by Megan Larson: Latest research has demonstrated that the global pandemic is now affecting the mental health of both children and adolescents.
Although additional research is needed, what’s clear is that depression and anxiety are on the rise. When emotional stress is prevalent, learning is significantly impaired. Many parents and educators worry that children are not maintaining grade level expectations and “falling behind”. This emphasis on academic achievement highlights how societal norms can cloud what is truly important. Of course wanting children to succeed in their studies makes sense in today’s world, but during this pandemic and beyond we may need to pause and reflect on how we define a successful student.
Sadly, a lot of society’s schools are hyper-focused on external achievement and define a “successful student” as someone who maintains high grades, or excels in extracurricular victories. As a result of this emphasis, children tend to look outside of themselves for validation and acceptance. High-pressured learning environments tend to overlook the interior world, deeming it as not very important. Children are even placed on medications, all in an effort to “focus and learn”, leading many children to believe they are their grades or their sports, and when they don’t succeed to believe they are failures, giving rise to unhealthy behaviors and deluded perceptions of how they see themselves.
In this way, many children growing up today are left feeling disconnected, depressed and confused. This confusion can stress parents and lead to unnecessary suffering in how they relate to their child’s growth. Now more than ever children need us to reframe how we relate to them and their schoolwork.
Education is defined as ”an enlightening experience”. Yet today’s western educational system is rarely described as enlightening. Of course there are many exceptions that are inspiring to see, as they are filled with educators who lead with compassionate hearts, are able to be self reflective and teach children to tend to their interior worlds, whether though mindfulness or emotionally based curriculums. They place emphasis on defining one’s success on intrinsic qualities such as compassion, kindness and empathy. Leading by example these teachers are treasures in today’s competitive society.
The truth is that behaviors we label as challenging are really just a symptom of an unmet need and an attempt to communicate. Children often show their pain through their behavior so they need our immense support, understanding and compassion. The pandemic has impacted them in numerous ways and it is vital that we take this into consideration. Our world desperately needs children who don’t see themselves as failures just because they fall short in the eyes of certain educational systems.
Simple Ways To Reframe “Success”
- Examine belief systems and narratives around how you define success. How do these beliefs impact your perception of your child’s growth and your own life? Expand the view to include attributes, such as effort, right motivation, and creativity.
- Help children separate out personhood from performance. An example would be: “I know that test must have been really hard AND you are not your grades.”
- Focus conversations about school in relationship to their feelings instead of performance based questions, such as how did they do on a test or project? An example is: “how did you feel about that project that you had to do? Did you enjoy it?”
- Help them identify and clarify their values. If motivation is low in a subject that doesn’t align with their value system, normalize and show empathy. It can be helpful to put yourself in their shoes and remember a time you had to find effort for something you didn’t care about doing.
- Highlight their intrinsic values and gifts. Remind them that school is one aspect of life. It is not their entire life.
About the author: Megan Larson MSW, LCSW is a psychotherapist, parent coach and mindfulness guide with therapy offices in Colorado & California. She provides parent-coaching & support to clients across the country. Her clinical work is influenced by current research on play therapy, neurobiology, and the mind body connection. As a yoga & meditation teacher, her approach stems from Eastern traditions, specifically Tibetan Buddhism. She is featured in the book The Unexpected Power Of Mindfulness & Meditation along side visionary leaders such as Ed & Deb Shapiro & Byron Katie.
Web site: avibrantmindllc.com