“As long as you do your best.” Who was told this as a kid? And, should this still be something that we want for our children? Or is doing “your best” getting a bit out of hand?
Pressure certainly seems to be mounting on our children. In this technological age, it seems that you can never finish anything. Revision and school work included!
Doing your best seems to largely be about exam results, perhaps at the expense of everything else. It seems to be without context. Without boundaries. And at risk to happiness.
With SATS starting at aged six or seven (Seriously? Should children even be getting compulsory homework yet??) the pressure starts young.
Teachers want the best results from their students, but not at the expense of them learning how to have balanced, happy lives. However when they are under so much pressure to add the correct value (?!) to their students, it’s not surprising that some stress filters down.
Thankfully the boys’ school do their best to make sure that the pressure isn’t felt by the students, that they don’t even know that they’re being assessed. However the preparation starts long before the exams and parents want to see a paper, so a paper has come home.
Do I want to see it? Probably to be honest. Do I wish I didn’t want to look? Yep. Do I want my biggest to do his best? That might happen and that would be lovely, but really I just want him to be able to concentrate, enjoy it and try hard.
‘Best’ seems to be a word that can carry a lot of weight by itself; a word open to implied pressure* and an individual’s own interpretation. We naturally want to prove that our best is worthy of respect. Here enters the worst sort of pressure – that which we place on ourselves.
*Sometimes children opt out of trying their best, for fear of revealing that their best won’t make the grade. My biggest challenge as a teacher has often been convincing students that, if they invest the time and try hard (on a balanced revision plan) they can succeed!
Often “success” starts at believing that time invested in yourself, is time well spent. Even if you end up taking a different route than first planned.
In the exam game it seems that someone has to fail, for others to succeed. Surely it should feel a bit more like “choose your own adventure” with other avenues and routes opening up. I like to think that with good careers support and careful research of courses and apprenticeships, it can feel a bit like this.
Wants and Needs
We all want our children in happy, fulfilled jobs and careers; not sat around not being stressed (but eventually and inevitably getting stressed by their situation). Some stress is good after all. Isn’t it? Stress gets us out of bed and makes us do stuff. Doesn’t it?
You could perhaps argue other stuff could do the job better. Commitment? Enjoyment? Conscience? Either way stress is here to stay, so we need to work out how to manage it (and help our children manage their’s).
Since happiness tends to include fulfilment and success to some degree, this inevitable quandary arises for us all. And the need to find the best balance for our children.
Mental health is undoubtedly closer to the core of us all than “success” and career. Although they are probably intertwined a bit!
Meanwhile “success” is important for the economy, society’s progress and our international competitiveness. This isn’t going to go away. The world will keep trying to drive up results and standards.
Schools and services will try and support, but we know our individual children the best.
The more we can get them talking about feelings and listening to their bodies and feelings, the better! And if we can, we need to start them young! If you follow this link you can browse some of my easy, quick activities designed to help younger children talk about their day and think about their feelings.
Room for feelings?
“I struggle to get them fed, clean(ish) and in bed!” (Says me every night.) Mine come home from school exhausted; I don’t want to the short, tired end of the day to be spent nagging them to complete homework. Not yet anyway! Sometimes we get the homework done, sometimes we don’t.
Quality time to talk about their day, especially if they seem upset has sometimes ruled homework out. Having said all this, I do think we need to get into a good homework habit….
Sources of Help and Advice
I am just an over-thinking teacher and mum, whilst putting together this post, I’ve found these websites to be a brilliant source of information for supporting children with stress.
They are both especially relevant when they get older and the examinations start to loom.
Your child’s school will also be a great source of revision tips; sometimes changes need to be made to how students are revising, not to how much! They will be happy to hear from you I’m sure.
Everybody is somehow indebted to the superheroes of society – the doctors, pioneering scientists, men on the moon and other people at the ‘top of their game’. All of them moving society forward, making discoveries, if not or as well as saving lives and caring for people.
