Kids Speak Out – and this is what they’re telling us they need

Imagine being able to look into the minds of your children and discover what they’re thinking; what they want and need from three of the most important anchors in their lives – parents, school and friends. 

On their recent Year 6 excursion to Canberra, surrounded only by trees, bushwalks, wildlife, and many insects with various bushwalks connecting the students and their campsite to rivers, rocky vantage points and secret solitary reflection points, we asked our students to reflect on the following questions:  

What are the criteria for great parenting? 
What do students need from their teachers? 
What is important to students with regards to friends? 

Here’s what they told us. 

On parenting (enlightening, amusing, and thought provoking) 

Our students shared that they acknowledge that being a good parent is difficult. They commented that with their first child, parents may not understand how difficult the job of parenting would be. There was a sense that many parents must have found the job manageable or even enjoyable because they had more than one child! They felt that children need to be nice to their parents due to the stress they experience raising a child. They understand that parents can never be sure that they’re parenting right, and on top of everything else, they don’t understand how to manage social media and technology fully. They also believe that there are different challenges depending on whether your children are boys or girls. Most children believed that it would be easier to raise boys than girls, as girls feel more pressure about looking or acting a certain way. They believe that girls get more upset about things and want to discuss things for ages. They felt shopping is easier with boys and cooking is easier when preparing food for boys as compared to girls. They believe that boys mess things up in the house but they eat anything, and don’t want to talk much.  

It was impressive that students understood these views as stereotypical. They understood that not all children fitted the perceptions that they had shared, and they laughed and discussed the challenges, differences, and exceptions to the above ‘rules’ they described. Whilst they empathised with their parents, they also quoted some funny things their parents always say such as, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t”, “You’ll finish me off!”, and of course the exasperated, “Stoooooooooop!”.  

Our students explained that parents need to enact the following guidelines to be successful in their child rearing: 

  1. Say no. “Parents need to know when to stop us from doing something so that they help us to understand how not to go too far.” 
  1. Build a good material value system and moral value system. Our students don’t simply want parents to give them whatever they ask for, in fact they shared that it was better not to have certain requests honoured even if children moaned. This helps them to appreciate what they have or what they receive and gives them the chance to work for things. They all felt very lucky to have decent homes and felt that all children should show respect by doing chores. 
  1. Give of your time. Parents giving children time was communicated as being of utmost importance. Spending time with children was more important to our students than material gifts. Their memories so far all related to sharing and connected times. 
  1. Parent support is the most important support of all. Whether it was cheering from the sidelines at sports carnivals, spectating at plays or sitting in the zone with students as they worked through their emotional, physical or academic pain or fear, parent support was irreplaceable. One student said, “A good parent is always there for you. They help you with homework and help you to get things done one step at a time.” This support is seen to help students through hard times. What is important is that love and parenting is given without judgement. What children want is unconditional love in a trusted environment where they are told when they “mess up”, and they are guided to solve their problems. 
  1. Be authentic even if you appear cross or shout.  All parents sometimes have to shout and they don’t have to speak calmly like a meditation soundtrack. If they are cross, our students say that they want their parents to tell them what they’ve done wrong, give a consequence and not negotiate. What is preferred is that parents choose explaining before shouting. One student said “My parents take care of me, feed me, house me, and take responsibility for me; I know that if I do something wrong, they will give me consequences and they aren’t doing it for fun, they are doing it to teach me so I learn and don’t do it again.”  
  1. Understand “Kidz and Tech”. We know about the tech tantrum and what happens when children are asked to get off their phones or stop playing a game. What is interesting is that children want parents to help them balance tech time, reflect on experiences and content, and find reliable websites. Most of all they want parents to help them when things go wrong with technology either socially or in its supply as this was when they really need their parents close at hand. They need to be able to discuss content that they have received on social channels, especially if they have been sent a message that has challenged them socially or emotionally, without worrying that they might be cut off from their peers if they were in the wrong or in perceived danger. They would like parents to see phones and being online as a learning experience.  

