Unlocking Power of Behavioural Science Importance of Mental Health & Behavioural Responses In The Overall Development of A Child

Author, Dr Kulneet Suri

Dr Kulneet Suri(Adjunct Professor) Harvard University, Senior Director-Unison
Abstract:

Mental Health and Behavioural Health is extremely important for the well-being and overall development of a child – it has to be a TOGETHER journey for parents and the child. According to researchers One in six children aged 6-10 years has a mental, behavioural or developmental disorder. It is extremely important that children have strong bonding with their parents and family members-this boosts the self-esteem of a child and helps a child and the parents to identify and handle difficult situations with ease.

A well-known research from behavioural science and behavioural economics indicates importance and effect of the person carrying the message which shows that the weightage we give to the information depends heavily on who is delivering that information – research suggests that if we respect the messenger, we pay more attention to what and why they are saying. In this case the messenger is the parents-which means the child will feel reassured of their safety and will be able to have open communication with ease if the parents practise
mindfulness with their child.

Also it is important for parents to understand in the first place why the Mental Fitness of their child must be their focus and priority. Practising open communication with your child, building trust and reciprocity can help parents integrate and lower their child’s stress levels.

Neuroscience reveals that two chemical messengers, corticotropin and neuropeptide-work in a synchronised opposition to each other to rewire neurons in part of the brain responsible for emotions called amygdala-which is part of the body’s natural response to stress. The research has answers to the why and how the changes occur in the amygdala and also about the process by which it can be manually reversed and help deal with Anxiety
disorders. Therefore today we have answers to the treatment of these mental health conditions-the only need is to be more pro-active in sharing the condition and reaching out for treatment.

The biggest asset in the world is your Mindset. The theory of the Mindset does not just apply on garnering mental abilities. Those with a positive mindset see not just talent but also the effort that goes in to achieve success. A child with a
growth mindset will embrace struggles so as to develop the skills to the fullest potential.

This research paper aims to explore and analyse the crucial role of parents and teachers in promoting positive behavioural health outcomes in children. It investigates the hypothesis that the involvement and support of
parents and teachers significantly influence children’s behavioural development, emotional well-being, and overall mental health. By examining a wide range of empirical evidence, this paper provides insights into effective strategies and interventions employed by parents and teachers to enhance children’s behavioural health outcomes. The sample analysis, provides insights into effective strategies and interventions employed
by parents and teachers can boost the emotional and mental well-being of the child.

Introduction:

Understanding that behavioural and mental health issues which can be addressed for positive outcomes is important for parents so that they can support the child for early treatment. In order to effectively deal with the behavioural and mental health of their child, Parents must regularly monitor the changes in the thinking patterns, feelings, responses, behaviour of their child–this will help in early diagnosis for mental conditions like ADHD, anxiety, autism spectrum disorder, eating disorder(binge eating), learning disabilities, substance abuse, confidence levels, emotions, responses etc, render early treatment and recovery.

Parents practising this monitoring mechanism can help evade higher risks of the adverse effects on the child’s health and development and also reach out for appropriate treatment.

Children’s behavioural and mental health plays a pivotal role in their overall well-being and future success.

Today we are fraught with mental health challenges amongst children and this is on the rise not only in INDIA but across the globe. We cannot blame the competitive world alone for the rise in mental health challenges amongst children—it is also important to analyse the upbringing of the children-the lone time
they spend and the activities they are involved during their lone time. Are these activities participatory, collaborative or not? Such conditions not only restrict the mental growth but also the overall personality development of the children gets thwarted. Parents and teachers are primary influencers in a child’s life, and their involvement and support has a profound impact on children’s behavioural and mental development.

This paper delves into the hypothesis that parents and teachers significantly contribute to children’s mental and behavioural health outcomes and examines existing evidence to support this claim. The paper also delves
deep and provides remedies to combat the mental health illnesses and the future scope of research to model behavioural responses of children and interventions to help combat social anxiety and mental health illnesses.
The research paper focuses on building non-cognitive skills that can help children mobilise their goals.

Objective:

Behavioural Science has made major developments in recent decade, enabling us to understand how by initiating small changes in what parents and teachers do can lead to major differences in the learning process of a child. It is important to build “non-cognitive skills” which are also labelled as soft skillsresilience, emotional intelligence, which will help children at a tender age to adapt and learn how to achieve their goals. Parents play a pivotal role in fostering growth mindset patterns as early as childhood so that they can seek answers, be comfortable in asking questions and reasoning, develop the ability to understand their abilities, are able to forward think post setbacks and revive themselves post uncertain and challenging times. Parents should not encourage children to work on things they neither value nor enjoy.

