How to prepare our children Holistically for University

 

This isn’t another blogpost on University preparation about how to get student finance or prepare an IKEA shopping list, it is about how we can prepare our children holistically for the transition from school to studying away from home, family and friends, preparing them mentally and emotionally which can result in reducing the risks to their wellbeing through stress, anxiety and coping on their own whilst at University or College.

This transition comes at a crucial time, when the teenage brain is still developing, self-esteem and identity are still forming, and independent living skills together with self care strategies are probably not yet embedded.

The Teenage Brain:

Managing time, planning and organisation skills are not yet fully developed, as the brain is not fully integrated, yet University life demands those L’s…logic, lateral thinking and linguistic prowess.

Managing Risk: Mmmm….don’t want to be a party pooper on Freshers Week, but how many 18 year old’s are fully in control of their alcohol consumption and risks to personal safety that accompany it?

Managing Sleep:  How many 18 year old’s are fully committed to getting 8 hours sleep? or have developed self care strategies?

 

Why I’ve written this post

According to The Higher Education Statistics agency, the numbers of students developing Mental Health problems whilst at University has increased five-fold. That figure is only the figure gained from those students accessing help, so I suspect the figure is more. There is a lot of variation between various reports, but according to research by the BBC:

  • In 2006 3K students asked for help, in 2015 the figure was 15K.
  • 1,180 students abandoned their studies in the year 2014-15.
  • Suicide rates of students have nearly doubled between 2007 and 2016.
  • There were 10 deaths at Bristol University in the last 18 months, and closer to home, my daughter has reported sad statistics during her time at London College of Fashion, including 3 on the Women’s Wear course.

So within the context of these statistics, why have the figures increased? And why is there a significant gender difference?

In my opinion, a combination of social , political,  economic and neurological factors have contributed to the melting pot that causes a decline in Student Mental Health:

  • Education Policy. The Learning environment at School, emphasising  learning to pass exams and not promoting independent thought. Students are not trained and are mentally ill-equipped for independent, un-supervised learning, which leads to stress and difficulties in motivation.
  • A lot of high achieving pupils are used to being a “Big Fish in a small pond” : Student Ruth Day is quoted in an article for The Guardian about suicides at Brisol: “When you get to a Russell Group university, you are used to being top of your class. At school I was used to getting 90% for my work. At university 60% is brilliant. That disparity was something I really struggled with. At school, you are used to being a big fish. Here you are just one face in a sea of faces and it feels very isolating.” (The Guardian 26/05/2018)
  • Student Debt: Pressure to achieve top marks to validate the amount of debt
  • Financial worries as a result of poor budgeting skills, keeping up with Bills and expenses of a  Social life
  • Homesickness and a loss of belonging
  • Isolation, especially if the student is an introvert personality
  • Lack of independent living skills and taking responsibility for own life . Haven’t experienced making mistakes on their own or juggling independent living with working (a part time job) and studying
  • Poor emotional resilience: inability to bounce back from challenges
  • Poor relationship skills due to being an introverted personality as oppose to an extrovert personality, leading to a loss of connection through difficulties in making new friendships.

What can we as Peoplemakers and Parents do to prepare our children for University holistically?

One of the key parts of understanding how the teenage brain works, is that during adolescence their brain’s are re-wiring to biologically prepare themselves for independence. As part of this process teenagers may start communicating less with you, listening less and wanting to be with you less. But many parents assume that this means they don’t need us. Whereas, in reality, they do still need us, but they need us differently. it is crucial to keep communication and connection strong, even when it looks like your teenager is distancing themselves from you.  “Cutting them from our apron strings” should not include a severance to deep loving connection.

There is so much research and evidence being published now, that cites a loss of connection as the cause of Depression, rather than exclusively , a lack of seratonin, which explains why going to Uni is such a crucial time for young people when they are at their most vulnerable in losing connection, being away from home, and their established support network.

Use the Summer break after the A levels, to encourage them with self care strategies, looking at developing an exercise routine, and starting to build independent living skills if they are not already in place by enabling them to experiment with cooking meals,  helping with the family food shopping and doing their own laundry, so they have an understanding of how much time this takes.

Moderating our parenting style during the secondary school years to promote Growth Mindset, which includes praising for effort, and personal qualities, rather than praise exclusively for achievements, grades and outcomes goes such a long way in preparation for uni and developing a positive self identity which gives a strong foundation for managing the reality of meeting other University students  with different cognitive abilities. This helps with the “I am now a small fish in a bigger pond” scenario. Growth Mindset helps build resilience in managing setbacks and challenges, of which there will probably be a fair few, it equips children with the knowledge that they can manage when things get tough, whether that’s when the level of work cranks up, or when they experience relationship difficulties.

Role modelling how we manage stress is also very influential. Having conversations about what their stress management strategies might be, and how they can embed those, but more importantly do they know what their stress triggers are? Asking questions around, how would they seek help if they thought they weren’t coping, and helping them understand that asking for help is not shameful or weak. Girls are good at talking to other girls about their problems, traditionally ,  boys are not and for this reason, boys fall under the radar.  This partly explains, why there is such a gender difference in the suicide figures.

