By Linda Stade
‘Choose your battles wisely.’
It is sage advice, particularly when it comes to parenting children and young people. Nobody has the capacity to tackle every bothersome behaviour every time. It would rob you of connection, and frankly, nobody has that kind of energy.
However, what are the battles worth taking on? Could you list your family’s non-negotiables here and now?
Each family will have different values and priorities, so their non-negotiables will also vary. Regardless, it is important that they are decided upon early and communicated clearly. You can’t expect kids to read your mind.
Here are six battles that we at Lourdes Hill College believe are worth having consistently this school year. May your battles be gently won!
1. Argue for sleep
If you want to improve your child’s life immediately, there is a silver bullet… sleep. Deep, restful sleep is essential for development, as well as mental and physical health. However, our children are suffering from sleep deprivation.
A government study of Australian children found that around a quarter of 12 – 15-year-olds, and half of 16 - 17-year-olds, don’t get enough sleep on school nights.
Lack of sleep impacts the learning and management centres of the brain, and a child’s ability to manage their relationships and emotions. It makes life more difficult… for everyone!
How much sleep do school-aged kids need?
per 24-hour period
Pre-schoolers: 3 to 5 years
10 to 13 hours (including naps)
Grade-schoolers: 6 to 12 years
9 to 11 hours
Teens: 13 to 18 years
8 to 10 hours
Kids can struggle with going to bed and staying there, because they are simply not comfortable lying in the dark, in their own heads. Being alone with our thoughts is an essential life skill and can be wonderful. Give them this gift by arguing that they go to bed and stay there until they fall asleep.
You can help with sleep by having set wind-down and sleep routines like screens off an hour before bed, a nice warm shower, and then reading in bed. We can also reduce our kids’ intake of caffeine and sugar.
2. Argue for school attendance
Since COVID-19, Lourdes Hill College has been on a directed campaign to ensure all students are at school as often as their health allows. Why? What’s wrong with taking a day off now and then?
If your child misses one day per fortnight of school, they will miss a whole year of education over the course of their twelve years. Let that sink in.
It is not only a year of educational opportunities, but also a year of socialisation, community connection, self-management, and the support of specialised professionals who have been employed to help you nurture your child.
Principal Kay Gleeson is also very aware of the importance of attendance for a whole school day, rather than arriving late or leaving early. She says that part-time absenteeism teaches students they can simply opt out of the parts of life they don’t enjoy or find hard. That is not what we want for our kids, we want a life fully lived.
3. Argue for family time
As kids get older, they crave more and more time with their peers. It is a natural process of gradually learning who they are in the social web of life. However, that doesn’t mean they should ever be allowed to disregard the need for family time.
Your family is your child’s home base and launch pad. Too often people believe it is natural to just let kids drift away because, “Well, they’re teenagers now”. Don’t. Put boundaries around family time.
We want to walk beside our kids through their growth and development. Trusted adults are better guides for kids than their peers. We make better decisions and give better advice (Generally!). That sort of influence is not born of overbearing discipline. It comes from connection. Foster connection.
Make boundaries around family time that are consistent, like ‘Mealtime is family time.’ You can also develop routines and rituals that your kids come to look forward to. In my home, it was always ‘Fish and Chips Friday’ and family camping on holidays.
4. Argue for honesty
We cannot assume that kids will always be honest with us. Lying is a naturally acquired skill to avoid conflict and difficulty. If you want honesty, you must argue for it, role model it, and teach it.
You teach honesty by practicing when they are young with simple things like, ‘Have you brushed your teeth?’ It is easy to check and easy to reward. If you don’t argue for honesty at that level, you cannot expect an honest answer down the track to, “Were you drinking alcohol at the party last night?”
Honesty from all parties leads to open communication and trust. That trust is essential.
Your kids need to know that even if they tell you something you really don’t want to hear, you will listen and you will support them. This doesn’t mean there will be no consequences, but it does mean you will be a safe harbour.
5. Argue for sky time
Our kids need more sky time as opposed to time under a roof. There are many kids who each morning walk from their house to a car, get dropped off at school and walk straight into a building where they spend the day, before being picked up and returned home to spend the evening indoors doing homework or watching a screen.
These kids aren’t feeling the earth underfoot, the sun on their faces, their gaze doesn’t fall on a horizon, and certainly they’re never saturated by a shower of rain. Humans need this connection with the natural world.
Time under the sky in blue and green spaces increases a person’s sense of wellbeing and resilience. It can also counter some of the effects of mental ill-health. A study of 20,000 people by the University of Exeter found that just two hours in nature per week was enough to make a substantial difference. However, with sky time, it is a case of more is always more!
Even living in the city, most Australians have access to parks, bushlands, river systems, or the ocean. At home we can further connect our kids to nature by growing vegetable patches with them and by having pets that they need to nourish and nurture. At school, there are cocurricular programs that offer brilliant opportunities for being outdoors.
Argue for sky time, if for no other reason than it feels good!
6. Argue for kindness
Last, but by no means least, argue for kindness… always. Students at Lourdes Hill College are taught that their patron, Saint Benedict asked that we listen with ‘the ear of our heart’.
The dynamics of children’s social interactions can sometimes be mean or thoughtless. They can be driven by the need to fit in socially. That need can compete with the need to be kind.
It’s our job to always argue for kindness. We need to remind kids to turn on their hearts even when it is difficult. That means standing up for the child who is being bullied, sitting with the child who has lunch alone, and not judging others by their weakest moments, but by their greatest.
Imagine if we raised a generation who listen with their hearts!
The battles we choose should keep our kids safe and healthy. They also tell our kids what sort of people we want them to be. Choose your priorities carefully, be persistent, and don’t sweat the small stuff. If their room is messy, that’s annoying, but ultimately okay. Save your energy for the battles that matter.