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How to build a fulfilled child

Because that's what matters most, right? (Although if they could just get good grades and tidy their room occasionally that would be nice too.) Three experts tell us how.

If there’s one thing that Covid has done, it’s made us take stock of our lives, and by association, our children’s. Naturally, we still want the world for them: to be happy, get great grades, a fab job and live happily after. But if we’ve discovered there’s more to life than working our butts off, what does that mean for our kids?

Though most kids and parents (god, yes) are relieved school is back on, many are still worried about 2021 exams, the loss of extra-curricular activities and the prospect of further disruption to education.

So, should we be revving up the helicopter-parenting or as these experts refreshingly suggest, doing something else?

As three heads are better than one, Muddy tapped the Head of Blundell’s, Bart Wielenga, Prep Headmaster Andy Southgate and Head of Nursery and Pre-Prep Laura Clifford for advice on what parents can do to help.

1/Focus on the learning not the outcome.

Good grades are important but don’t make it the focus. Instead, encourage children to focus on the getting there. Help them develop a workable revision plan and work on understanding how they learn (meta cognition) as well as good old-fashioned working hard. If getting there is the focus, good grades will naturally follow.

Head Bart (pictured above): Raw intelligence is like an engine. Having a big engine doesn’t make you a good driver. First you must learn how to drive.

2/Believe in them.

Research shows two of the biggest barriers to learning is for a child to think a teacher doesn’t like them and/or if the child thinks they aren’t good at a subject.

A child who believes in him-or-herself is more likely to grow into an adult who is able to make a meaningful contribution to society. It’s not just about wanting to do something, it’s about them believing they can.

Bart: As parents, we often get anxious about what our children are not rather than what they are. We compare them to other children or ourselves. If you love cricket, and they hate it, that might well be a disappointment, but that’s your problem, not theirs. Always have your child’s back and take time to learn what is valuable to them.

Andy: Kids who feel in control are more likely to engage, so its about finding managed control. Offering choices where it’s safe and right to do so, for example, over food. When a child feels listened to by an adult it hugely benefits their self esteem.

Laura: Watch your facial expressions and your body language. Get down to their level to talk to them. Instructions can just end up like white noise, ‘tidy your room’, ‘do this, do that’ but if you turn it into a game or a competition it helps the child feel in control and valued.

3/It’s not just what you learn but how you learn.

Meta-cognition, the process by which an individual absorbs information is different for every child. Some learn in short, sharp bursts, others prefer a marathon. Your child might love cue cards, or prefer mind maps or summaries or their own hand-written notes. There is no right or wrong.

Bart: Learning to self-regulate is key: knowing your strengths, how you study best and learn what works for you is all by trial and error.

Andy: Children need to feel education isn’t something that is being done to them but something in which they are active participants.

Laura: If we’re studying a fairytale, such as Jack in the Beanstalk, I would ask what they would like to do to learn more about it, such as going and looking for beanstalks, making something or cooking.

4/Bring out their inner executive.

Bart: We’re all on a spectrum of how organised we are. Some people are inherently organised, others need a lot of scaffolding, but the important thing is everyone can learn to get better at it with the right coaching.

Andy: Help children find things they are proud of: they may have come last in the cross-country but if they are proud of finishing that’s what matters.

Laura: This begins early with easy wins like hanging their coat on their peg, or knowing to put their things in a tray with their name on it.

5/Help them to help themselves. (Polite speak for, ‘Don’t be a helicopter parent’)

Successful people know how to problem-solve so that’s why we need to inculcate in our children, rather than solving everything for them. Children also need to learn to recognise when they don’t know what to do, when to ask for help and to be able to identify to whom they should turn.

Bart: Help your children to be proactive so when something goes wrong, instead of saying, ‘oh well that didn’t work so I may as well give up’, they will know how to think through the problem and try another approach.

Andy: A very common question is, ‘Sir, I’ve got to the bottom of my page – what should I do now?’ I’d say, ‘Okay, what do you think we could do about that?’

Laura: If a child says to me, ‘Miss, I’m hot’ instead of me replying, ‘take off your coat then’, I will ask them what they think they should do. Often, it makes children laugh too because they’re surprised and usually delighted to be asked their opinion on the matter!

6/Your aim shouldn’t be just for your children to be ‘happy’.

Ooh, sounds controversial! Surely some mistake?

Bart: Parents often say all they want is for their children to be happy but that’s nonsense. We don’t mean we want them to go around grinning like a Cheshire Cat. We mean we want them to be able to cope with life, deal with disappointment, create healthy relationships and recover from their mistakes when things go wrong. Children are only going to be able to do that if we teach them how to manage themselves.

Want to hear more, more, more?

Get yourself down to the school by booking a Blundell’s tour. For senior school, call 01884 232310 and admissions@blundells.org; for Prep and Pre-Prep call 01884 252393 or email prep@blundells.org.

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