Most parents, when asked, say that what they want most is for their child to grow up to be a happy, healthy and independent human being. This sounds fairly simple, doesn’t it? Yet, just last month, a University of York study of 58,000 children across 15 diverse countries showed children in the UK coming in at number 14 for overall life satisfaction. The study cited bullying in schools and pressure to ‘look good’ as the main reasons behind these startling levels of unhappiness in our children. Studies such as these can be alarming with no real solution for parents who are left wondering what they can do. For parents who simply want their children to be happy, what is the answer?

Emotional resilience and self-esteem is the biggest predictor of satisfaction and success in life. Helping children to build their emotional resilience and self-esteem is what parents should turn their focus to if we want to help their children truly achieve happiness not just for now but also during their adulthood. This approach is also backed by recent research noting that it is a child’s emotional health rather than academic success or wealth that will contribute significantly to their satisfaction levels as an adult (well-being research programme at the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance).

One of the biggest lessons for parents is that we need to stop trying to provide the perfect childhood and instead teach our children how to handle challenging situations, so that in the future, they can experience good times and also bad times with confidence and resilience. 

Here is the first part in our series of the top ten tips for building emotional resilience and self-esteem in young children…

 Involve Them in Daily Life

Children love to be involved in the daily activities that most adults tend not to enjoy. For a two-year-old, being allowed to take part in washing up, folding laundry, chopping vegetables or feeding pets is a delight. It takes a bit of extra thought and time to enable children to do these activities alongside us, but the benefits to their confidence, self-esteem and independence make it more than worthwhile. At Children’s Nature Nursery you will see even our youngest children making lunch, cleaning up and taking part in growing their own vegetables.

Give Them Choices

Children need the opportunity to practise making choices, and seeing the consequences of their decisions. From even the youngest age, it can help to enable children to choose what they would like to wear, or what they would like to eat. Not only does this help them learn to make decisions, but also helps them to feel valued and included in daily life. Tip: keep the choices limited and realistic – if you don’t want your child to wear summer clothing in winter, make sure you offer a limited choice of clothing, choosing between perhaps two items that are both weather and activity appropriate. 

Unconditional Parenting: Avoid Rewards and Punishments                                          

We tend to take it for granted that children need rewards to motivate them, and punishments to deter them from unwanted behaviour. Alfie Kohn, author of Unconditional Parenting, challenges this and urges us to consider that, because this actually raises children’s anxiety levels, we are making them less likely to exhibit the positive behaviour we are trying so hard to encourage. In one study, children who were praised for sharing actually became less likely to share. Research has also shown that children who are frequently rewarded in school are less likely to raise their hand and be confident in answering questions because they are too afraid to get the answer wrong.

Connecting to Nature: Freedom and Time ‘To Be’                                                    

Ask any adult what their favourite memory is from childhood, and invariably the answer involves being outdoors. There is a good reason for this, for it is in the outdoors that children experience the freedom to ‘be’, play, connect to the natural world, solve problems and let their imaginations run wild. At Children’s Nature Nursery we believe it is essential to allow children these opportunities, which is why we offer daily ‘explorer sessions’ to our woodland and farm areas where the children are able to benefit from the freedom and time to explore, make discoveries and connect to the natural world.