Positive influences are motivational. An inspiring speaker on a TED podcast, a great track or an uplifting conversation can change your day. Purposefully exposing ourselves to positive influences, as an adult, is a skill developed over time. We know what makes us feel better; where we prefer to sit and who to gravitate towards, based on experience. In fact, many adults prioritize positive influences, like an ocean swim or a morning walk, to set the mood for every new day. Children, in contrast, are not as purposeful and they lack the life experience required to rule out negative influences.
Children, typically, take the ‘good with the bad’. Most endure loud commercial breaks when watching TV, many sit on concrete when eating lunch and access to a decent conversation depends upon their designated desk in the classroom. When choice is limited, as it often is at school, young people need to know how to advocate for better options. Parents and teachers are in the best position to explore the choices children make both at home and school.
To better understand the influences on children in the school setting, our psychologists conduct playground and classroom observations. Typically funded by parents, an observation is an opportunity to witness children making choices about their social and physical environment. I recall one particularly overcrowded war zone, surrounded by concrete in a urban boy’s school, when the student in question, lay on his stomach behind a wall for 40 minutes, in order to dodge fast-flying tennis balls and much larger boys moving at great speed. The playground was far from positive for this pupil. Rather, it was a place to keep your wits about you, while waiting for the bell to ring.
Adolescents are particularly susceptible to negative influences and often they lack confidence to walk away or make a better choice. Secondary school classrooms are typically, rowdy, competition is rife between students and some teachers are far from a positive influence on their students. The temperature, the teacher’s voice tone and the size of the room, obviously all impact on the student’s classroom experience. A lack of positive influences at school will result in frustrated, resentful and demotivated young people.
Luckily, parents of primary school students can actively contribute the the classroom atmosphere by volunteering for reading on a regular basis. Parents of secondary school students are advised to explore the school from a student’s perspective. Use the toilets and decide if they can be improved. Volunteering to fix the locks on the doors or sponsoring a cleaning service has the potential to positively impact on many students, but these details are often overlooked. Talk directly to teachers who routinely yell at or disrespect students. An abusive atmosphere impacts on the majority, as well as the minority being targeted. By following up your concerns, you are demonstrating your commitment to the importance of positive influences.
Consider bringing more positive influences into your home and in the process you will be educating your children on the various sources of positivity. Try ‘thinky’ podcasts or background music, subtle lighting, chatty friends, fresh airflow and the occasional lounge room yoga session! After all, adults can easily identify negative influences on children, but seeking out the positive has taken a lifetime. Share your personal recipe with your child and then together you can explore what works for them. It may be that a solo bike ride becomes their preference over a sibling squabble.
Recommended resources and program:
1. Take the Time: Mindfulness for Kids by Maud Roegiers (ages 4-8 years).
2. Tell Me a Story by Quirky Kid (for families)
3. Adolescent Mentoring program - provide community-based inspiration (12-16 years)