometimes it is because children do not want to “worry” their parents. Creating a non-judgemental and listening culture in your home will ensure that your child can always talk to you.
- Sibling rivalry – Favouritism amongst siblings is highly toxic and feeling “less well-treated” than a sibling is sometimes more likely to cause unhappiness than personal grievance. Be explicit about your differential treatment of siblings (which is inevitable) and try and foster sibling friendship.
- The B-word - Bullying rates in the UK are high. Schools need to become more aware of non-physical bullying, and teachers need to ensure that they are not colluding with bullies by scapegoating children. As parents, it is our role to arm our children with social skills and internal resilience and our responsibility to ensure that our children don’t bully others. The cruellest bullies have often been victims themselves, and we need to break this bullying cycle in society.
- Children have no outlet for their emotions – reduced green-spaces, arts and sports projects, mean that children have reduced access to activities that allow them to express themselves and release negative emotions. Negative emotions are a natural part of life. Society’s aim is not to prevent negative emotions but to teach and allow children to express them in socially acceptable ways.
Inside Out Parenting: How To Build Strong Children From A Core Of Self-Esteem by Holan Liang is published by Bluebird and available now