Recognising what personality style our children are, do they have an introvert or extrovert personality?, enables us to help them understand that not everyone makes friends easily or on the first day. Not everyone needs to scurry to join the Pack. For my children, I don’t think they discovered their true tribe until the second year.

Finally a conversation around….what will happen if you don’t like it. One of my key beliefs, is that “no experience is wasted experience” . Getting to University and deciding that you don’t like it or the course, is no big deal, quit while you are ahead, you can sort the student loan and come home and re-evaluate, it doesn’t mean you are a loser or a dis-appointment.  Help them understand that courage is good, burying your head in the sand, and not turning up to lectures because you are unhappy is not. Re-affirm that you support them either way in their journey towards finding their passion and purpose.

Send them off with the knowledge that whatever happens you love them un-conditionally, together with  a fruit cake and a bottle of something to offer hospitality to others on their floor.

 

Top Tips to beat Sibling Rivalry

Sibling Rivalry…Uggh!

(3 minute read time.)

Take two kids in competition for their parents’ love and attention. Add to that the envy that one child feels for the accomplishments of the other; the resentment that each child feels for the privileges of the other; the personal frustrations that they don’t dare let out on anyone else but a brother or sister, and it’s not hard to understand why in families across the land, the sibling relationship contains enough emotional dynamite to set off rounds of daily explosions.

(Adele Faber).

Sibling Rivalry…..Uggh, it’s one of the things that most parents struggle with knowing how to handle and one of the things that often causes us to reach the end of our tether, no matter how hard we try and stay calm.

Much of today’s popular advice about Parenting still ignores emotion. Yet emotion is what fuels all behaviours, including sibling rivalry and spats and it’s emotion that fuels our responses too.

The ultimate goal of raising children should not be simply to have an obedient, compliant child, but one where we as parents can empower them to problem solve and internally regulate their own emotions from a young age.

Therefore the secret lies in:

  1. Your perspective: how you perceive why siblings argue. If you can see it as a process and a natural part of their development,  a practice ground if you like, of your children testing the waters of  interacting and managing relationships, then you can encourage and empower them to learn problem solving techniques and the skill of co-operation.  But also to see all behaviours as a communication of a need. There will be a positive intention behind the poor behaviour always.
  2. How you manage the situation and react. Do you use discipline for learning opportunities and teaching values, or for punishment?

What are The Weller Way’s top tips?

  • Allow your children to have differences: Only step in if it gets out of hand and they are not able to sort it out themselves
  • Hitting, kicking, pushing etc is the result of a child having exhausted all the options of having his needs met. Because he doesn’t have the necessary brain development to control his feelings or think of ways to solve a problem, we can step in to help, but first:
  • Consider your attitude to conflict. Do you find it difficult and always want to shut it down?
  • Their argument is not your argument, therefore Don’t take sides: Make observations and describe what you see happening without judgement. This acknowledges each child’s perspective. Ask questions, rather than telling them to “STOP THAT”. Ask if they can come up with a solution, before you suggest one.
  • With older children, we can ask |”why do you think I am concerned about what I am seeing?”
  • Identify the need…”name it to tame it”.  Is it a need to protect something they are working on? Is it fuelled by wanting a sense of ownership? Or is it hunger, tiredness, frustration etc?? Understanding the need does not mean you agree with their behaviour.
  • Put the limit on the behaviour, not the need. A limit should be something you want them to learn, and must be something that you can carry out consistently. Limits tie into family values: e.g We don’t hit each other because we love and respect each other. This builds awareness of  the WHY  certain behaviors are wrong.
  • Don’t use guilt i.e “What is wrong with you”, or “I am so disappointed in you” or “why can’t you behave like your brother”.
  • Don’t use a withdrawal of 1:1 time as a consequence, as this will have a negative effect on self esteem. Remember the behaviour is not the person.
  • Work on your own mindset and internal state. If we yell , they will yell more. It is better to remove yourself for a moment to breathe and count to 10, before tackling the situation in anger and frustration.
  • Try games that build teamwork and boost sibling co-operation.
  • Offer 1:1 un-interrupted consistent attention to each child where you can slot it into your routine and which feels natural.
  • Highlight and praise the uniqueness of each child using statements like: “I love it when you…..”

From their struggles to establish dominance over each other, siblings become tougher and more resilient. From their endless rough-housing with each other, they develop speed and agility. From their verbal sparring they learn the difference between being clever and being hurtful. From the normal irritations of living together, they learn how to assert themselves, defend themselves, compromise. And sometimes, from their envy of each other’s special abilities they become inspired to work harder, persist and achieve.                  

(Adele Faber)

A Productive Guide to Positive Parenting

If I were to ask you what is your main hope for your child….would it be… “that they are happy?”

mother and child

It is a great responsibility don’t you think, to make that our No 1 aim of Parenting? I personally think that it’s too much responsibility to feel responsible for our children’s happiness but we can do so much to promote their own growth towards it. It is the difference that makes a difference. The clients I work with everyday worry about their child being happy, asking themselves, am I doing the right thing? But a Positive Parenting approach does lead to your child having a greater chance of Happiness amidst the current evidence of Mental Health statistics: Continue reading “A Productive Guide to Positive Parenting”