Dr Georgiana Cameron
We know that a child’s experience at school matters and has a lasting impact on their lives. Research studies show that a teenager’s connection to their school strongly predicts how well they cope and thrive as a young adult (1). Yet let us not be blind us to the first and most significant educators in a young in a child’s life - their parents.
Research indicates that having a positive and secure relationship between parent and child is the most significant predictor of lifelong wellbeing (2). What does it mean to have a positive and secure relationship with your child? How can do we make this happen in practice, when our toddlers are having a tantrum in the supermarket, our children are refusing to do their homework and our teenagers are slamming doors? Research in this area suggests secure relationships are characterised by the following:
A secure base from which to explore the world
When a child feels secure with their parent, they know they can count on them to be a base of love, care and support. Knowing this enables children to explore their world with confidence. Children need to know parents are there for them in the hard times, and at the same time, need to know they can handle things on their own. This paradox can create conflicts internal to the child as well as between parent and child.
We see this tussle for independence come out in different ways across development, from the toddler who wants to ride their own tricycle to the young adult not wanting to answer questions about their whereabouts. As children transition into their older years it’s useful to keep John Rockefeller’s words in mind, “Every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.”
Responsive interactions between parent and child
Children benefit a great deal from knowing their needs and wants are understood. Parents who are responsive to their child’s emotions and attempts to communicate through cuddling, mirroring of emotions and eye contact, help their children to trust themselves and gain confidence.
There are many opportunities every day to have such interactions. Considering the way we play and talk with children can be a nice way to intentionally foster different types of interactions. It’s good to have a mix of children-leading-adults in play and interaction, for example, walking around with them as they show you the fairy garden they’ve created, as well as adults leading children, for example, introducing them to a new board game. When children lead adults in their play, adults gain a deeper understanding of their child’s needs, behaviour and development. When adults lead children, children learn about what’s important to their parents, what’s valued.
There is enough space to explore and there are clear boundaries
Exploration includes failure! Children must be allowed to take wrong turns otherwise they won’t know how to get themselves out of scrapes when they inevitably come. When parents celebrate struggles and the learning that happens along the way, children are more likely to adopt a growth mindset in believing they have the skills to take on new challenges.
Children and teenagers may not appreciate when parents set clear and reasonable boundaries, but they do understand that their parents care for them. Boundaries are best set by parents who communicate them as expectations rather than requests or demands. When parents expect a child to adhere to the boundaries set, they are placing trust and faith in the child.
If you are a parent and would like to find out about other ways to be a Positive Educator at home, come along to our Positive Education for Parents course.
Dr Georgiana Cameron
Dr Georgiana Cameron is a Trainer and Content Developer for the Institute of Positive Education. She has completed a Doctorate of Educational Psychology at the University of Melbourne. Georgiana has strong experience working directly with students, teachers and families in her work as an educational psychologist. Her time working on large-scale mental health initiatives in schools has given her a sound understanding of mental health prevention and promotion.