Ten Back to School Tips for your Child’s Happiness
Doctor of Happiness and well-being expert Andy Cope gives us all some top tips to help ease our children’s anxieties about going back to school. We love Andy’s advice, it’s both fun and unique, with serious science behind it (he is a Dr of Happiness after all).
Lesson #1: How was school?
If you visit proper academic papers and government reports, you’ll find that far too many families are hindering their children’s development. A study by Hart and Risley suggested that by age 4, children raised in poor families will have heard 32 million fewer words than children raised in professional families. To add to the woe, it’s not just quantity, it’s also the emotional tone.
So please speak a lot and, where possible, couch your language in the 8:1 ratio of positive to negative. Say instead of ‘how was school?’ why not upgrade to ‘what was the highlight of your day?’ or ‘what was the funniest or most amazing thing you’ve done today?’ Say it like you mean it and, of course, properly listen to the answer. You will be rewarded with an increased likelihood of a positive conversation.
Lesson #2: Celebrate strengths
As parents, we have a lot to answer for. Too much love and encouragement gives children an inflated idea of what they can do. Witness the early rounds of the prime-time talent shows where the kid has been bigged up so much that they believe the parental hype. We, the viewer, reach for our ear plugs as the performer refuses to accept the truth of their wailing banshee voice. And yet too little love and encouragement means we’re crippled emotionally. You can have the best voice on the planet but no confidence to get up there and belt it out.
A lot of people beat themselves up about what they’re not good at to the point that it stops them celebrating what they are good at. Make sure you are a strengths spotter for your child, particularly in those nervous first few days back.
Lesson #3: The 7-second hug
Everyone needs a hug sometimes, it helps your child feel safe and give them some reassurance. I started delving into the research behind this and then thought, sod it, nobody cares what the stats say. Here’s the headline news – the average hug lasts just over 2 seconds. If you hang on for a full 7 seconds then oodles of nice warm chemicals flow around both bodies and the love is transferred. One word of advice, don’t count out loud while you’re doing the 7-second hug as it tends to spoil the effect.
Lesson #4: Monday is the new Friday
Here’s a terrifying fact for your child – a seventh of their year is going to consist of Mondays. That’s too much time to simply write off. So dare to stand out by celebrating the awesomeness of Mondays. Mondays are a chance for your children to get stuck into a new school week, learn something new and make a dent in the universe.
Lesson #5: Gratitude
If your child is feeling a bit down, get everyone in your family to write a list of 10 things they really appreciate but take for granted. Then compare lists (top tip, make sure your partner is near the top of your list!)
Spookily enough, top of everyone’s list will be family and health. Kids will likely have wifi and PlayStation up there too. But the point is that too many people spend too much time moaning about what they haven’t got. Happy folk are much more grateful for what they have got. Look at your 10 things. #OMG, How lucky are you?
Lesson #6: Praise for effort rather than talent
Teaching your child a good working ethos starts at school. The advice from positive psychology is that if your child accomplishes something, don’t say, ‘Well done, you are such a little genius!’ But rather, ‘Awesome, you put the effort in and got the reward.’
Here’s a concrete example. If your daughter does well in a mock maths exam don’t high-five, ‘Holy cow, total genius girl. You were born to do algebra.’ You’d be better off saying, ‘Amazing result. That’s what practice and hard work gets ya!’ and ruffle her hair in a chummy fashion.
Lesson #7: The digital detox
The time you have together as a family is precious and finite, particularly after the holidays. Before you know it they are adults and have flown the nest, so make sure to turn off your electronic devices and spend more time with your real flesh and blood family. Happiness is a social thing.
Lesson #8: The four minute rule
Practise the four minute rule. This is a phrase that came from a guru friend of mine, Steve McDermott, and I love its simplicity. Basically, your emotions are contagious. They leak out of you and ‘infect’ your family around you. So to help you family beat the back to school blues, make the conscious choice to be positive and upbeat, it takes four minutes for other family members to catch it too. So be enthusiastic for 4 minutes and everyone else will feel great too!
Lesson #9: The gift of positivity
When you’re thinking of passing down your inheritance, be sure to remember that it’s not just a lump of cash and a bit of jewellery. You are passing down habits, knowledge, mind-sets and cognitive traits. Your positivity can set your child up for life!
Lesson #10: Make time
Any family is only as happy as their least happy child. Rather than avoiding them, make sure you aren’t too busy to invest time with your children, and be genuinely interested in what they’re up to. As your quality time is cut as they got back to school, this is such an important point – I should probably have included it at number 1!
Andy Cope is an expert of happiness and co-author of The Little Book of Emotional Intelligence: How to Flourish in a Crazy World. For more information see www.artofbrilliance.co.uk