The experts agree that the secret to living a healthy, fulfilled and productive life is getting the balance right and the best place to start is at school, writes Debbie Reynolds
With so much pressure on children to achieve both in the classroom and on the sports field, it’s easy to lose sight of the other important “stuff” like healthy coping skills.
La Lucia counselling psychologist Simon Brittz says more children than ever are anxious and overwhelmed, especially if they are also dealing with peer and parent pressure.
“We can’t expect children to be adults, so parents have to take a leading role, but without living vicariously through their children,” says Simon. “The best way to deal with anxiety is to begin with the end in mind.”
His suggestion is writing out goals at the beginning of each term:
- Two academic goals.
- Two sporting goals.
- Two social goals.
- Two emotional/spiritual goals.
“Then prioritise by putting first things first. Write out what is most important and learn to manage your time. It’s the age-old goal-setting technique – the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.
“So, if you’re facing matric and just seeing a mountain you don’t think you can climb, break it down into bite-size chunks and take the first step and the next will follow.”
Reaching your goals requires more than just determination and dogged hard work. To be at your most effective also means looking after yourself.
“Write out three ways you plan to achieve this,” says Simon. “Look at your emotional, social and physical well-being and address each one so that you are not just focusing on getting the best marks or making the first sports team.”
Getting the balance right might differ according to each child’s goals, but whatever these are, parents need to make sure their children don’t burn out by neglecting those things that help them cope. These are the ways parents can help maintain balance:
- Don’t overschedule or allow children to overschedule.
- Make sleep a priority.
- Ensure children are eating properly.
- Set electronic curfews.
- Manage your own stress.
- Make mornings calm.
- Check your own attitude to mistakes and failures.
“If parents are anxious and frenetic and in conflict then children will pick up on that negative energy,” says Simon. “You can’t expect your child to be calm and organised if you are all over the place.
“As a parent you must set limits and boundaries, but as your children grow up and you observe they are doing it themselves, you can step back. If you then see they are out of kilter you step back in and re-establish the rules.”
Children might not always ask for help so parents need to know what to look out for, including:
- Somatic symptoms – headaches and stomach aches.
- Sleep issues.
- Academic changes – especially poor concentration.
- Mood changes – depression, sadness, irritability, flatness and demotivation.
- Pervasive sense or feeling of worry.
“The best way to deal with children who are having problems is to notice out loud and ask are you OK?” says Simon. “Break the problem down into isolated parts, discuss each part, devise a strategy to deal with each part and help where necessary.
“It might mean the parent phoning the coach to discuss better training options or setting up extra lessons for a problem subject.”
He says by finding solutions to immediate issues, the perceived crisis is often averted.
We asked some overachievers how they get the balance right:
MISHE CHITARAI, Northlands’ Girls, High Dux 2018:
This Phoenix teenager puts her success down to hard work and sacrifice, but also strongly advocates doing the things you love and not taking yourself too seriously.
“While I wait for my matric results and decide where I’ll study actuarial science, I am relaxing, spending time with family and friends and taking advantage of the holiday,” she says.
“I realised from Grade 1 that you have to set goals and work hard to achieve them. Reaping the rewards at the end of the term motivated me.” Doing well in matric has always been her dream, but she made sure she was mentally and physically prepared. “I played soccer for the school team until my matric year, then decided to give it up so that I could concentrate on my studies.
“I also went out and had fun, but I didn’t go mad and I didn’t give up my cellphone,” she laughs. “Yes, to achieve any goal some things may have to take a back seat, but that doesn’t mean you have to give them up forever.
“It’s important to be exposed to a range of things,” she says. “We can’t exist in isolation. Playing soccer helped me relax, meet people and increased my academic productivity.”
Her best advice to learners is to “avoid trying to be perfect”. “It’s good to have goals, but you don’t have to have everything figured out. Use the support around you and, most of all, reward yourself when you’ve completed a task or reached a milestone.”
ANDREW SUTTON, Northwood Boys’, High matriculant and recording artist:
The 18-year-old has been singing since he stole the show aged six as one of the three kings in his school nativity play. Three years later he entered the Gateway to Fame talent competition and blew the judges away.
“That opened a lot of doors for me and I’ve been performing ever since,” says Andrew. “Music is my absolute passion and I can’t imagine doing anything else.” But he first had to get through matric, which meant his singing career had to take a back seat.
