Share openly: Children have different strengths and not every child is an A student

Rakhi Beekrum: “Be open to listening to their challenges and concerns and ask how you can support them”

Every child is unique, has their own strengths, challenges and their own path, says the writer. Picture: Filimonov

Published Dec 15, 2023


THERE is often a lot of pressure on students to perform, as we’ve traditionally associated success with academic performance. While we understand the importance of good grades to succeed in this tough economic climate and considering the high unemployment rate, your child’s mental health matters more than their grades.

As we prepare for results season, it’s important to bear the following in mind:

Have realistic expectations: Children have different strengths and not every child is an A student. Be realistic about your child’s strengths and challenges and consider other factors that may have impacted on their performance/results, for example, family crises, illness, mental health struggles, attention deficits, relationship stressors, etc.

Open communication: This is only possible when we create a safe, non-judgmental space for children to share openly. Listen to understand. Ask questions that help you understand better. Be open to listening to their challenges and concerns and ask how you can support them. When parents respond without considering and validating their child’s feelings, the child will feel unheard and is less likely to be open and honest.

Do not compare your child to others: Some parents unconsciously compare their children to siblings, cousins or friends. Every child is unique, has their own strengths, challenges and their own path.

Balance feedback: Recognise when your child has put in the effort. We motivate children by acknowledging when they have tried. Children are more receptive to constructive criticism when it is balanced by positive feedback too. Help them discover how they could improve in future. When we focus on only the negative aspects (for example, you are always on your phone), without acknowledging where they did try, children are less likely to benefit.

Regulate and co-regulate emotions: It is naturally disappointing when a child’s results do not reflect their ability. Be mindful of their emotions and be present to support them given the emotions they are experiencing. Giving a lecture to a child who is already feeling despondent, will not improve anything. Give yourself space to acknowledge and regulate your own emotions. It’s difficult enough for children to experience their own disappointment, so it’s a lot harder when we express our disappointment before they’ve processed their own.

Focus on solutions: Once emotions are regulated, look at the options going forward for those children who did not do as well as expected. Do they need tuition? Do they need to consider changing subjects or courses? Do they require some professional input? Do they need to take a gap year?

Seek professional help when required: Whether it’s to assess for learning difficulties, career choices or for mental health support, be open to getting assistance from the appropriate professionals.

How to Identify when your child might need to see a mental health professional:

– If their academic performance was negatively affected by personal stressors, poor coping skills or relationship/social stressors.

– Decline in mood – for example, persistent sadness or tearfulness.

– Social withdrawal.

– Not enjoying things that they previously enjoyed.

– Self harm.

– Significant change in appetite or weight.

– Changes in sleep patterns – insomnia or hypersomnia (wanting to sleep all the time).

– Irritability and mood swings

– Suicidal thoughts

Some parents feel that their child needing to seek help for mental health means they have failed as a parent. This is not true. The reality is that no one teaches us how to parent. Acknowledging, supporting and getting professional help for your child when they are struggling with their mental health is one of the best things you can do as a parent.

Rakhi Beekrum is a counselling psychologist in Durban North with more than 14 years’ experience in individual and couples’ therapy. Her expert advice has been featured in South African and international print and digital media, on radio and television. She uses her social media platforms to spread mental health awareness and to reduce the stigma.

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