As research reveals a worrying wellbeing decline, what are the secrets to making kids happy?
As research indicates just how unhappy kids are with school and general life, Imy Brighty-Potts asks a psychologist how to help boost their sense of wellbeing
SINCE the pandemic, there has been a marked difference in our kids' wellbeing, with more kids unhappy at school and with their lives generally, according to recent research.
But, where is this unhappiness coming from? Around one in eight children aged 10-15 were unhappy with school in 2019-20, data analysed by The Children's Society suggests, and six per cent were unhappy with their lives overall.
Is this just a hangover from the pandemic or is there something else at play here? And what can parents do to help?
Suzy Reading is a mother, author and chartered psychologist specialising in wellbeing and stress management.
For her, this decline in wellbeing is a "normal response to the extremity of the pandemic - where things have been wonky, our kids have been exposed".
"They are experiencing a whole raft of emotions," she says.
"Parents are under so much pressure too - and we need collective restoration.
"A lot of parents feel like they can't be their child's therapist, and they shouldn't be. But they can help instead by sitting with them, with their feelings and allowing them to express themselves."
So, what are the steps to saving kids' wellbeing?
1. PRIORITISE REST, SLEEP AND RELAXATION
We all know rest is important after a long day, but we may not be encouraging our kids to seek it in the right way. We need a focus on a good night's sleep and strict bed times.
"Rest is also as good for us as sleep," Reading advocates, "and instead of pushing for more sleep - which is hard to get - we can prioritise relaxation practices, deep breathing, encourage mindfulness.
"Things like looking at the clouds and counting them, or laying calmly with your legs up the wall."
Teaching kids the importance of these things and factoring them into their routine could improve their overall wellbeing.
2. ENCOURAGE AN OPEN DIALOGUE ABOUT SCHOOL - AND MAKE TIME FOR IT
Getting kids to talk about school beyond what has happened on a day-to-day basis is hard, but if they have told you they are unhappy, Reading suggests you "see what extra support is available and have open communication with their teachers".
Often, in Reading's experience, the stuff that worries kids "comes out before bed, so make time and allow bedtime to be a space to discuss".
3. POWER OF ENVIRONMENT
Environment means two things in Reading's view, it is about both the outdoors and the skin they are in.
"Get outside with your kids, but also encourage skincare, pampering, little wellbeing rituals. Teach them how to look after themselves. Encourage movement and good nutrition."
For example, maybe suggest "cooking together, having a family meal (without screens) and make time to connect".
4. ALLOW THEM THE SPACE TO QUIT
Life feels overwhelmingly busy for people of all ages. "People feel fatigued - we don't have the time for the same number of tasks," notes Reading.
Even children are feeling it, she says. "Ask your kids what they really want to do, and give them permission to do things differently if they want to."
5. AIM FOR POCKETS OF REAL PRESENCE
As a parent, you may put a lot of pressure on yourself to give your children all your time (or at least any time leftover, after work and chores).
But, Reading explains: "Parents don't need swathes of time, just pockets of real presence, where you are totally there. See what flexible working arrangements are available to you - we have proven productivity from home, so keep advocating for yourself."