If we don’t strive for the best in everyone, will we stop making so many heroes? Or can we still stretch and challenge within a healthier system? Do we all need a balance to be our best?
Some people’s dedication really is awe inspiring; but let’s not forget one person’s happy balance could be another’s living nightmare. Furthermore dedication that grows and is balanced by an adult, is very different to pressure felt by a child, who hasn’t yet the skills to manage it.
Their safe place
With today’s pressures children need more help working out what their ‘best’ should mean. They need to know that success isn’t completely wrapped up in exam results.
Nobody really knows what pressure individuals feel or the effects that it has, so guidance from you could be crucial. You are still their safe place!
You saying lets do your “best with an hour/age appropriate/if appropriate amount of revision” or “best after we’ve gone for a walk and before we watch a comedy show together” could be so important to their happiness.
Listen. Validate their feelings. Let them know they’re not alone; that all over the country thousands will be feeling the same. Crikey, I could only eat Minstrels for breakfast on an exam day?!
Tell them that their grades aren’t their worth. That they’re amazing. That their friend with a lower score is amazing. That their friend with the higher score is amazing. For being them. Help them place less importance on the number.
Tell them about how exams do not always do their job! That sometimes the cryptic questions don’t test and draw out what they really know.
Perhaps even more importantly tell them that there is so much that exams don’t even attempt to measure. That the best things can’t be measured! Kindness, empathy, social skills, honesty and just day to day smartness!
Talk about what options they would have if they don’t get the grades that they need (While we are at it, how powerful a word is need?!). Be sure to tell them that it is not because you don’t believe in them! But because you do! You believe that they have the abilities, skills and traits to find an awesome destination and hopefully enjoy the journey!
There are always other routes to places, jobs, success and happiness; a best with boundaries is enough.
They may grunt or put their hands on their ears and say “la, la, la”. They may yell that you don’t understand. Or simply look unmoved. And if you’re lucky they may do all of the above and more!! But they will be listening. Promise. And if it doesn’t help this time, it might in the future.
At the end of it all!
When it finally comes to an end, praise their efforts and commitment. Hopefully you’ll also be able to praise the balance that they achieved and the happiness that they were able to maintain.
If they did fall apart a bit, plan for next time, offer up lots of hugs and move on. I think we can all relate to knowing what we should do to reduce stress, but not doing it!
The Happy Balance
Hopefully it comes across that I believe in trying – and trying hard. Basically if this trying can be part of a “Happy Balance” you’re winning at life!
Which is why I (try!) to spend time talking about feelings and developing their sense of self. Although as I type this I feel I might have neglected it recently. I always ask how their day has gone, but without a bit of something extra feel like I get vanilla answers! So I may have to get my thinking cap on! 🤔
Sometimes it doesn’t go to plan. But that’s kids. Oh and when the tiredness kicks in! Help me!!! Every meltdown is just a learning opportunity!!! 😂🤷♀️
There will be a “Better Board” post coming soon to help them to come up with strategies, for managing their emotions and happiness. The idea being that they learn to identify when and why they don’t feel good and start to help themselves. This post will follow on from Head for Feelings which uses the Headbandz Game which is a firm favourite in our house.
Note to self to tell them that sometimes we all just need time. And that’s okay too.
More ideas for helping children find their own happy balances VERY gratefully received below or on my Instagram account. Surely its one of the most important life skills in today’s pressurised, fast moving, technological world?
Yay, you did it! I don’t half go on.
Simply put trying hard is good enough; and this trying needs to come with boundaries. Why didn’t I just say that at the start??
I can’t see that this makes being an amazing doctor (all doctors are amazing in my book!) or pioneering scientist less likely, but it could make them a happier (and I’d argue more effective) one.
My fingers are crossed that I can help my three, develop the confidence and mindset needed, to grow up into happy and fulfilled adults. Adults that are able to identify their feelings, needs, interests and strengths. I hope that they add and give to the world and enjoy the paths that they’re on.