Pressure tactics on children to attempt things which do not interest them can be detrimental to the mental health of the children. At the same time it is extremely important for parents to build strategies which help their children succeed and increase their self-esteem. It is important for parents to build self-control,
confidence and grit in their children in order for them to deal with challenging situations with confidence.

Parents are the best teachers as they can keep their children intrigued, enjoy making efforts for achieving and be continuous learners.

METACOGNITION means understanding one’s own thought processes, or ‘thinking about thinking’.1 It is important to develop METACOGNITIVE SKILLS in children for them to be able to reflect on their knowledge, behaviour and to be able to alter, change the course of their action to achieve their goals.

Parents and teachers can help children develop these metacognitive skills by prompts, cues to trigger their thought process formally and informally through everyday conversations during meal time, classrooms activities.

Making use of the Mindsets and how and why a broad set of beliefs forms the framework of our decisions is very important in understanding the behavioural responses of the children. The key to progressive thinking and mindset relates to how we interpret the struggles we face. Does this mean we as individuals do not have the talent to be successful and competitive, and should therefore move on to choose other options, or can these challenges be tackled with consistent effort and informed decisions.

According to Professor Dweck, a fixed mindset is when people believe that because they are born with a set of skills therefore they have
limited talent and that practise will not make much difference. In such cases, for example if a student is struggling with reading, arithmetic-may conclude that they do not have the natural ability to comprehend and they may shift their attention to other things and change their course to choosing other options. Contrary
to this a student with “growth mindset” will believe that learning to read or do arithmetic is part of the process and continuous practise will help develop expertise. A fixed or a growth mindset is not just limited to one particular field-academics, it is beyond that and relevant to all fields professional and personal. We reveal our mindsets when we converse, talk about success, make decisions.

Parents and Teachers with a Growth

Mindset are able to better shape the mindsets of their children because they encourage, applaud talent, and effort. There are potential benefits of having a growth mindset and Neuroscience has answers that help explain why having a growth mindset is helpful and how it can shape the future for effective and better decision making.
Many prominent researchers have researched that most of the students give up when they struggle-they believe they do not have the right talent to be successful. Mindset theory explains learning and struggling go hand in hand and challenges hone our skills. Growth Mindset looks through the lens with a positive frame of mind for oneself and others. A research activity was undertaken to change the Mindsets of
children at various schools which involved distinguishing between fixed and growth mindset and supporting the exercise with neuroscience theory-each time we learn newer concepts, or anything newnewer connections or “synapses” form in the brain and as we work hard-these connections get strengthened. Post this exercise it was found that students who had completed this training were more motivated, keen to learn, gave better responses to learning, had better mental health and were able to
overcome their fears as compared to the set of students who were yet to take this training.

Talent influences expertise we acquire overtime. Therefore parents and teachers should encourage children to work continuously on concepts and things they enjoy and find purpose with. The Mindset Theory shares the message not to make children learn everything but rather to encourage them to do the right thing at the right moment. As Professor Dweck says, If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on
learning.”

1. The Influence of Parenting on Behavioural Health:

1.1 Parental Warmth and Nurturing: The impact of parental warmth on emotional regulation and resilience in children impacts their mindset and responses to the challenges and also helps parents identify any signs of mental ill health. At the same time Discipline and Behavioural Management promotes positive behaviour
and reduces behavioural problems. It is important to create a disciplinary environment at home to help the children practise, healthy meal habits, appropriate sleeping patterns, self-control, self-distancing and engaging with groups of their age. It is important to help children develop strategies to succeed for better
behaviour health which will in return help them with better abilities to overcome challenges and be successful.

SELF-CONTROL is the ability to control one’s actions, behaviour and thoughts in a way that
helps us achieve our goals.

Parents and teachers help to build Self-Control-which helps to focus, avoid distractions, plan our own actions and avoid distractions. A study for school children at K12 level was conducted and it was found that higher Self-control is linked with higher success at school, children with more self-control are more attentive in classrooms and focus on doing homework, are healthier, participate in teamwork, are more
collaborative and more responsive. Self-control is linked to success at school – children with better selfcontrol attend class more and spend more time doing homework.

