This post is part of our series on what makes a good childhood.
Childhood wellbeing – how we define it and what its key factors are – is a growing field of research around the world.
Childhood wellbeing is generally understood as the quality of children’s lives. It is an overarching and multi-dimensional concept that encompasses both subjective indicators (i.e. perceptions of quality of life and overall life satisfaction) and objective indicators (i.e. household income and health status) that focus on the immediate lives of children but also consider the longer-term outcomes.
Wellbeing from a Child’s Perspective
Increasingly, researchers have recognised how important it is to seek out, validate and incorporate the views of children themselves about what they believe is important for their own wellbeing, as well as for all children.
International research indicates that family and family connectedness or conflict are at the very centre of a child’s sense of wellbeing. Other factors identified by children as being important to their wellbeing include:
- Home as a place of safety and security
- Being valued and respected for who they are
- Being involved in decisions made about their lives
- Ability to cope with adversity
- Being bullied
- ‘Safe spaces’ in the community that allowed them to connect with people
- Mental and emotional aspects of health
- Having enough money to live amongst their peers without shame.
Measuring Childhood Wellbeing
In recent years, there has been a shift away from measuring childhood wellbeing using only objective measures, to a more multi-faceted approach where children and young people are engaged in identifying the factors (both objective and subjective) that define wellbeing for them. This approach has highlighted some important differences in how children and adults view and define wellbeing for children.
One example of these differences was the finding that children’s subjective wellbeing was not associated with objective social indicators about their local environment, although their parents’ wellbeing was. It found that children’s happiness and subjective wellbeing is not greatly influenced for example by how big their house is, or how affluent their neighbourhood is, but by their experiences and interactions with family, friends and neighbours within those environments.
Research has also highlighted that the quality of family relationships matter much more to a child’s sense of wellbeing than the family structure they live in, and that children’s direct experience of material deprivation matters much more to them than household income, which is often a measure of an adult’s sense of wellbeing.
Sometimes adult assumptions about the important influences on children’s wellbeing hold true, yet if policies, programs and services are to effectively engage and meet the complex needs of children and young people, there needs to be a better understanding of what children and young people themselves identify as being important to their wellbeing.
ARACY (2013). Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth. Report Card: The wellbeing of young Australians.
The Children’s Society (2010). How happy are our children: measuring children’s well-being and exploring economic factors. London: The Children’s Society.