Back to Basics: Supporting Kid’s Wellbeing, Behaviour and Resilience
In my work I often see kids who are struggling with challenging behaviours and big feelings, and parents who are struggling to understand and support their kids. It can be very stressful for parents, especially if troubles are also happening at school in the classroom and/or playground and parents are being contacted by the school. It’s easy to feel stressed out, lost and not sure what to do or whose advice to follow. In fact, there’s so much information and advice out there it can just add to the confusion and impact parent confidence.
One thing I like to do is help parents become more confident, and one way I like to do this is to help parents take stock of what is in their power and control, easy to consider and doesn’t cost a fortune, like “the basics”: food, sleep, play time, time in nature, outside time, active time, and relationship time. And I’d love to share some of these ideas with you. Actually, I am pretty sure you already have some or all of these ideas but, in the hustle, and bustle of life and with the inundation of information about parenting and kids you might have lost touch with what you know matters.
If we are getting back to basics, let’s start with sleep. How are your kids sleeping? Are they getting enough sleep? Do you know how much sleep they need? Do they have trouble falling or staying asleep? Are they well rested or is something like oversized tonsils resulting in snoring and potentially indicating childhood sleep apnea? Are they spending too much time on devices in the evening and then finding it hard to wind down?
According to the Department of Health and Aged Care: “Getting enough good-quality sleep is essential to healthy growth. We recommend that each night:
children aged 5 to 13 years get 9 to 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep
young people aged 14 to 17 years get 8 to 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
To establish and maintain healthy sleep patterns, we recommend:
having a consistent bedtime and wake-up time
avoiding screen time 1 hour before sleep
keeping screens out of the bedroom.”
A lot of people aren’t aware of the impact of not enough quality sleep. “Not having enough sleep or not sleeping well can affect how children learn and lead to mood swings, poor growth and behavioural problems.” https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/sleep-tips-for-children. Children can also experience trouble focusing and feeling regulated and you might end up feeling like you are walking on eggshells around them because they are so sensitive due to their tiredness. Combat this by insuring regular, good quality sleep and see your GP if needed.
For more information on sleep problems and tips of helping with sleep you can visit this website https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/sleep-tips-for-children.
Food is often a missed contributor to behavioural and emotional problems.
A lot of parents have no idea how much sugar is in things like the fruit juice and cereal that make up their child’s breakfast, or the additives and colourings in seemingly innocuous packaged biscuits and snacks. I know I certainly didn’t until I saw a display board at my child’s daycare years ago with the food packets pinned up alongside a matching clear bag of sugar… with the actual amount of sugar contained in the food put into the bag. They’d measured out the amount of sugar in popular foods and then put this on display beside the food packet. Seeing the amount of sugar this way was a big eye opener.
There can be a “food fallout” that happens once school start and kids just can’t sit still and focus, or once your kids get home from school tired but on a sugar/additive wave. Start paying attention to what your kids are eating, and how they are acting and feeling afterwards, and you might work out there are some snacks that they just can’t manage when they need to be settled and focused. If these are a favourite treat, then save them for weekends when the kids can run it off.
For more information and ideas about food check out this Australian Parenting website https://raisingchildren.net.au. You can find a range of information here for a range of ages and stages.
Active Time and Outside Time
“Prioritise movement in your son’s life to ‘burn the gunk out of his motor’”
Another reason some kids struggle to settle into the classroom (or be settled while you are doing the groceries) is that their body needs more active time, more play or more outside time to “burn off the gunk”. This is a metaphor form Maggie Dent and it's true for both boys and girls. Just like an older car sometimes need to run for a while to “burn off the gunk” so that it then runs well, kids might need to good amount of run around time before class time or activities with you where they need to be settled.
Consider walking your child to school or letting them ride their scooter or bike with you, or dropping your kids at school as early as the school allows if you think running off the gunk might help. And if you are running errands, doing groceries, or visiting grandparents who have lots of breakable ornaments on display maybe a trip to the park first is a good idea.
Outside time and connection to nature are also great ways to soothe your child’s central nervous system and help them feel more settled and grounded.
“Play is a much underrated but incredibly vital part of children’s development.”
Maggie Dent, 2016: 24
For some reason, we seem to have lost our understanding of the importance of play, how play is the “work of children”, how it’s essential for their wellbeing and literally grows their brains. Some of this is due to a reduction in play based learning and a move towards formalised learning, and some of it is due to invitations for us to overschedule our kids. But, “Having sufficient time to play is important – big blocks of time without being disturbed and made to hurry is important for children and adults. We need time to chill out, relax, to let our ideas flow, have conversations with real or imaginary friends, to test our ideas and theories and replay, retest and rethink them.” Neville Dwyer in Maggie Dent, 2016: 24.
Play is important for childhood development because it helps children develop essential cognitive, social, emotional, and physical skills. Through play, children learn problem-solving, creativity, communication, and teamwork. It also fosters emotional regulation, empathy, and resilience. Play contributes to the development of fine and gross motor skills, as well as the exploration of the world around them. Overall, play supports holistic development and lays the foundation for lifelong learning and well-being.
“Play is the work of the child.”
And then of course there’s you and how much you matter to your kids. So strong is the inbuilt drive for connection that in a nonconscious way kids will do anything for connection, even “naughty” behaviour, because negative attention is better than no attention to a child’s attachment system. I use the word “nonconscious” because kids aren’t consciously thinking to themselves things like “if I pinch my little brother I will get my parent’s attention”, but at a level they aren’t conscious of this process can be at play to meet their relationship connection needs.
So, make sure to connect to your child frequently, even in micro connection moments like ruffling their hair, as well as intentionally spending time with them, and intentionally “catching them being good.” Yep, that’s right. We often have a lot of “negative” interactions, correcting our kids and reminding them of the rules and so catching them being good and letting them know you appreciate something they’ve done is really important. Let them know with your words, actions, time, and focused attention that you love them, that they matter to you and that you are connected to them.
“With children love is spelled TIME”
How much of these basics resonated with you?
Getting back to basics might really help your family and you might find this is enough to keep things on track. You might also find that you need additional supports and decide to seek professional help. It’s important to keep in mind that even if you do need extra supports, the basics still matter and will help you navigate your parenting journey, whatever your individual journey looks like.
Working out the basics is helpful, and working out what each of your kids most needs in the basics is especially helpful. They might all be different e.g., some impacted more by sugary foods and some by not enough sleep. And so, I encourage you to engage your curiosity and become like a detective to start working out what your kids need most to help them at school and home as they grow.
And remember, parenting is the “best and hardest job in the world”. So go easy on yourself, treat yourself with self-compassion and kindness, remember you are human and all of us humans are “perfectly imperfect”. Remember also, there’s no such thing as a perfect parent … and even if there was, it’s actually not what kids need. Yep, read that sentence again.
Dr Leonie White - Clinical Family Therapist and Psychologist
Helping people grow, connect and thrive in life’s unique journey.
PS The basics are also really good for us parents too :)
Please note - this article is educational in nature and does not constitute therapy advice.
Please seek help from a professional if you require support.
Dent, M. (2016). Building Children’s Resilience: One Building Block at a Time. Pennington Publications: Murwillumbah NSW.