On teachers (inciteful, appreciative, respectful)  

Our students were very clear on what teachers should do to be effective. Student guidelines for great teachers include: 

  1. Be kind, firm and fair. The children really appreciate consistent people educating them who are predictable and maintain a clearly stated set of rules and support processes. This ensures that students always know what is wrong and right and what the consequences are. 
  1. Match teaching style to the students not the students to the teaching style. The students shared a perfect mixture of preferences between explicitly teaching them content and allowing them to explore ideas as they wished. Essentially what makes them feel confident and safe is having a clear understanding of the concept they are learning first by showing it on the board or talking it through and then allowing them to apply their understandings. They enjoy a mixture of digital and paper and person teaching and structured discussion, but it needs to have a clear purpose and not go on forever. They want to be able to ask questions always and like how teachers don’t make them feel scared and silly if they ask questions again and again.  They really enjoy experiments and hands-on work and games and learning through fun. They really mostly appreciate working towards rewards. This makes them want to do the learning instead of just having to do the activity.  
  1. Know the students you are teaching. Students want teachers to understand them as people who have fears, worries and passions as well as how they learn best. They also open up most to teachers who can take a joke and share some personal information about themselves as people. They like teachers to be honest and explain how they manage to overcome their own fears and challenges.  
  1. Always make time for fun and drop in a splash of humour. Teaching is a serious business and the students all recognise that teachers must do a good, correct job. They say that what they always want teachers to remember and recognise that they are kind people who like to have fun while they learn, and that they love to laugh. Even though they enjoy laughter, they also wanted to focus, listen, and concentrate and need a teacher to help them do this. Students prioritise belonging to a well-behaved class and feel that a teacher who has a bold confident voice as opposed to a screaming tone is preferable. They recognise that toilet visits are also often a diversion and understand that sometimes the blanket rule of no going to the toilet is well justified.  
  1. Patient teachers with rules are the best. Similar to parents, students want teachers to be firm and “get you in trouble sometimes”. Teachers who don’t rush and who exercise persistence are favoured. Students don’t want teachers to give up on them; they want teachers to keep coming back to them quietly and tactfully.    

Friendships (important, supportive, fun) 

Our students shared that their friends are the most important thing to them. They prioritised some key actions which made them feel good and built value in their friendships. Our observations of the Year 6 students at camp were that every child has at least two anchor friendships. No child feels alone, and all the students have empathy and a ready capacity to correct nuances in behaviour that might cause upset to others. They identified six important things they want parents to understand about children and friendship.  

  1. Children give each other the best kind of encouragement. Students shared that their good friends always encourage them to do “stuff”. They help them when they are down and scared, and calm them down.  
  1. Children have a deep understanding of what it means to be a child. Obviously, children need each other, as they share that common space and understanding that only people in the same age group can have. When something goes wrong in this area of their life it feels catastrophic and the best way to make them feel better is to talk to other children. Sometimes parents want to talk, but that alone, doesn’t fix the issue.  
  1. Fun and silliness. Our students love to be silly and crazy with their friends and adults often tell them to be quiet and stop – but it is just the best to be so crazy! 
  1. Children want to choose their own friends. “Sometimes our parents want us to have friends that they like but we like to match with people we find fun and good for us. Sometimes we mix this with our family friends, and we like them but we all like to choose. If mothers don’t like each other it is best that children don’t let that bother their friendship.”  
  1. Children appreciate that good friends have your back. The students place high value on the friends who protected them, and who were kind and helpful to them. They shared, “If someone says something bad about us, they protect us and they don’t do mean things to us behind our backs or in front of us”. Students need this safe spot and feel worried if they think it is not there.  
  1. Good friends understand who you really are. When this happens, students explain that they feel comfortable when they leave a good friend’s house. “You don’t have butterflies in your stomach.” They said this means you are not scared and worried that they will break your trust or say bad things about you. 

This world feels fast and furious and at times lacks common sense. However, when you step off the treadmill and you lean into our future leaders and ask them what makes a difference to them and what their core beliefs and values are, you realise that parents, educators, and friends are all doing the right thing because the children our village has raised are well positioned as healthy, grounded, insightful human beings.  

At our Year 6 camp, our students lived what they shared with us. They were model citizens during each excursion activity whether it was a bushwalk, outdoor team challenge, museum or Parliament education activity, or scary story night time gathering. They were collaborative, respectful, empathetic, and supportive of one another and their educators. I celebrate our future in their hands and say thank you to them for being the incredible children they are!  


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lynda Fisher is the Head of Primary School at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.

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