You know those kids, the ones who check out and daydream or can’t sit still. The ones who antagonise and distract the others. They are not just in every classroom, but we see adults who do this too. Is it because they have behavioural issues, or is it because they don’t know how to be with uncomfortable feelings, or how to apply themselves to learning? It’s more than likely they are learning in an environment that does not meet their needs.

If you’ve tried everything and you feel frustrated with these kids, let me help you with that.

It’s a vicious circle. Being stuck in firefighting mode changes your gentle teaching nature, and it also creates blocks to reaching these kids.

Imagine what it would be like to have a calmer and more harmonious learning space. Think about how you could inspire and teach more if you weren’t repeatedly acting as referee or trying to manage the distractions, noise levels and bickering.

“We must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings or squander an unreasonable amount of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behaviour.” – Brene Brown

Many learning spaces have high levels of anxiety that on the surface appear to stem from a fear of making mistakes or not knowing. That’s problematic when you’re showing up to school to learn. It’s definitely not an environment conducive to learning. I call for a change from this fear-based learning approach, with less focus on achievement, assessments and grades, and more on self-awareness and character building.

Low self-esteem + anxiety grows in fear-based environments

We must feel safe before we can bring ourselves to learning.

Often, a classroom is not an emotionally safe space. Emotions are an inconvenient distraction and vulnerability (being able to get it wrong), definitely doesn’t live here. Children who feel like they are falling short, grow up like many of us believing that there is something wrong with them, that they’re not good enough or with a story about ‘not being good at …. (fill in the blank)’. My story was around maths and yet, I successfully run my own business and have never used trigonometry or Pythagoras’s theorem!

“Whatever we put our attention on will grow stronger in our life.” – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

If we are going to educate hearts and souls, as well as minds, self development is the way.

Self development is the process by which a person’s character or abilities are gradually developed. This happens on Truly Madly Smiley, one episode at a time. Typically children need to hear something 4-12 times before it becomes part of them. This is influenced by how the message reaches them. Much quicker watching their favourite TV show snuggled up with family, than with punishment, nagging or whilst sitting in a pressure cooker with huge amounts anxiety about getting everything right. Truly Madly Smiley meets them in their world and speaks to their hearts.

Take a moment to reflect on how our noisy world is shaping young minds.

In the UK, SATs assess children as young as 6 years old (read: stress everybody out). Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “In reality, SATs do not tell teachers or parents anything they didn’t already know about their child or school, but have the negative unintended consequences of distracting from teaching and learning.”

Look at these stats from the OECD which measure wellbeing in terms of life satisfaction and mental wellbeing.

  • The UK is above the OECD average, 6.6 out of 10, for adult life satisfaction. Switzerland ranks highest with a score of 7.81.
  • For children’s life satisfaction, The Netherlands was the top ranking country, with 94% of children reporting high life satisfaction.
  • The UK scored below average, 62 out of 100 for mental wellbeing. Denmark had the highest score on 70.  Denmark and Switzerland ranked highest on the three indicators reported. The UK scored above average on feeling calm and feeling cheerful, but below average on feeling active.

I prefer the Scandinavian approach. Children are not introduced to school until age 7. They have a more relaxed approach to discipline, no uniforms, shorter school days and longer holidays. The emphasis is not on maths, reading or writing (children receive no formal instruction in these until they are 7 and in primary school) but creative play.

Storytelling, creativity and play are the bridge to a child’s heart

Personally, I’ve had huge aha moments and healing insights through my creative journaling process. I’ve also seen children transform using self development techniques which I’ve Smiley-fied into fun and creativity. You’ll find them all here. 

What messages, either spoken, or unspoken, stick? Think of all the unspoken messages like a disapproving frown or an angry glare of contempt. An advert about weight loss or photoshopped images that depict ‘healthy‘ women. This is what your body should look like! Don’t get me started on those perfect Instagram squares. The confusion and disconnect of a young person’s online persona and their true self (if indeed they have been given the chance to explore this) concern me greatly.

What about the shaming messages of our dysfunctional society? Like boys don’t cry and nice girls don’t get angry.

Whilst we cannot control which messages stick and whether messages are positively or negatively internalised, we can counterbalance them by ensuring that children receive enough positive messages, positive influences and positive experiences, alongside tools to grow their sense of self. Then they can become more resilient to our overwhelmingly stressful and busy world. 

I don’t know about you, but I find it tough and I’m 47. I can’t imagine what it feels like for them.

“The most important relationship in your life is the relationship you have with yourself. Because no matter what happens, you will always be with yourself.” – Diane Von Furstenberg

Our relational style, called Attachment Theory by Jon Bowlby, impacts not only how we feel about ourselves, but how we bring ourselves to learning and how we form relationships with others. Children are either securely or insecurely attached to their primary caregiver and this impacts their learning.

  • Children who are securely attached as infants tend to develop stronger self-esteem and better self-reliance as they grow older. These children also tend to be more independent, perform better in school, have successful social relationships, and experience less depression and anxiety.
  • Children with insecure avoidant attachment styles can find it hard to ask for help, they struggle with relationships, emotional regulation, transitions (even moving from class to class can be overwhelming), low self-esteem and anxiety.

The benefits of self development for insecurely attached children

In the Early Years, there seems to be more importance on self-awareness, but as the workload ramps up, this diminishes. I think this must be a continuous thread that runs through childhood – especially for those children who are insecurely attached.

Even as adults. I’m not the same girl I was 5 years ago. Are you?

We go through so many developmental phases as we discover who we are and our place in the world. Truly Madly Smiley supports this adventure of self-discovery (and takes into consideration the insecure attachment styles). It uses self development tools translated in to fun storytelling, games, creative thinking exercises, guided visualisation, songs, quizzes. So that these nurturing, inspiring and motivating tools can develop their sense of self, build emotional resilience and confidence. It makes learning easier and it makes teaching them a totally different experience.

Don’t give us more work to do!

It’s not about adding another thing to the ever increasing to do list, but instead it’s about prioritising this philosophy, so that it’s at the heart of all learning environments and all homes. This is the solid foundation that happy people are built on – strong sense of self, life skills and emotional intelligence. It’s waaaay more important than anything I ever learned at school.

A ready-made library of self development ideas that meet PSHE/social educational learning objectives.

A solid, emotionally safe foundation for all learning spaces

Truly Madly Smiley can be integrated into lessons and used as inspiration for morning assembly. It gets kids talking and creates interesting discussions in form time. It sets the tone for topic of the month or thought of the week. It’s great for after school clubs – you could listen and draw or paint. I’ve created a printable journal for you to use. With hundreds of downloads each one delivers a life lesson, life skill or series of questions to introspect. 

Get inspired – start today!

Read 15 fun + creative self development ideas to help make growing up easier or download my free guide to get set up and start listening to Truly Madly Smiley today!


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