Parental guilt, workplace presenteeism, and child-raising in the digital age were among the topics of conversation at a recent panel discussion staged by the British Business Group Dubai and Northern Emirates (BBG). Addressing the multiple challenges of working parenthood, experts from the fields of education and wellbeing revealed some of the practical solutions that can be adopted to support school-age children and to harmonise workplace commitments with family life.
Moderated by Scott Armstrong, Founder of mental health platform, Mentl, the discussion brought together the expertise of panel members: Joanne Jewell, UK-based Parenting Expert and Family Therapist; Naomi Williams, Deputy Head of Primary – Pastoral, Learning and Teaching, South View School; Robert Stewart, Business Psychologist, Facilitator and Executive Coach, R Stewart Psychology; and Kate Hill, Head of Middle School, Dubai College.
Drawing on her experience of working with families in both the UK and the UAE, Joanne Jewell’s opening address confronted the sentiment of guilt and how to recognise, respond, and manage those feelings. She reflected on the inherent people-pleasing nature of human beings and the implicit link between guilt and shame. Discussing how those instinctive emotions trigger an impulsive reaction rather than a considered response, Joanne revealed that better self-awareness and self-regulation can ultimately help to break the cycle of guilt.
Moving on to discuss the societal pressures faced by school-age children, Scott Armstrong highlighted how social media has become one of the biggest threats to young people’s mental health, and how big brands like Dove are responding with dedicated campaigns to improve online safety. Sharing her experience of working with children from nursery age to year six, Naomi Williams revealed the impact of societal pressure on the evolution of pastoral care in schools.
Explaining the transformation in support needs, Naomi said, “There has been a significant shift in how schools have had to jump from preparing children to move from classrooms between lessons, to self-regulating big feelings and emotions.” Sharing the approach at South View School, she continued, “We have introduced Zones of Regulation across all Primary classes, which is a program that helps students to recognise their feelings and behaviours related to specific circumstances, and to regulate their emotions through re-appraisal and self-soothing.”
Discussing the social pressures faced by adolescent and teenage children, Kate Hill stressed the importance of providing a supportive environment built on social interaction and positive reinforcement. Explaining the specific tactics that her school employs, she said, “We aim for every student to have the same tutor each year, providing an open door to someone they can talk to at any time, and we work in collaboration with parents to safeguard their child’s welfare. We also have a no phone policy in school and encourage more interaction through extracurricular activities, to promote engagement at a personal level.”
Turning to the role and responsibilities of employers in addressing parental pressures, Robert Stewart highlighted the need for organisations to eliminate bias, listen to their employees, and invest time in implementing strategies fairly. Referencing the growing war on talent and increasing attrition rates linked to workplace presenteeism, Robert said, “Leaders need to take this issue seriously, which means making a shift in the culture of an organisation so that equality is not just a box ticking exercise but is based on the needs of each individual.” Adding her perspective to the employer debate, Joanne said, “Leaders can set an example by taking care of themselves so that they are resourced to be energy givers.”
Concluding the debate, Scott highlighted the potential impact of parental pressure on a business’ bottom line. Referencing CIGNA’s Wellbeing Report, he revealed that stress levels in the UAE are significantly higher than other key markets, adding, “With working parents making up to 40-60% of most workforces, it is vital that leaders listen to employees to retain critical talent.”
Sponsored by Anderson Education and UK Study Options, the panel discussion was staged as part of the BBG Business Briefing Series, which convenes industry experts to provide insights and guidance on prevailing workplace challenges. Katy Holmes, General Manager, BBG said, “As part of our diversity and inclusion strategy we curated an event to support working parents, engaging with managers, HR directors, and parents themselves to highlight and consider the additional pressures that parents are feeling on top of their employment. As a working parent myself, I found the insights into the pastoral care strategies that are implemented in schools reassuring. The event was also a great reminder of the benefits of mindful parenting and the power of co-regulation.”