With fall fully upon us, as parents, we are (hopefully) well past our child’s first-day jitters, and have eased into a smooth transition back to school after the summer holidays. Even with all the effort we put into making our child’s first few weeks back as comfortable and memorable as possible, we may have overlooked asking them a simple – yet essential – question: Are you feeling happy at school?
It should come as no surprise that happiness and learning are strongly correlated.
As a teacher, I know the most productive learning happens when students are happy and relaxed, when they are in harmony with other people and their environment.
I often think about our students from the perspective of a parent, and what I would want for them if they were my child. Having a son who breezes through school and a daughter who has to work much harder than him in certain subjects, I check in with my children often; I try to listen carefully to how they are feeling.
Here are a few tips to build on – and build on an awareness of – your child’s sense of happiness at school:
1. Cultivate competency
Encouraging your child’s natural curiosity and reflecting on their educational progress helps build their inner sense of competency. An attitude of proactive learning comes from opportunities that hone their sense of discovery and wonder, which, in turn, promotes self-esteem and a feeling of achievement.
• After school, you can reflect on what your child has learned in the day. Remind them that learning is a process – new skills are being built upon earlier skills.
• Reinforce your child’s feeling that “I can do this” in the many tasks they come across at home and at school.
2. Friendship matters
Friendships are essential to happiness. Close friendships kindle a student’s feeling of safety at school and of being valued by their peers. Your child wants to feel a sense of belonging, as well as a necessary part of a group.
• Reflect on your child’s overall personality – are they outgoing or are they somewhat shy?
• Sit down with your child and list their positive attributes and personal strengths.
• Inquire and listen to what they tell you about their friends and who they spend their time with during the “unstructured” moments, such as lunch and recess.
3. Open and honest communication
As parents, we try to connect with our children on a regular basis. Parents really do know their children best. If you sense your child is struggling and feeling unhappy, it is useful to ask specific questions, such as, “How do you feel when [scenario]” rather than posing questions that can be answered with a yes/no response.
• Your child may find some scenarios, subjects, or activities more challenging than others. Talk to them and acknowledge their feelings – positive and negative – as legitimate.
By beginning the dialogue with your child and practicing deep listening, parents can start to gauge how things are going at school.
Teachers and parents can partner together and share their insights– and intervene if necessary. There is a large body of evidence that shows students experiencing happier emotions perceive more options when solving problems. They also tend to be better team players, which enhances friendships – a positive feedback loop.
Parent, Teacher and Junior School Director @ Lower Canada College in Montreal