Walter Smith and colleagues conducted The Marshmallow experiment where four and five year old children were given the choice to eat marshmallow immediately or wait for 15 minutes to receive two marshmallows.
The experiment was used to test self-control to resist instant gratification for a larger reward in the future.

‘Self-distancing’ involves thinking about our situation in the third person so as to help us think more objectively about a goal.5 For example, take Julie, who is trying to give up smoking. If she feels tempted to have a quick cigarette after lunch, she could practice reflecting on her situation in the third person. She might think to herself; ‘Julie would really like to smoke now but knows that if she does, it will just make it harder to resist a cigarette the next time round.’ Asking someone to refer to themselves as if they were a different person may feel strange for both of you at first, but it has been proven to be effective for some.

Parents can use exercises with their children to help them understand the obstacles they face in pursuing their goals and to develop a plan of action to overcome the obstacles. For example, parents can think about how they might praise the effort and not just the output the next time their child succeeds in studies or in extracurricular exercise, or is disappointed. Parents can plan the small and simple but effective steps which can be taken by the child to reach the ultimate goals. This help from the parents goes a long way in strengthening the behavioural health of the child and prepares for a more confident child.

Inclusion of children at home in discussions and participation with parents helps model the behaviour of a child. This also builds up and garners capacity in children to be more resilient, active and participate in activities in
their schools, neighbourhood and also with their kin.

1.2 Parental Modelling and Social Learning: – Observational Learning: An extremely important role of parents in moulding the behavioural responses of their child are their own behaviour and response to socialization. Children are reflection the of their parents and in many ways emote them. How the parents
cope up with feelings like frustration, anger, distress influences how the child will regulate their own emotions. Talking to the child about the difference between right and wrong can help the child in controlling their behaviour and emotions and be able to distinguish between right and wrong.

The influence of parental behaviour on children’s socialization and the acquisition of behavioural patterns. –

Parental Role Modelling: How parents’ behaviour and values shape children’s attitudes, beliefs, and social interactions helps develop positive and negative behavioural patterns in a child which can be a lifetime imprint on the way they make decisions. The importance of parental involvement in monitoring and guiding children’s social activities especially in the formative years helps children develop positive habits and security.

Involving the child in family discussions and allowing them to speak helps in positive role modelling by parents. Keeping the talk positive and using problem solving skills to help the child deal with conflicts in a calm and balanced way will help the child emote the behaviour.

Respectful behaviour towards the child by
role modelling respectful behaviour in your own relationships at home and elsewhere helps the child role model for respectful behaviour. Similarly healthy food choices and activities for physical development and brain development can be fostered by parents if they involve the child in taking healthy meals together, involving the child in a sports activity together with parents like biking, walking. The decision of the parents to make education interesting can build a positive mindset for the child to attend studies and encourage participation. Parents encouraging child participation helps in identifying any signs of mental and or behavioural disturbance-which could hinder the social-emotional participation by a child in daily activities.

2. The Role of Teachers in Behavioural Health:

2.1 Classroom Environment and Social Emotional Learning: – Positive Classroom Climate: Creating a nurturing and supportive environment that fosters positive behaviour and emotional and mental well-being.
Classrooms are diverse places. Students have different cultures, backgrounds, abilities, and other characteristics too. Teachers may have strategies that really help their students to feel like they belong and others which don’t work so well. Here, we describe the evidence on why some approaches might be more successful than others.

Belonging

Feeling of Belonging goes a long way in creating beliefs, values and learnings. That one belongs means having positive relationships and reciprocation. Many view belonging as the foundation of learning at school,6 and research shows that school belonging is important for many elements of academic success including motivation and confidence. Reflecting on how students are similar to one another can help them to feel a sense of belonging. This could be something small like a shared interest or hobby, as well as a shared culture or some other source of identity.

2.2 Teacher-Student Relationships: – Supportive Teacher-Student Relationships: Schools and Institutions are the second home for children. Stepping out of their comfort zone at home and embracing the new environment can be fraught with many challenges for children. Many children start feeling overwhelmed by the new environment, people and activities around them. This can be navigated by the help of teachers and mentors in Institutions. The correlation between positive teacher-student relationships helps in improved behavioural outcomes. The influence of teacher sensitivity and responsiveness on children’s mental and emotional regulation and behavioural adjustment plays a vital role in behavioural response from children. A new environment, such as a new school, can be overwhelming. Students often feel the strain of trying to fit in at school. Uncovering seemingly trivial similarities between people could help to ease such worries.