“Thanks to my mentor and manager, Gangs of Ballet frontman Brad Klynsmith, I released my first single One More Chance in 2017. If I had my way, I would have concentrated on releasing more songs last year, but my priority had to be finishing matric.
“I am super conscious of how fickle the music industry is, so having a good education was my goal for 2018.” He did, however, still find time to write and record his own song, which he hopes will be on the airwaves by the time you’re reading this.
“While I am following my music passion, I will also look at doing tertiary studies, because I know it is important to not be one dimensional.”
He also advises keeping fit and healthy by finding something you love to do. “I played soccer, cricket and hockey at school and I love surfing. You must make sure you look after every part of yourself – and my life lesson is also to stay humble. The opportunity to make someone else happy through my music is what motivates me.”
BONGI MSOMI, Protea netball captain and coach:
Growing up in Hammarsdale in a very traditional Zulu family, Bongi wasn’t encouraged to play sport and when it came to academics she was largely left to her own devices.
“My parents were very strict and worked hard, but I had to discipline myself when it came to studying and homework. Back then, if you were a township kid it wasn’t unusual to fail a class and young girls often got pregnant.
“I wanted to make sure I got a good education and was lucky to find netball even though I was already in Grade 11.” Bongi had tagged along to netball practice with some of her neighourhood friends and because they were a player short the coach asked her to step in.
“Straight away he spotted something in me and encouraged me to join the training sessions, helping me with the drills so that I could catch up to the team,” says Bongi (right).
She is now the national team captain, runs coaching programmes and is an ambassador for the Girls Only Project, which aims to create a more equal sporting landscape for African women.
Because of her experience she advises that children try different sports in primary school, so they get an all-round feel for what they like. “It’s easier to teach a youngster than it is to teach teenagers who often are embarrassed to try something new,” she says. “Giving time to academics and sport teaches you time management and responsibility. It’s good to be busy and focused rather than wandering around streets or malls. Being exposed to lots of things early on helps you understand what you want later in life.
“Children do need time out, but if they have goals then they will use their time wisely to realise their dreams.”
SCHOOLS ON GETTING THE BALANCE RIGHT:
THE WYKEHAM COLLEGIATE
“Our core value is balance and our girls are required to play a sport or take part in a physical activity every term. A wide variety of clubs and societies – such as choir, wind ensemble, debating, enviro and outreach – are timetabled into the school day so that they do not clash with sporting or after-school commitments. This encourages the girls to take part in at least one club or society each term. Music is also widely acknowledged as a positive influence on academic achievement and discipline. Girls learn to manage their time well, and often our top academic achievers are also our busiest girls.”
– Sue Tasker, Lady Principal
“Our daily challenge is to reinforce each child’s intrinsic value. We strive to create a healthy environment, where children can be children and the focus is on age-appropriate learning and development, both in the classroom and on the sports field. Our desire is to create a lifelong love of physical activity during these formative years, focusing on the opportunity to experience, not necessarily excel. When you remove the fear of unfair judgement and pressure, you see children grow in their love of school and learning.”
– Brad Cooper, Headmaster
“As the world changes with the influence of artificial intelligence and technology, there is a definite focus to change from purely academic pursuits to include the development of one’s entrepreneurial skills and to maximise the skills that are beyond the reach of artificial intelligence. Creative skills, human skills such as empathy and the spirit of perseverance are hallmarks of entrepreneurship, and this is where our new generation of students need to be headed. Team work is another facet gained from sport, and the enjoyment and physical and mental health benefits from spending time with peers doesn’t hurt either. Art, music and dance are equally important in developing the mind to see problems and situations from a different perspective. If modern academics requires ingenuity, creativity, discipline and perseverance, then sports and cultural pursuits should be emphasised with greater positivity and embraced by all those who want to meet with success.”
– Bridget Aaron, Head of Grade 8 and 9
DURBAN GIRLS’ COLLEGE
“One of the greatest advantages of playing sport and being fit is a more positive body image and an increase in confidence. Skills practiced in sport like leadership, organisation, problem solving and strategy are of great value in the classroom. Being fit has major health benefits like being more energetic and alert, which helps concentration enormously. However, children should not be overextended in their sporting commitments as this is counter-productive – they tire easily and are not able to concentrate as well.”
– Wendy Laatz, Head of Senior PrimaryTags: education, schools