Well-being in child and teenage development

Maravillas Amorós, PhD in Psychology and Director of the Educational and Psycho-Pedagogical Guidance Department at Newton College, lead this talk about the well-being and educational development of children and teenagers, joined by pediatrician Lucía Galán and writer Johanna Habiak, who are both entrepreneurs and mothers. Below, we summarise in several questions and answers, the topics covered throughout this talk.

What impact does well-being have on child and teenagers’ development?

When we as parents choose the school where we want our children to develop, it is essential that we take into account our children’s well-being. 

What do we mean by well-being?

It would be described as that subjective feeling of satisfaction and peacefulness, which has a very significant impact on our quality of life, health and day to day functioning. What we observe, learn, and experience have a very important influence on our development and behavior. It has been proven that well-being deficiencies can cause very serious consequences for our children’s development.

What are the 3 major factors when it comes to well-being?

  • Psychological well-being. The psychological factor or the psychological dimension of well-being, which has to do with what we feel, think, and do.
  • Subjective well-being. Feeling good versus not feeling good about something; that subjective and individual feeling that gives us peace of mind and satisfaction.  
  • Social well-being. This dimension includes the presence or absence of satisfaction in our interactions with other people.

How can I help my child increase their well-being during their developmental stage?

The fulfillment of expectations, or the Pygmalion Effect, claims that the perspective other people have of us will influence what we think and how we do things.

Due to our frenetic lifestyle, we as parents often forget that education also comes from the example we set ourselves.

It has been proven that the psychological dimension is very important, because as parents, in addition to being role models, we can help our children increase their self-confidence. 

For our children to gain self-confidence, they need to understand that there are situations they will have to face throughout their lives over which they will not have 100% control, and we must help them manage that level of uncertainty to help increase their well-being. This reduces our level of worry and helps to maintain a tolerable level of stress and, therefore, optimal health. It will also provide them with the knowledge and tools they need to keep a balance between what they can control and what they cannot.

Examples of what children perceive and how well-being affects development.

When children who are overweight or even obese come for consultation and parents become aware of how much of a problem this is for the child’s physical and emotional health, I ask them if they eat fruit, vegetables, or salads. They answer no, and they ask me for guidelines for the child, to which I reply that they have to understand that, if we are going to give the child healthier food from now on, they must set an example together and start a healthy diet as a family.

Some parents complained that their son was very disrespectful to them and even hit them sometimes. The child wanted to interrupt an argument between his parents, who were raising their voices, and the mother hit him on the head and said: “Shut up, can’t you see that we are talking?” You can’t expect the child to manage his feelings and communicate well if those closest to him don’t.

Sometimes the source of a child’s very disruptive behavior is not based on what is happening outside the home, but on what kind of examples he or she is getting at home.

A family used to come to my practice and I would ask the children what they wanted to do when they grew up, and the little five-year-old would say: “anything but work”. That was because the parents would remark how tedious it was for them to go to work and how happy they were when they had a day off.

Without realising it, these messages that we transmit influence our children, and, in the end, that child comes to the conclusion that their parents do not like going to work. If we talk about work, we must look for something positive.

Many situations can be difficult and stressful, but it’s important to reflect and realise that we are role models for our children. The expectations we place on our children are influenced by the fact that we are role models, and these expectations will influence our children’s behavior.

In what way do you think language can also influence this well-being?

Thoughts can be more positive or more negative and make us feel better or worse. Desmond once said that language creates the reality it describes. This tells us about the importance of positive language, which defines us, builds us as people, and, on the other hand, negative language can send messages of self-destruction to our brains.

“Our thoughts and our language create our reality, so we have to be extremely careful about what we think, and how we communicate, especially if the fruits we reap are not as expected.”

Negative self-talk affects how we feel and, therefore, often conditions our behavior too.

What impact does language have on children’s development and when does it begin?

From the moment our children are born, even before, they already listen to us, they hear sounds, their mother’s heartbeat, and recognise voices.

Children’s brains develop according to the stimuli they receive because one part is determined by genetics, but the other, which is increasingly important, is determined by the environment.

From the very first moment, your baby will already recognise your voice and, gradually, it will recognise your gestures, the way you touch him/her, the way you whisper, the way you raise your voice… These signs will help them identify those feelings.

Let’s communicate with our babies from the very first moment, both verbally and nonverbally.

Progress is made through trial and error. Well-managed conflict helps us to advance because mistakes will help us develop the ability to tolerate frustration and turn it into something positive, which helps us manage our feelings and actions.

What are the factors or variables that can increase well-being and that sense of peacefulness and happiness in our children and their future lives?

The triangle formed by parents, their children and school is crucial, and we all need to steer communication in the same direction.

Our priority is the well-being of your children, which is why in our centers we encourage project-based learning, trial and error, where they are not afraid to make mistakes. We want them to be in an environment where they feel comfortable and develop their full potential and become aware of the relationship between mental health, physical health, and the environment in which we live. We work very hard to teach them life skills, and how to solve their conflicts peacefully so that they feel safe and happy. 

It’s important to humanise ourselves and make them aware of some of our mistakes.

Sometimes we parents worry too much about any kind of difficulty that our children may encounter, but we must help them, patiently, giving them tools so that they are prepared for life and allowing them to learn how to fix their own problems.

Is it important to teach our children to learn from their mistakes, to be frustrated, and to sometimes fail? How important are mistakes in a child’s life?

Life is made up of many failures, and many mistakes. That is where real learning comes from. We perceive our children’s mistakes as failures, but they are one more step towards excellence, towards being better people, and better professionals. 

You learn when you know that following a certain path hasn’t turned out well, the next time you come across a similar path, your brain will automatically divert you away from that path.

How important is parental authority?

Young children distinguish right from wrong through trial and error, so there are some things we can negotiate, but other things where we have to stick with saying “no” in order to guide them in the best possible way.

As they get older and understand boundaries better, we can negotiate many more things with them, because teenage years are all about negotiation.

Negotiation is a tool that will help them manage those moments of frustration and understand that if they want something, they will have to find a reason for it.

Parents are the first and most important authority figure, so limits must be set with love and respect. The rules must be taught before the age of seven, because after that everything becomes a little more difficult.

Of course, we must be there to support our children, but we cannot do everything for them. We must teach them until we are sure that they know how to do things naturally.