Compassionate and comprehensive mental health care is an important part of any and every child’s overall health and well-being. Issues in a child’s mental health can dramatically affect every aspect of the child’s life, including performance in school, friendships and self-confidence, energy for and interest in extracurricular activities. As children we all form habits that stay with us for most of our lives. Childhood is an essential time to begin the beneficial habit of caring for our mental health!
As SAMHSA points out, “It’s more than just being moody,” and “it’s more than just a phase.” If your child is having a difficult time mentally or emotionally, it’s important to pay attention to this and take it seriously and not disregard it as “age-appropriate.” If a child thrives on the inside then he or she can also thrive on the outside. Approximately one in ten children aged 5-16 suffer from a mental health disorder in the US and the UK.
Start with how your child thinks about himself. Pay attention to their self-image, their anxiety, their body image, etc. One of the best ways to develop children’s mental health is to ask them regularly how they feel, how they think about themselves. Ask questions and really listen to the answers. Engage them in conversation. Work to create a safe environment where the child feels that he can share and discuss thoughts safely. Things like routine, structure and regular discussion and conversation can dramatically help a child understand and positively develop his mental health.
Another good discussion to have with children involves their expectations—for themselves and also for others. It’s good to discuss expectations with a child so that you, as the parent or adult in their life, can help him develop reasonable and realistic expectations for themselves. As this video from the Canadian Pediatric Society points out, a child will be stressed unnecessarily if she thinks that she must excel at every sport she plays, for example. Instead, you can help her understand the benefits of sports beyond excelling at goal scoring and can, for example, discuss the realistic expectation that sometimes she’ll score goals and sometimes she won’t, sometimes she’ll have a lot of fun and feel energized and sometimes she may not have fun or may feel tired while playing.
You can also begin this process by having open, compassionate conversations with your kids about what mental health and mental illness are. As this video points out, a lot of kids aren’t sure what mental health means and don’t understand that it is something that we all need to pay attention to for ourselves.
Lastly, here are some good tips on how to develop healthy habits within your family, habits that dramatically affect mental health. You can talk to your kids about the mental health benefits of these healthy habits.
We want to hear from you!
How do you think adults can help kids understand and develop mental health?
What has worked or what hasn’t worked for you with your own kids or kids in your life?
What worked or didn’t work for you when you were a child?
Are there strategies your parents used that worked well?