Every mum wants their kids to be healthy, happy and fulfilled. But for kids today, issues such as bullying, excessive use of social media and concern over global issues can make it harder than ever to protect and promote our child’s wellbeing – mentally, physically and emotionally.
But what exactly is wellbeing, and why does it matter? And how can you promote the wellbeing of your child?
Let’s look at a definition first.
What is wellbeing?
You probably have a good idea of what wellbeing means, but it’s complex and notoriously difficult to define. As the Victorian Government’s Better Health Channel points out, wellbeing is more than the absence of disease or illness. They describe it as “a complex combination of a person’s physical, mental, emotional and social health factors”.
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They add that wellbeing is “strongly linked to happiness and life satisfaction” and could be described briefly as “how you feel about yourself and your life”.
Every aspect of your life influences your wellbeing, including your relationships, spiritual or religious beliefs, personal outlook, financial situation and physical health factors such as nutrition, exercise and sleep.
Why your child’s wellbeing matters
The Australian Government has recognised that resilience and wellbeing are essential for a student’s academic and social development, and are “optimised by safe, supportive and respectful learning environments”.
As they write: “Not only do confident and resilient children with a capacity for emotional intelligence perform better academically, these skills can also contribute to their ability to create strong social bonds and supportive communities, and to maintain healthy relationships and responsible lifestyles.”
After examining numerous wellbeing definitions, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) came up with this definition of student wellbeing:
“A sustainable state of positive mood and attitude, resilience and satisfaction with self, relationships and experiences at school.”
As the NSW Government’s Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation say, school is about more than just academic outcomes, but “is about wellbeing of the ‘whole child'”.
They add that students with higher levels of wellbeing are more likely to:
- have higher achievement outcomes at school
- complete Year 12
- have better mental health
- lead a more pro-social, responsible lifestyle.
The Australian Student Wellbeing Framework
Recognising the vital role schools play in promoting the wellbeing of students, the Australian Government launched the Australian Student Wellbeing Framework in October 2018.
This document gives schools best-practice advice for developing and implementing policies and support mechanisms to help kids from their first year at school to year 12. It covers five key elements of leadership, inclusion, student voice, partnerships and support.
Find out more on the Student Wellbeing Hub website.
How parents can promote their students’ wellbeing
While the school plays an important part, parents have a crucial role. Here are five things you can do to help foster wellbeing in your children.
1. Ensure they are well-nourished
A lot of research has confirmed that diet is linked to educational outcomes.
For example, studies show that a child’s nutritional status can directly impact their brain function and mental capacity. Deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals, such as iron, thiamine, vitamin E, vitamin B, iodine, and zinc, can negatively affect cognitive function and concentration.
Ensuring your student has a balanced, healthy diet also means they are better prepared to learn. Healthier students are less likely to get sick and miss school. They are also likely to have better behaviour, which creates a more positive learning environment for everyone.
Furthermore, a better-quality diet is associated with better exam performance.
In short, good nutrition gives your student the best chance of fulfilling their potential at school.
2. Adequate physical activity
A large and growing body of evidence continues to support the link between exercise and wellbeing. Although this link is less clear in children and adolescents than in adults, research into this area is expanding.
For example, this 2019 review of reviews’ explored recent research on physical activity and depression, self-esteem, and cognitive functioning in youth.
The authors concluded there is partial evidence for a causal association between physical activity and depression in young people. The strongest evidence, however, is for a causal association between physical activity and cognitive functioning.
Adequate physical activity is linked with higher academic achievement and improved classroom behaviour. For example, this 2017 meta-analysis looked at results from 26 studies involving 10,205 children aged from 4 to 13 years. Researchers found that physical activity, especially physical education, improved classroom behaviours and benefited several aspects of academic achievement, particularly mathematics-related skills and reading.
In Australia, Department of Health guidelines recommend children aged 5-12 years accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity every day. This should include a variety of aerobic activities, including some vigorous activity. Plus, at least three days per week, children should do activities that strengthen muscle and bone.
It’s also recommended that children aged 5-12 years minimise the time spent being sedentary every day. This could include limiting use of electronic media for entertainment to no more than two hours per day, and breaking up periods of sitting as often as possible.
3. Good sleep
The power of a good nights’ sleep can’t be overstated. This was highlighted in results from a survey of almost 47,000 children, which showed that those who regularly have the recommended hours of sleep each night reported significantly higher levels of both happiness and feelings of safety.
Conducted by the University of Melbourne and the ABC’s Behind the News kids program, even researchers were surprised at the results.
“We all know that sleep is important but we didn’t realise just how significant it is as an indicator of a child’s wellbeing,” said Professor Lisa Gibbs, Chair of the University of Melbourne’s Children’s Lives Initiative.
“The data doesn’t give us a cause and effect, but it reveals a very strong association that suggests if kids aren’t getting the right amount of sleep, something isn’t right.”
The Australian Government’s Healthdirect website notes that getting adequate sleep is “vital for your child’s physical health, brain function, emotional wellbeing, safety, and ability to function day to day”.
Conversely, not getting enough sleep or not sleeping well can affect learning and lead to mood swings and behavioural problems.
As a general guide, they recommend that children need the following amounts of sleep every night:
- ages 3 to 5: 10 to 13 hours
- ages 6 to 13: 9 to 11 hours
- ages 14 to 17: 8 to 10 hours.
They also provide a helpful list of sleep tips for children and links to other resources.
4. Healthy relationships
The vital necessity of social connectedness for wellbeing is also well-established in adults, and continues to be explored in children and adolescents. The trend seems to be positive.
More recently, this 2019 study looked at the relationship between perceived social support, being bullied, and mental health difficulties in 3,737 year 8 students. They found a significant association between a perceived lack of support, perceived social support from friends and family, and mental health difficulties in girls (though not in boys).
While more research is needed, common sense indicates that having good relationships with family, friends and teachers will positively impact wellbeing. Your kids can benefit from good friendships with peers and relationships with extended family and mentors such as coaches, teachers, youth leaders or pastors.
5. Encourage online safety
According to 2020 figures compiled by Broadband Search, 95 per cent of today’s teens are connected to the internet and 85 per cent use social media. If your child goes online, staying safe there is vital to wellbeing.
While you might worry that your tech skills are no match for your children’s, what you do have is greater life experience and wisdom. Parents play a crucial role in helping their kids learn to be safe, responsible digital citizens.
As Broadband Search figures note, cyberbullying is on the rise, with 36.5 per cent of people beleiving they have been cyberbullied in their lifetime – up from 18.8 per cent in 2007.
Statistics from Bullying. No way! indicate that approximately 20 per cent of people under the age of 18 report experiencing online bullying in any one year. Furthermore, 84 percent of students who were bullied online were also bullied in person.
The Student Wellbeing Hub advises parents to:
- Share cybersafety tips with your child
- Explain internet law to your child
- Follow screentime guidelines
- Be aware about gaming, gambling and young people.
The Australian Governments’ Bullying. No Way! website is a great resource, covering heaps of information about bullying and how to deal with it.
This might sound like a lot to do, especially if – like me – you have a device-loving, exercise-loathing, sweet-toothed young person.
But even small changes will make a difference. Start with one thing and build from there. Over time, little changes will become habits that give your child the best chance of lifelong wellbeing.
How do you promote your child’s wellbeing? Tell us in the comments below.