Childhood is the most vulnerable time in every person’s life. The people you meet and interact with, the subjects you study at school, and the overall experiences you have as a child can profoundly impact your adulthood. With the differences in experiences and socialization, the impact on every child’s mental health is different. Though mental health discourse is more accepted and widely discussed now than it was a few decades ago, children’s mental health is still a hot topic for some. In most parts of the world and the US, mental health still faces stigma and backlash, specifically for children. Children are unable to voice their opinions and concerns adequately. Therefore, more effort is needed to help them identify and deal with emotions like sadness or anxiety. As a parent, teacher, or guardian of a child, here are five ways to support their mental health.
1. Identify symptoms of mental health issues
The key to supporting children in their mental health journey is to become fully aware of possible mental health issues. Children are susceptible to various mood, behavioral, and neurological disorders. According to a survey by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), 37% of high school children showed symptoms of poor mental health, and 44% reported feeling discouraged and hopeless about the future. Knowing how prevalent emotional and psychological disorders are among the younger generation, the onus is on the adults to identify symptoms timely.
For instance, if you’re looking after a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), it is crucial to understand how adhd affects children and what measures to take. In recent years, there have been an increase in reports of anxiety and depressive disorders among children. There is a lot on a child’s plate, from stressful school environments to dysfunctional households. As an adult, you must identify warning signs beforehand and get them the help they need. Children often don’t realize how they feel or struggle to describe their emotions adequately. Therefore, adults need to recognize and understand their behavior and emotional changes.
2. Talk to children about how their feelings and emotions
The next step to identifying changes in your child’s behavior or emotions is talking to them. Parents, teachers, and caregivers should teach children about identifying and managing emotions. Conversations on such heavy topics may seem uncomfortable initially, but they are not pointless. Discussing emotions and feelings can help your children open up to you if anything goes wrong, like a fight with a peer or if they feel stressed out. Building a foundation with your children will help develop trust and nourish your relationship.
Moreover, early on, discussing conventionally negative emotions like sadness, anger, or jealousy can help children open up and discuss negative feelings. Discussions regarding mental health and emotions may seem like an alien concept to parents of the previous generation, but times have changed. Children are constantly bombarded with information and situations that may stimulate a range of emotions. Not knowing how to deal with such emotions may cause a build-up inside them that can harm their mental well-being. Therefore, talk to them about feelings and difficult situations to help them manage their emotions better.
3. Foster connections and healthy relationships
Apart from identifying warning signs and helping your child manage emotions, you can teach them to foster healthy relationships and connections with their family members, peers, and others around them. School-going children often have two to three groups they hang out with the most – family, friends, and teachers at school. Teaching skills like empathy, active listening, and helping others to your children is crucial. Teach them to be kind and respectful towards everyone around them.
While fostering connections, teaching your children about helping others and becoming more involved in their world is imperative. People who feel discouraged about life feel good after giving back to their communities as they feel a sense of belonging that was previously absent. As a guardian, parent or teacher, engage children in age-appropriate volunteer activities. Teachers can ask them for minor assistance during class, like handing out worksheets to peers, etc. Children develop feelings of fulfillment and belonging and feel empowered knowing they helped someone.
4. Spend time together
As a family member, whether parent or elder sibling, you can foster deep and meaningful connections with a child by spending quality time together. Often parents and guardians misconstrue quality family time by sitting in the tv lounge or at the dinner table where everyone’s glued to their cellphones or gadgets. Quality time is more than that. Spending quality time means engaged in an activity together, like watching your child’s favorite movie or show or hearing them talk about their favorite characters or the storyline. You can also plan playdates with your child, like a trip to the bookstore or the park where you both take walks and talk about life.
Spending quality alone time with your child will help you have conversations about emotions or if they’re having a difficult time with a friend or at school. Alone time with children helps foster better relationships. Your child will see you as an important figure in their life and be more willing to keep you in the loop about what’s happening at school or generally in their life. By spending quality time, you can give input to your child about unhealthy friendships or situations they might be in.
5. Develop consistent routines
Work on developing consistent routines with your children. Work out a way with your child so you can take time out of your busy schedule to give them undivided attention. Developing a routine will also give them room to study efficiently, play with friends, and have quality family time. Sticking to flexible routines helps make children more respectful of time. Caregivers and parents can also inculcate the habit of spending alone or “me time” in children. Such practices will help them destress and be more aware of their emotions and mental well-being.
Routines are also helpful in teaching children to manage their emotions better. While some anxiety is okay to give us a boost, we need to become productive; feeling too anxious or nervous can negatively impact mental health. If your child is constantly on the go and has a poorly structured routine, they may not know when to pause and take a break. Such unhealthy habits develop people-pleasing traits and heighten stress levels among children. Make sure you teach your child how to validate their feelings and decide what’s best for them.
Reminding your children that life is full of uncertainties and hardships doesn’t mean they are constantly on guard. Teach them to enjoy the little moments in life and be happy and content with what they have. Allowing them to validate their feelings will help you raise confident children who become emotionally aware adults.