Colman Noctor: Five top tips for maintaining children’s mental health in 2022

Colman Noctor: Five top tips for maintaining children’s mental health in 2022

Caught up in the ‘new year, new me’ hype, many parents aim high: ‘This year I plan to play with my children, keep them off their devices, keep my relationship alive, cook nutritious meals, have my own career and aspirations, meditate, go out with friends (because it’s not all about being a parent), walk 10,000 steps a day and workout five times a week.

When we set ourselves new-year targets, we hope they will be transformative. But we fail to consider that we make these pledges in January, the gloomiest of months, and over promise, setting ourselves up for failure.

Often the urge to change our lives comes after a period of excess over Christmas, with fad diets and self-improvement regimes all the rage. There is a belief that if I change something external about myself, I will be happier. But instead of looking at external changes, what if we looked at making some gradual changes to our parenting approach that could help lower our stress levels and improve family life in the year ahead.

1. Reduce expectations of your children 

Our children have experienced immense disruption to their lives over the past two years. They will inevitably struggle, and it is up to us as parents to make allowances for this. So rather than measure our children’s achievements in 2022, let’s focus on what is reasonable for them to achieve. Our children may lack the savvy or wisdom of previous generations, and that’s OK. We can easily fall into comparing their performance to that of their siblings who grew up ‘in a different time’. We need to consider their current developmental challenges and accommodate them instead of obsessing about ‘catching up’.

2. Recognise effort over outcome 

In a world dominated by social media, our culture has become more comparative than ever before. The constant exposure to the highlight reel of other people’s lives creates a tendency to become consumed by an abstract concept of ‘success’ which we measure by results such as exam grades, medals and accolades.

A results-based evaluation means we concentrate on gratification instead of fulfilment and overfocus on the outcome to the detriment of the process.

Outcomes are not always reflective of the effort as there are many variables that play a role in determining a result. Maybe a child with dyslexia spends two hours preparing for a Friday spelling test and achieves a score of 7/10. Another child, who has no such challenges, spends two minutes preparing and receives a score of 8/10. As adults, we need to acknowledge effort and process as much as we value results.

3. Regulation is key 

Our culture has become consumed with the extraordinary, leading to a dismissal or undervaluing of the ordinary. This has resulted in our goals becoming considerably higher and the pressure to achieve these goals more intense.

One of the most disappointing developments is that the word ‘average’ has become synonymous with something ‘bad’. Too often when we hear terms like ‘average’ we feel disappointed. But average is good.

The young people who come to see me are almost always doing too much of something or not enough of something. This is why I advocate the 4-7 Rule. This rule encourages us to rate our relationship with activities in our lives from 1 to 10. A score of one suggests a complacent or non-existent relationship with the activity, while ten represents a highly intense relationship. The aim of the 4-7 Rule is not to aim for 8-10 or 1-3, instead 4-7 is your goal.

The safest place for your mental health is in the middle. If you take a moment and examine your parenting approach to your child’s academic, social or sporting development and find that you are verging on 1-3 or 8-10, then it may be time to reassess. When we feel compelled to drive for the ‘above average’ position, it is highly likely to be accompanied by pressure, stress, anxiety and disappointment.

So if you find that your conversations with your teenager around academics are 9-10 and your conversations that contain themes of fun and joy are 1-2, maybe you need to reassess.

4. Less is more 

It seems the bulk of children’s activities has become ‘adult-led’. This can mean adult standards are imposed on children’s activities, which often value process over fun. Many of the problems in children’s sports rest with the adults, not the children. The silent sideline, an i

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