The message ‘It’s OK to not be OK’ is important for children to hear, but we must also include a disclaimer that it is ‘OK to be OK’ too. The ideal is for young people to develop resilience, so they can negotiate most of life’s challenges, but also an openness about asking for help if it is required.
Striking this balance is often a challenge. How do I help my child to be assertive without being arrogant, or how can I help my child to be compassionate without being a pushover?
In my view, resilience is about authenticity, self-belief, and accuracy. However, there are limited opportunities to explore these qualities when the social, personal and health education (SHPE) curriculum is isolated from the school culture. There is little value in stating ‘we all have different qualities that are equally important’, and then going on to do a spelling test where those who do well are commended, and those who struggle are dismissed.
It’s important to point out that the wellbeing aspects of the curriculum can be labour intensive and challenging, especially with no psychological training.
When adults want to communicate a message to children, we need to repeat it and exaggerate it to make sure it sticks. But they also have to see it, if we want them to be it. So, despite inclusive classroom exercises, these espoused values need to be visible in the day to day running of things.
Express your feelings
In recent years there’s been a shift towards encouraging children to share their feelings. We’ve told them it’s OK to cry and not to bottle things up. In fact, one cartoon campaign even suggested that holding feelings in could cause your head to explode.
This promotion of emotional expression is a move in the right direction and certainly is an improvement on the pervasive silence and suppression. However, emotional expression is perhaps not enough in itself. What is also needed is an increased emotional understanding or emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is not purely the ability to articulate how something makes you feel, rather it is the capacity to be aware, to control, and to express one’s emotions empathetically. This is not simply expressing how you feel, you must also consider the impact of your actions on others, an important aspect of developing empathy and priorities in interpersonal relationships.
Intrapersonal communication involves the internal monologues that we have with ourselves, whereas interpersonal communication involves our interactive communication with others. If we are to introduce the concept of wellbeing into our families, schools, and communities, we need to include social responsibility which is a crucial aspect of emotional intelligence.
This social responsibility needs to be part of the lived experience too, and not just a removed topic covered in the classroom. Children need to be aware that they have rights, but they also need to be aware that alongside these rights come responsibilities. The right to be the leader of a game at lunchtime comes with the responsibility of ensuring that everyone is included. The right to have a treat food on a Friday comes with the responsibility of putting the wrappers in the bin and keeping the classroom tidy. These everyday subtle value systems carry far more influence on children’s learning than we give them credit for.
Emotional intelligence is not simply understanding ourselves but also understanding our relationships with other people. If we make emotional intelligence too individualistic, we run the risk that the emotional skills are self-focused and lack consideration of others, a key social skill and ingredient for resilience.
Developing core skills
A child’s ability to navigate the social world is essential to their development, and even more so for children who may require additional support, explanation and understanding.
Given the loss of social and emotional development opportunities over the past 18 months, there has never been a greater need to help children develop core intrapersonal and interpersonal skills.
While we may claim to have strategies in our schools that aim to value effort over outcome we might also have an academic le