Key Indicators of a Child’s Well-being
Children today are faced with an increasingly complex world, leaving many parents, researchers, and care professionals wondering how to monitor a child’s well being. Depending on the perspective you take when evaluating well being, you will look at an array of indicators. Such variations can make it difficult to fully understand and assess children’s well-being, which is why we’ve provided a brief overview below of what child well being is, the ways it can be evaluated, and key indicators for each assessment area.
Child Wellbeing Definition
Given the range of perspectives related to well being, it will come as no surprise that producing a uniform definition of a child well being has proven difficult. However, it is generally understood and agreed that a child’s well being is a measure of the quality of his life, including how well he is and how his life is going. This broad definition can easily encompass the different ways of assessing child well-being, such as health, education, economic status, family or social life, or safety and security concerns. These areas may include both objective measurements (e.g., poverty or morbidity rates) as well as subjective indicators, or the individual’s assessment of how their life is going.
Key Indicators of Child Wellbeing
Measuring and assessing the wellbeing of children is important as it allows us to understand how children are coping in their world. Researchers are also able to use data to track trends and identify specific areas that may need more attention from parents or carers. Here are some of the most common areas of well-being and their key indicators in children’s lives.
Physical Health & Safety
Developing a clear understanding of how young children are fairing physically is one of the most widely recognized and researched measures of child well being. As a result, physical health and safety have the most robust list of indicators that can be employed, including:
- Morbidity – The rate of disease within a population. In this case, illness within the individual. This is usually a metric utilized by researchers.
- Mortality – The risk of death for an individual or within a population. Again, this is a more significant indicator for researchers.
- Obesity – Of increasing concern around the world, the rate of childhood obesity is a measurement of children being far above what is considered a healthy weight. Health professionals and parents can use this metric to promote proper nutrition for kids and to understand an individual child’s physical well being.
- Injury – Monitoring the presence and frequency of injury in children can be an indicator of both their physical health as well as their safety. Consistent and frequent injuries may be a sign that their environment is unsafe in some way. Healthcare workers will have access to medical records that may indicate problems, while parents should identify if injuries occur often when playing with friends, at school, etc.
- Exercise & Activity – Your pediatrician will often ask you and your child questions about their level of physical activity. Like adults, a variety of activities can provide a range of physical health benefits.
Mental Health & Emotional Development
Equally as crucial as their physical health, a child’s mental health and emotional development are essential in leading a happy, high-quality life. While pediatricians and healthcare workers will ask their young patients questions to assess any risk in this area, parents will be the best people to identify any problems your child might be facing in this area. Key indicators include:
- Life Satisfaction – Speaking with your child about how they are feeling generally about their life will help you monitor this indicator. Children with higher wellbeing will indicate an overall positive view of life despite any hardships they may face. However, children who express lots of negativity may need further help.
- Depression – The rate of depression in children, and especially teens, has dramatically increased over the past few years. If you have identified that your child has an overwhelmingly negative view of life, has lost interest in things they used to love, or is withdrawing from those around them, it might be time to talk to a mental health professional for a full assessment and additional help.
- Self-Esteem – This is a measure of your child’s view of themselves and their belief in their abilities. Children with higher levels of self-esteem are happier, more confident, and more secure in themselves.
Education & Learning
A key part of every child’s development is their education and continued learning. Like physical health, this is a significant area of research and objective metric development. Key indicators include:
- Dropout – Many researchers monitor dropout rates across countries, cities, and districts as a means of evaluating childhood education.
- Truancy – Within school districts, administrators will often monitor truancy in an effort to identify students who may be struggling or at risk of dropout. This measurement consists of days missed from school overall or specific classes individually.
- Curiosity – Not often measured in the school setting, but essential for parents to monitor, is a child’s curiosity. With young children, they are often curious about everything around them because it is new. Unfortunately, however, this curiosity may be dampened and reduce a child’s innate predisposition to learning.
Relationships & Social Behavior
Finally, a child’s relationships with those around them and society as a whole are critical components of their well-being. This does not mean every child has to be the most sociable and outgoing, but maintaining some engagement with the people around them is important. Key indicators include:
- Familial Relationships – Relationships within the home are often children’s first experience with building attachments and developing social skills. Creating positive interactions between you, as a parent, and your children is critical for their development. You will also want to monitor how they interact with their siblings and use these relationships as an opportunity to teach interpersonal skills, such as sharing and empathy.
- Conflict – How a child handles conflict can indicate the social skills they have developed or those they lack. For example, using violence may suggest that they have not been taught how to express frustration or hurt appropriately.
While this is by no means a fully comprehensive list of all the key indicators for a child’s well being, it is thorough. If parents are able to monitor a handful of these criteria, they will develop a deeper understanding of where their child is at developmentally and the quality of the life they are living.
Jose A. Ramos Jr., Director of Prevention
Jose A. Ramos Jr., MSW, is the Director of Primary Prevention at Children’s Bureau. He has worked with Children’s Bureau since 1994 and has over 30-years of experience working in the Child Welfare field. He has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Long Beach and is earning his MBA. Jose is also Secretary of the National Association of Social Workers.