'I'm a former school principal and counsellor. Here are 11 things I want to tell parents.'

I've had 29 years’ experience as a school principal, teacher, qualified counsellor, and mother.

In that time, I have gained considerable insight about children and developed a great capacity to understand and support their needs both at school and in the family setting. 

The primary school years can present a range of challenging issues that can destabilise a child, especially emotionally. Their journey can be rocky at times - but stabilised with the right influences and appropriate and timely support. 

As we parent our way through a pandemic, here's what I want all parents to know about raising happy kids.

Watch: The horoscopes homeschooling their kids. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia

Getting the best from talking to your child.

To get the best from your conversation with your child, don’t roadblock them. Let them talk and you will hear so much more that you expected to hear. 

Far too often we short circuit their conversations with obstacles like negative body language, interrupting the flow and questioning everything. 

If children feel that they are listened to then they will be in a happier space to talk effectively with you. It’s amazing what you hear when you give it time.

Affirm your child in the very best way.    

We all know that affirming our children is important. It gives the child a sense of security. What you may not know is how much more effective affirmation is when you use the child’s name. 

“Well done, Daniel. I love your painting”.

The use of the child’s name gives them more of a personal boost. They feel more personally identified with the praise. It’s amazing how a simple name can make all the difference. Try it and notice how responsive your child becomes.


Being models for our kids.

As parents we often underestimate the influences we have on our child. 

From the way we dress, to how we speak and the things we say, children learn, mimic and repeat so many of those patterns which are all about the values you hold. 

Watch them at play as young children and you will see what I mean. Consider the next time you offer opinions, follow your passions, etc - little eyes are upon you. Children will often try out that value for size and challenge a few of them when they're teenagers.

Understanding their behaviour. 

Are you good at reading behaviour? When we see our children behaving badly, we can sometimes overreact as we don’t like what we see. Remember that poor behaviour is brought on by a child not getting some level of needs. 

Try to find out what is driving the behaviour before overreacting. 

If we do this, we have a better chance of helping the child work through the problem. Better to understand what drives the behaviour than react with too much intensity. 

The cost is much higher in recovery.

Listen to Mamamia's podcast for parents, This Glorious Mess. Post continues below.

Be a negotiator and enrich your relationship.

If you want your child to talk to you about all sorts of matters, best to start learning how to negotiate with them early in their life. A simple negotiation could be that if you pick up the toys, we can go out to play. A win for both parties. 

The earlier a child learns that you are up for negotiation, they appreciate that to get their needs met they will need to compromise. 

What a great skill to teach a child. By teaching them that you are prepared to negotiate, you will invite them to approach you more with their independent challenges. 

As the child becomes older, they will see you as a listener and negotiator. Not a blocker.

How real are you to your kid? 

Do you present a real face to them? 

This is about being authentic, being honest and showing the real you. 

You can cry when you feel sad and show exhilaration when happy. A child is very skilled in reading the real you and they want to trust everything about you. 

From an early age they read you like a book and will only become anxious when the authenticity drops off. Of course, it is natural to protect your child from situations that may be difficult to express to a child. 


Gentle, real and honest is what they trust in you, their parent.

Do you judge too quickly? 

Are you quick to judge? 

A child intuitively senses when a parent is quick to judge them. This can stop them from talking to you on many levels. 

Negative body language has such an impact on healthy conversation. When a child approaches you with something important to say, listen with empathy and patience. 

If they feel safe in your presence, then they will talk and feel more at peace to say challenging things. This will open up the conversation and give you more of an opportunity to engage with your child in a mature way.

Be a parent who likes to question.

Invite questions at home. The best way to learn is to question. 

Einstein was an avid believer that his successes were driven by his ability to ask questions. As a parent, encourage questions with children. 

You don’t need to have all the answers. Children learn at school through an inquiry approach where questioning leads them into explorations. Be a home where questions are encouraged and answers are left open-ended. 

We want our children to be free thinkers and lateral learners. The world they are growing into requires free thinking adults.

A good tool in strengthening your child.

An excellent way to build resilience in our children is to encourage them to solve their own problems.

This can happen from a very early age. A child who looks to solve their own problems first, builds resilience, develops self-confidence and, through this, feels personally successful. 

It is an effective formula for building stamina and self-worth in our children. It builds strong mental health. Be the parent that encourages their child to own their problems first.

You can be the counsellor who sits on the side and offers sound advice, but the minute you take over problems, they no longer have the same value to the child. It then becomes a question of who takes possession of the problem?

What is the best environment for a child to learn? 

As a parent, we can worry about how your child learns best at school. It is clear from research and observation that it is not class size, but rather the quality of teaching they receive.


I have seen many models of how to set up classes, shifting curriculum, etc. 

However, it all comes down to the teacher. Their relationship with your child is also an important catalyst to better learning. 

A good teacher can teach from any setup and in extraordinary circumstances. It is all about how effective they are when they teach your child. This makes the difference.

Set high expectations.

"If you reach for the stars, you at least get to the top of the trees," I was told as a young child. 

Set high expectations for your children. The more you have faith in their ability to achieve well, the greater the chance that their efforts will be stronger and outcomes higher. 

Setting lower expectations only gives your child an understanding that good is good enough. Be brave and set the goal posts higher.  

A mother of three and a grandmother of five, Gail Smith was a teacher at three schools – and Principal at three other primary schools. Since retirement she has published a blog that can be found at You can order her new book, The Primary Years: A Principals Perspective on Raising Happy Kids, here

Feature Image: Getty.

Want to win $100? Tell us what you think