It is often the members of minority groups who feel the strain of not belonging to the crowd the most. This can not only undermine academic performance, but also negatively impact mental health and wellbeing.

Psychologists have developed a brief exercise to counteract the anxieties of new social contexts. Students first read about how older students had worried about not adapting in when they first arrived. They then write a brief essay on how their own experiences compare to those they have just read, before reading their
essay aloud in front of a video camera. This exercise helped students to realise that their anxieties are normal and that with time, these emotions cease.

Fear of public speaking, non-participation in peer group activities, stammering, and loss of appetite are some of the initial symptoms of Social Anxiety which can lead to severe repercussions and mental ill health if not treated professionally. Parents play a pivotal role in fostering growth mindset patterns as early as childhood so that they can seek answers, be comfortable in asking questions and reasoning, develop the ability to understand their abilities, are able to forward think post setback and revive themselves post
challenging and uncertain times.

The Red Flags: Many prominent researchers have researched that most of the students give up easily when they struggle-they believe they do not have the right talent to be successful. However, the Mindset theory explains learning and struggling go hand in hand and challenges hone our skills. Keeping the discussion positive with children and using problem solving skills to help the child deal with conflicts in a calm and balanced way which helps the child to emote the behaviour. The influence of parents and teachers sensitivity and responsiveness on children’s mental and emotional regulation and behavioural adjustment plays a very integral role in positive behavioural response from children and helps them overcome social
anxiety. Similarly healthy food choices and activities for physical development and brain development help children be more attentive and active in participation. It also boosts brain activity and reduces social anxiety. Prompting the children to think beyond what is known helps reduce social anxiety.

Analysis: Effective Strategies and Interventions:

3.1 Parental Involvement Programs: – Parent Education and Training: The effectiveness of parenting programs in enhancing parenting skills and fostering positive child behaviour, Home-School Collaboration:

The benefits of collaborative efforts between parents and teachers helps in promoting children’s behavioural health.

3.2 Teacher Training and Professional Development: – Classroom Management Strategies: Evidence-based techniques that promote positive behaviour and prevent disruptive behaviours. – Empathy and Emotional Support extended by teachers, the role of teacher in giving empathy and emotional support helps in fostering a positive classroom environment.

To support the hypothesis a sample study was conducted using personally administered questionnaires involving 200 children between ages 6 and 10, their parents and teachers. The following aspects were analysed Parenting styles and Behaviour Outcome of Children. The parents and children were assessed through questionnaires which helped children understand their own Mindsets on a continuum scale of 1 to 5 with 1 as I strongly agree to 5 as I strongly disagree. Also questionnaires were used for developing selfcontrol strategies by parents in their children to achieve their goals like resisting common temptations like
binging, watching TV and developing healthy eating habits and avoiding distractions. Another questionnaire was administered wherein parents along with their child were asked to set realisable goals and form plan to
mitigate obstacles. The following questionnaires were used for assessment:

1. What is your Mindset?

2. Self-Control Strategies for Parents and Children

The results showed a significant corelation in responses by children between the Mindset values cultivated by parents reflecting on the Mindsets of the parents. Also parents who nurtured their children with an authoritarian style exhibited children with lower levels of externalizing and internalizing behaviours
compared to parents with other styles like permissive, and neglectful.

Similarly, Teachers were assessed in creating a safe, belonging atmosphere in the class. Teachers were assessed on their level of warmth, support, and responsiveness towards their students and affirmation of
values – The parents and children’s behavioural outcomes were evaluated using the Questionnaire on Self Control strategies and Understanding the Mindset, which measures emotional responses, perception, conduct
problems, hyperactivity/inattention, and prosocial behaviour. – The analysis revealed a strong positive correlation between positive teacher-student relationships and improved behavioural outcomes. Students who reported higher levels of warmth, support, and responsiveness from their teachers exhibited fewer behavioural difficulties, affirmation of values and more prosocial behaviour which means good mental health. Following questionnaires were used for assessment:

