Many parents today feel that their child’s academic success is the number one priority. They want their children to live happy, successful lives, and they feel that academic achievement is absolutely necessary to achieve that goal. Many parents consider the possibility of consistent low or even mediocre grades to be absolutely unacceptable, even somewhat of a disaster. Some parents feel that consistent poor grades means they have failed as parents, and that it will lead their child to a lifetime of unacceptable mediocrity.
I agree that academic success is very important.
However in order to ensure that success, it is sometimes necessary to give priority to some necessary prerequisites, at least in the short run, which will pave the way for greatness in learning.
Let’s take physical health and safety. If a child was God forbid very sick or broke his leg, would you insist he still went to school and did all his homework? That is surely ridiculous! Obviously healing his leg is more important than school. But not only that in itself, but the best way to ensure his future good performance in school is to take care of healing his leg first. Obviously if you don’t do that he won’t be able to function in the long run and he will do terribly in school on top of having a broken leg.
But there is another need and prerequisite to academic success that a child has, which is actually even more important than physical health: Emotional Health!
A child with even a missing leg, who has strong emotional health, although he will be disadvantaged, he can still live a relatively happy successful life. But if you have a child whose body is completely sound, but has serious or even moderate emotional health issues, his life will most likely be one of debilitation and misery! The mind is the absolute centerpiece of any person’s life. If it is compromised, everything else falls apart.
Therefore when considering emotional health and learning, I’m saying that emotional health is definitely more important than academics and should be given a higher priority, but I’m not saying you need to let academics deteriorate. I’m saying that putting emotional health in children first is actually the greatest way to guarantee success in school and in life over the long run! Solid mental health is the foundation upon which all other successes rest.
So how do I balance emotional health and learning for my child?
There are several things, the most important of which is that your child must be happy! As I have written about extensively in my blog, joy, satisfaction, pleasure and contentment is an absolutely critical element in emotional health. Happiness is like the gasoline that gives a child the strength to persevere through his day. Remember that childhood is a microcosm of the entire lifespan, and to the extent that a child is happy and has positive experiences in childhood, he will be content and successful for the rest of his adult life. But if he is miserable and troubled in childhood, the rest of his life is very likely follow that pattern.
For example, never think that giving a child a fun and pleasant activity, such as a game or watching a movie, is a waste of time or a frivolous indulgence.
Such an activity is extremely important, through which you are providing much needed joy which will later serve as fuel for emotional health, success in school, good behavior, and pleasant family relationships! All children need 3-4 hours of intense pleasure and happiness every single day, and giving them that is the surest way to guarantee the success of all the wonderful goals you have for them. When a child is regularly gladdened, he thinks: “I love being alive! I’m so happy to be here. My parents make me so happy, I love them so much! I am so overjoyed, that no challenge seems to difficult to overcome. I am so motivated to do all the important things that I need to do every day! My life is so wonderful that I feel there is nothing I can’t do!”
The key to emotional health in children is to wake up with the mantra of “How can I make my child’s day happy and pleasant?”
Always strive to be yourself as a parent, a source of joy and support to your child and never a source of stress. Many parents feel that they need to be harsh with their children sometimes, even creating conflicting and negative interactions, in order to create discipline or to teach some kind of lesson. But as I write about in my blog, such parenting behavior is only extremely rarely called for. On a daily basis, negative parenting interventions that generate stress or bad feelings almost always do much more harm than good! I’ve seen this truth at play many times. However raising a child’s happiness level consistently actually totally prevents and defuses all the behavior problems that such dubious discipline is meant to address! Therefore make gladdening your child every day’s top priority, and that will give him the best chance of getting into Harvard, not some silly test scores.
In addition we must remember that the parent-child relationship is the most important element in creating happiness and emotional health.
We must therefore zealously guard the integrity and quality of that relationship of all costs, making a child feel warmed, and connected, and avoiding conflict like the plague. Above all the child must feel his parents deep respect for him, which means appreciating and celebrating the value of each child’s uniqueness.
Furthermore a critical aspect of emotional health and learning is developing the habit of a conscious awareness of everyday emotional life,
which means being aware of, validating verbally and honoring as many emotional states as possible. A child may not be able to do everything he wants, but he should be able to feel everything he needs to feel! We must allow and even celebrate all of our child’s feelings, even negative ones such as anger and disappointment. In addition a child needs to get in the habit of respecting and honoring his desires, which leads him to be assertive, self-confident and decisive. We accomplish this by us as parents ourselves honoring our child’s feelings and desires, and he will learn from our example and respect himself.
Now we must bear in mind that although as I have said I agree that academic success is a worthy value, it’s importance is somewhat overrated.
It’s very tempting to use grades and academics as your child’s indicator, as they are very quantitative and easily measurable. It is an easy source of pride and it is something you can brag about, “Oh, my daughter was valedictorian!” or, “She’s going to Columbia!” No one would brag, “Guess what, my child has emotional health! His happiness level is in the 98th percentile!” even though that is actually much more to be proud of.
We must remember that there are many people who were top students, whose lives turned out to be barely mediocre, or often miserable failures.
And there are countless lackluster students that went on to be highly successful, content and respected. Therefore I am saying that objective academic excellence in childhood is NOT the most important indicator for lifelong success. Rather it is emotional health, happiness, a strong parent-child relationship, appreciating the value of kindness, and above all, a habit of always following your bliss. That’s it, always seeking to engage in what you enjoy and in what gives you satisfaction is the greatest indicator of lifelong success. Most highly successful people deeply enjoy their work, and honor and respect their desires, feelings and preferences. They are also the most respected individuals and the most pleasant to be around. But forcing a child to do things he hates, rarely has a good outcome.
Feel free to peruse my fascinating blog at your leisure. If you are looking for guidance in balancing emotional health and learning, and feel I may be the right therapist for you, you may chat with me in the chat box, or call me directly at 646-681-1707 for a complementary 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!