Frustration and disappointment are part of life – how parents respond when their child hits a hurdle can influence whether these experiences are opportunities for growth and resilience, or whether they undermine confidence and responsibility for problem-solving.
“The first thing parents need to do is be aware of their own emotions when their child is facing some sort of challenge. The protective instinct is strong in all of us and we can experience anger, anxiety and sadness when our child is upset or experiences a setback. If parents are aware of their reactions they will be better able to keep them in check when supporting their child. If we react emotionally, even out of pity, it can cloud our decision-making and despite the best intentions, block important learning for our children,” said Deborah Trengove, Director of Pastoral Care and Senior School Counsellor at St Leonard’s College.
She added that empathy and listening to your child are key skills for parents and these may be the next step in your response, before intervening to make it right. “Helping your child to acknowledge their feelings, even though they are uncomfortable, is a critical element of emotional regulation,” she said.
“Assist your child to identify what has happened and what they can do about it. Problem-solving is a critical ability for all young people to develop, relevant to their age and stage, and can give a sense of empowerment. Often, it is the parents’ role to support their child’s problem-solving rather than to step in and do it for them. Support comes in many forms – brainstorming possibilities, assisting with communication strategies, encouragement to try new approaches. These can be critical opportunities for authentic learning and personal growth.”
Ms Trengove added that there are times, however, when a situation may call for adult intervention: when it is beyond the child’s skills, when the advice of others is needed, or when the situation is of sufficient seriousness to warrant your direct involvement.
“Academic results are a common scenario where there can be disappointments – for both child and parent. If this is the case, let emotions settle before talking through what happened and why. Resist a knee-jerk reaction to blame others or criticise. Instead look towards the future and identify what can be done differently and how changes can be put into place. What support is needed, what routines need to change?”
Ms Trengove said that taking responsibility for daily chores is another area where parents can unwittingly limit their child’s growth of independence by stepping in and saving them too often. “Setting alarms, packing schoolbags and organising belongings are all training grounds for managing more complex demands in Senior School and life beyond. The adage of ‘Don’t do for a child what they can do for themselves’ is great advice to develop your child’s competence, through which they can build their confidence.”
According to Ms Trengove, the strength of St Leonard’s College is the partnership between students, families and teachers. “The Self-Managing Student framework helps parents understand their roles, that of students and also teachers, in developing the specific skills and responsibilities that enable children to put their learning into action and become independent, responsible young people – ultimately, our collective goal.”