Parents' role in developing young people
In my work as a parent coach, and in speaking with friends and colleagues about what they most want for their children when they grow up, the most popular answers tend to be “to be happy and healthy” or “to do their best”.
This chapter will look at how mental toughness can support the development of young children and the positive intentions that parents can have for their children.
The underlying coaching approach and principle of this chapter will be to present information and ideas, yet allow the reader to choose what is most relevant to them in the development of their child and bringing out the best of their potential, talents, and abilities, whether that's in sports, drama, or academia.
I am very mindful of the fact that the definition of “happy and healthy” or “doing their best” is going to mean vastly different things to different people depending on, not least, their family set-up, dynamics, situation, and the individual needs, wants, and abilities of the child. So this chapter does not intend to be directive or prescriptive, rather it is for you to choose what is the most useful information to support your child's development and mental toughness and think about what you can do.
Development of children
The definition of development is “the sequence of physical and psychological changes experienced by human beings, which start with conception and continue throughout life“ (Lindon, 2012, p. 4).
The role of parents in their child's development is to start with the foundations and building blocks in order to prepare them for later life experiences and to be better equipped to cope with the challenges and pressures that they will inevitably face at some point.
In addition to meeting the fundamental basic needs of children (i.e., home, food, clothing), parents need to support the development needs of children in the areas of:
Physical development—there are certain physical milestones that children will achieve (these will vary from child to child) and include:
• gross motor skills, which is the coordination and control of large muscles and skills such as walking, sitting, running.
• fine motor skills, which is the coordination and control of smaller muscles for activities such as holding things, writing, etc.
• vision and hearing, including the interpretation and understanding of what they see and hear around them.
Emotional development—babies are programmed to seek out the things they need by crying. As they mature, children's emotional capabilities expand to allow them to develop skills that will serve them in adulthood. Babies are born with some emotional qualities, however much of their emotional development is down to their parents who need to provide warm, attentive care, and a feeling of security. Healthy social and emotional development allows children to:
• navigate friendships and relationships, including sibling rivalry
• express and manage their own feelings
• develop persistence and attention
• self-regulate their behaviour
• develop an emotional range
develop independence and self-confidence
• understand and empathise with other people's feelings.
Intellectual development—this involves going from “simplistic thinking” as a toddler, right through to being an adult who is capable of independent thinking and understanding of complex issues. This is a gradual and continual process which continues throughout life, and includes things such as:
• recognising different voices
• distinguishing between different objects, shapes, and textures
• understanding words
• consolidating physical development
• developing speech and language
• inquisition—asking “Why?” (a lot!)
• logical thinking and problem solving
• understanding abstract concepts.
Cognitive development and changes in children aren't so easy to spot as this is about how their brains are developing and understanding the world around them, including memory, reasoning, problem-solving, and thinking. You are likely to see changes in your child's behaviour as they learn new experiences and consequences of their actions. Cognitive development stages include:
• simple reflex actions (e.g., grasping, sucking)
• repetitive reflex actions to create interesting results (such as kicking an object)
• coordination of reactions (e.g., picking up a favourite toy)
• developing logical thought patterns.
These development stages cover things such as knowledge, curiosity, courage, confidence, independence, resourcefulness, resilience, patience, competence, and understanding (Holt, 1983) and these together support the components of mental toughness.
Parents play a vital role in the development of their children and in preparing them for managing challenges they will face later on in life as adults. This responsibility can add pressure to parents, most often when they are juggling the demands of childcare and work, so I will also consider how important it is that parents look after their own mental toughness levels and wellbeing.
I share the view advocated by Guldberg (2009) that parents can often feel undermined by media stories and our safety-obsessed culture. I would encourage parents to trust themselves in knowing what is best for their children.
Berk (2008) has argued that transitions in family life over the past decade, such as an increase in divorce, remarried parents, and employed mothers have reshaped the family system. Each change affects the family dynamic and ultimately children's development. While family transitions have always existed, they appear more numerous and visible today than in the past.
Additional pressures of bringing up a family in the twenty-first century include less freedom and independence for children due to media stories, conflicting advice given through the media, children's access to internet information, and lower expectations about what children are capable of (Guldberg, 2009).
Over recent years there has been increased demand for parent coaching to help address these pressures, and research has given us insight into the effectiveness and results that it can achieve.
Even small changes in parent's behaviour or speech patterns can have a significant impact on children's performance, motivation, selfesteem, and confidence.
The responsibility to develop a child's mental toughness isn't just down to their time at school, and is significantly impacted by the social conditions in which a child lives and grows up.
Palmer (2006) concludes that what happens at home profoundly affects children's ability to learn and develop, and when home and school work are in harmony, children have a much better chance of success.