What makes a good life? (in children’s words)

As a school, we have our students’ wellbeing at the centre of what we do. We know that when children feel happy and safe, they will learn - it’s the natural order of things.

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In October and November 2018, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner and Oranga Tamariki—Ministry for Children asked for the views of children and young people on what wellbeing means to them. This report is an interesting read for anyone involved with children and a timely reminder as to what we, as a school, can do to support the children in our care.

Almost 100 schools from around the country helped with the survey which asked for children and young people’s views on having a good life, what it means to have a good life, what gets in the way and what helps. All were asked what they thought would make things better for children and young people now, and for their future.

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This is what they had to say…..

The most important things for children and young people to have a good life were:

  • Parents or caregivers have enough money for basic stuff like food, clothes and a good house to live in.
  • Children and young people have good relationships with family and friends.
  • Children and young people are kept safe from bullying, violence or accidents
  • Children and young people are valued and respected for who they are.

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They described a good life as …

Being happy and enjoying life-having fun and feeling happy, being able to spend their life enjoying what they are doing. This included having hopes and aspirations for the future.

Being Healthy- They highlighted that health is a combination of both physical and mental health.

Feeling safe (including from bullying)- children and young people highlighted the importance of feeling safe at home, at school and out in public. Safety meant not only physical safety but also feeling safe to express their individuality.

Experiencing positive education- Children and young people wrote about wanting to attend schools where students are supported to learn in a way that suits them. Feeling like they belong at school was commonly discussed. Some young people wrote about how school should be a place where they are being adequately prepared for their future.

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The challenges they face …

The survey showed that the majority of children and young people are doing well. However, some are facing major challenges, which get in the way of them living a good life. The five key messages that came through were...

  • Accept us for who we are and who we want to be - Children and young people want to be accepted for who they are, supported in their identity and culture, respected, listened to and believed in. They want choices and freedom. They want the important adults in their lives to help them build their confidence, self-esteem and self-worth, so they can realise their hopes and dreams. A fundamental part of being respected was being listened to. Children and young people felt adults often didn’t listen to them. For some young people, not having a say in what happens to them can be one of the things that gets in the way of a good life. Young people talked about the frustration of not having the power to change things. Children and young people spoke specifically about the contexts in which they wanted to be listened to. They said that children and young people should have more of a say in what happens in schools.
  • Life is really hard for some of us - Children and young people talked about the impact that racism, being poor and being bullied can have on their lives and their experiences of discrimination, judgement and the pressure of expectations- both too high and too low.
  • To help us, help our whānau and our support crew - A recurring theme was the importance of whānau. Children and young people want support for their parents as well as for their wider whānau. They also spoke about their friends, the trusted adults in their lives and the community in general. They talked about their parents, caregivers, teachers, friends’ parents, older siblings, cousins, youth workers and other professionals. One young person described the need for having one strong constant adult they could trust in their life. Another talked about knowing 100% that someone has your back.
  • We all deserve more than just the basics - Children and young people spoke a lot about the stuff they need to live a good life. They spoke about material things such as a home, an education and a safe community, but they wanted more than just a minimum standard of living. They wanted “enough for the basics, plus a little bit more”.  
  • How you support us matters just as much as what you do - Children and young people also talked about what helps. They said that relationships are central to what makes a good life. Children and young people’s relationships with whānau are usually the most important. They wanted whānau involved in efforts to help them and for whānau to be supported to be well themselves.

What does this mean for our school?

It reminds us to keep listening to our students' voice and value what they have to say. It reminds us about the responsibility we have to ensure our students are safe, respected and given the opportunity to learn in a positive environment. It reiterates the importance we place on working hard to build relationships with all of our students and their families. It encourages us to continue to help children overcome the challenges they face and use their own power to make positive changes.

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The full report can be found at Good life report

Key words:  whanau, respect, acceptance, relationships, feeling safe, support, trust

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