How to improve a child’s mental health?
If you had only one wish for your child’s future what would it be?
Many of us would say “I want my child to be happy”, but what does that really mean?
Would it mean your child would grow up to love who they are as a person, knowing their strengths and challenges, and able to offer those gifts to the world in a meaningful way?
Would it mean your child would have the emotional intelligence skills to express and modulate their emotions in a healthy way as well as interacting positively and engaging in fulfilling relationships with those around them?
Would it mean your child would have the resilience and flexibility to cope with challenging and adverse life events that come their way?
It’s easy to feel helpless when it comes to our child’s mental health and well-being when we look around and feel the weight of scary statistics and trends bearing down on us. Your child’s mental health is more important than academics right now.
1. Teach your kids the “language of feelings”.
One of the most important things you can teach your children is to recognize what they are feeling and to express their feelings in words. Help your children grow by teaching many words for different emotions, and using examples when those feelings arise in themselves and others.
People’s actions can be “bad” but the feelings themselves are never “bad”. One reason children get stuck and don’t want to talk about feelings, even if you ask them to, is because they can confuse how they feel as being “bad” or “a problem” when it is actually the tough thing that happened that is the problem. Feelings are like important road signs if we understand them and listen to them. They can teach us where to go next and what to look for.
Here’s how you can be patient.
2. Learn to put yourself in your child’s shoes.
Pause and really listen to your child before offering advice or getting angry. This helps your child trust you and listen more openly to the advice you decide to give. When children are upset, be careful to understand their point of view and validate that they feel that way whether or not you agree. Children, along with adults, can better accept a different view of a situation once their emotions have been accepted and understood.
Hearing the child’s viewpoint can reduce their defensive reaction. This doesn’t mean there is no consequence for breaking the rules, but it means they can express what happened, or what their thought process was, so they can grow. Children who grow up with their feelings not accepted will struggle in the future.
Here’s why you should think positive.
3. Be aware of your child’s overall actions and behaviour.
Children often show us they are having a problem through their behaviour rather than words. If your child is acting out and getting into trouble often, it is a clue that something needs to be problem-solved or that they need emotional support to cope and move forward. This is a reason why the language of feelings is so important.
It isn’t healthy if your child can’t tell you what is going on. When kids are acting out, there are reasons and many things can be done to help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help even if the difficulty doesn’t seem extremely serious. All children need guidance about emotions and relationships. If you ask for help or learn more about emotions and relationships yourself, you and your children will benefit.
4. Encourage creativity.
All children need help to learn about their emotions and relationships. It is our job as adults to teach them these skills. Every child is different so we need to figure out what reaches each child individually. Look at what they truly enjoy to help them express themselves.
Play, games, sports, art, writing, dance, horticulture, photography, music, and acting or role-playing situations are great ways of helping kids learn to cope with difficult feelings and relationships. Creativity is a natural human way to learn and express ourselves. If your child has learned that feelings should be avoided, creativity can open them to emotions.
5. Show kids that having a mix of struggle and strength is normal for everyone.
Teach your child that every person will experience times of strength and times of struggle. There is no shame in struggling. Often children are taught to focus way too much on the struggles they are having and get “stuck”, thinking they aren’t good enough. We need to help children balance the amount of time they focus on what is hard for them to learn and what their natural skills and passions are. Helping them build on what they naturally love is the secret to helping them grow self-esteem.
Counselling, social skill groups, life coaching and leisure activities are great ways of helping kids build skills they will need to be the best they can be. Taking your children to counsel, for example, to learn new coping skills in an area difficult for them, can be a big help to their growth and development. It does not mean that something is wrong with them. In fact, it makes them healthier, stronger and more confident people.
Here’s how you can focus on success.
6. The way kids think is very important.
Negative thinking about the self is a huge problem for many North American people of all ages. This thinking often starts in childhood. Children are getting constant messages that they may not be good enough. Many children get “stuck” in thinking this way from hearing negative messages about themselves and then repeating them over and over in their thoughts. Repetitive negative thinking about the self, others and the world can lead to future mental health struggles.
Notice your child’s language and comments about him or herself and others. If your child says negative things repeatedly, it is a problem. It usually means they aren’t feeling good about themselves and need support to problem-solve and change that type of thinking. When kids practice negative self-talk, it leads to lower self-esteem and can contribute to low mood and worry. It can leave them more vulnerable to being bullied as well. Bullying is dangerous to self-esteem especially
7. Break the cycle.
Many adults grew up being shut down and ashamed of their feelings. They tried to ignore them in order to get through tough times. We pass this on to kids unintentionally. Children are like mirrors that reflect back what they see in their environments.
Teach your kids to grow emotionally by showing them you aren’t afraid to express feelings and to cope in a positive way. Don’t shame your children for having tough feelings or being upset. If you don’t know how to ask for help. There is nothing wrong with needing help. If your children need help, you want them to be able to ask for it, so it is important that you show them you are able to ask for help as well.
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