1. Affirmation of Values
2. Helping Students to Belong in the Classroom
Intervention Programs for Affirmation of Values: – Children participated in Values Affirmation Program aimed at enhancing positive parenting skills and promoting healthy child behaviour. – Teachers received training in classroom management strategies and techniques to create a positive and supportive classroom environment. – The sample study measured the effectiveness of these intervention programs by comparing
pre- and post-intervention behavioural outcomes of the children. – The analysis demonstrated significant improvements in children’s behavioural outcomes after the implementation of parenting education programs and teacher training, supporting the notion that targeted interventions can positively impact children’s mental and behavioural health

Conclusion:

The research presented in this paper provides strong evidence supporting the hypothesis that parents and teachers significantly influence children’s behavioural and mental health outcomes. When children are presented with the opportunities to express their emotions they become resilient, emotionally aware and
value Growth Mindset. Inculcating the feelings that one belongs deciphers having positive relationships with peer groups. This also promotes commitment and shared interests which in turn promotes inclusion, feeling
of well-being, shared culture, recognition and belongingness. These elements promote good mental health and success. The findings highlight the importance of parental involvement, teachers involvement, nurturing
relationships, and evidence-based strategies in promoting positive behavioural response and mental health in children. Inclusion can help children, teenagers to be more receptive towards physical and mental challenges. It is also important to counsel children at various stages of their life that anxieties are to be dealt
with and to a certain level it is all right to feel anxious—that with time and situations these emotions will fade. That these situations are challenging but once dealt with they help develop resilience. It is also important to develop values in children and this can be effectively done by parents and teachers. A value is the core which makes you happy and well appreciated. It is a core which gives purpose to your life and contributes to the mental well-being. Your relationship with family and friends, being independent, enjoying
hobbies, belonging to a social group, being able to reciprocate helps children build up stronger bonds with peers and practise resilience. The findings indicate that authoritative parenting styles, positive teacherstudent relationships, and targeted intervention programs contribute to improved behavioural outcomes in
children, reduce mental stress, level up confidence. By recognizing the pivotal roles of parents and teachers, policymakers and educators can implement effective interventions and support systems to enhance children’s mental and behavioural health and overall well-being-both at home and in their professional spaces.

Future Scope of Research:

Further research is needed to explore additional factors that contribute to children’s mental and behavioural health and to develop comprehensive interventions that encompass multiple levels of influence. Also how
Emotional Intelligence can make children, parents and teachers understand their own emotions in positive ways to communicate effectively, improve social skills and behaviour, overcome challenges to stay motivated. The research will also focus on how to increase the Emotional Intelligence of children to enable
them to build relationships and defuse conflict. Emotional Intelligence is as important or even more important than IQ for success including academic, non-academic, interpersonal skills, and social aspects. An Emotionally Intelligent child will be self-aware and therefore will be more enabled to make informed and effective decisions not only today but for future years. Therefore the importance of EQ in the overall development of a child both mental and behavioural responses can a very important facet for future research.

Informed decisions and choices-help to improve our own skills and disposition and in turn help us make better decisions which are not only good for our living but act as catalyst for the larger goals. The aim is to examine the behavioural factors that lead children to make decisionsregarding how they make decisions, act on them, develop beliefs and attitudes and how small, subtle and counter intuitive changes to the way a message is farmed or a process is structured can have an outsized positive impact on the decisions we make and the actions we take. A high EQ can help improve the decision-making culture of our schools, families, and communities.
To achieve this, the future research can focus on sparking and growing support for developing EQ skills amongst students in schools/institutions for better decision making. It is important to help students deep dive into problems they are trying to solve, work collaboratively and be their creative
self, do not feel overwhelmed by failures due to growth mindset and die-hard inspiration to succeed.

Behavioural Science can help students see the relevance of what they are doing-the application of their knowledge not only to their own life but also to the lives of others helps them define purpose in their lives. This acts as a trigger not only for themselves but also imbibes a sense of being able to help others leading to growth mindset and positive intelligence.

Leading life with positive intelligence
helps children address social anxiety and become well adjusted adults having fulfilling careers and lives. Inclusion is the key to positive behavioural responses and good mental health.
The research can actively build:

• innovative pilot programs
• pitch frameworks for curricula and pedagogy
• pitch developing of EQ skills in students towards decision education to be administered as policy commitment at schools, institutions
• mindfulness exercises for principals/teachers
• an ongoing commitment to identifying, coordinating, and amplifying all of those related
efforts.
• Camps in schools for children to deal with social anxiety
• Healthcare sector to develop departments in hospitals for social anxiety counselling
for children

 

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