As a parent, one of your most important jobs is making sure your kids are healthy and well-adjusted. Yet, as most of us know, it isn’t enough to just keep a child well fed and active. Just like in teenagers and adults, mental health is as important as physical health. Growing up can be a very stressful time, filled with unique challenges and many sources of anxiety. Children find themselves faced with an unfamiliar and oftentimes strange world and are just starting to figure it out for themselves.
During this period of growth and transition, it’s vitally important that you are there to help and guide your children towards a positive mental health state. Yet, just like with older individuals, it can be challenging to identify whether or not your child is struggling with their mental health since, unlike physical injuries, mental health issues can be hard to see on the surface. In order to give your child the best possible upbringing, here are five ways you can help to ensure your child is both physically and mentally healthy during this period of their life.
Open Communication Is Key
One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to encourage your child to communicate with you freely and openly. As long as your child trusts that they can say what’s on their minds, you can feel more confident that you’ll know when your child is feeling scared or anxious or otherwise in need of your support. However, it’s important to recognize that encouraging open communication isn’t the same as asking your child prying questions about their thoughts and actions.
Even young children have a sense of privacy, and they have to feel safe and comfortable with telling you what they think before they’ll tell you what they’re really thinking. Instead, the best way to encourage open communication is by communicating openly with your child yourself. Talk to your child often about what’s on your mind, and don’t outright dismiss their questions or concerns. This can help validate their feelings, making them more receptive to be candid with you.
While children can ask a lot of questions, it’s important that you take the time to answer them, too. Not only does answering these seemingly simple questions help your child to have a better understanding of the world around them, which can help with their mental health on its own, but it also demonstrates to your child that you’re willing to speak openly with them. By opening that door to communication with your child and actively listening to them, you can ensure that you’ll know as soon as something is bothering them.
Being mindful of your child’s mental health is another key step in helping them to have a positive mental state. A lot of children don’t really understand mental health as a concept, and in turn, they aren’t really in touch with their own emotions and the causes behind them. It’s important that, as a parent, you help your child navigate their first steps into mental awareness by teaching them how to be mindful about mental health.
This can be as simple as teaching your child to come and find you if they’re feeling bad. It’s also important to avoid getting frustrated or upset if your child can’t immediately tell you why they’re feeling bad, either. Simply offer your child gentle support and ensure them that they’re safe and that you’re with them. You can also try to find other means to communicate with them, such as asking them encouraging questions. You should also thank them for being so expressive with you, as well.
Another great way to teach your child mindfulness about mental health is through books. Children’s books have traditionally been a fantastic tool to introduce complicated concepts to younger children, and many children’s books are specifically designed to introduce mental health concepts to kids. It’s also important that you stay mindful of your own mental health as a parent too. If you feel that you might be suffering from a mental health issue, a simple mental illness test can help you determine whether or not to seek additional support if you see more social anxiety disorder symptoms.
A common mistake a lot of parents make is feeling as though children don’t really have the same stresses and sources of anxieties as we adults do. Because of this, they may outright dismiss their kids’ fears and concerns when they do finally express them. While it might be true that children deal with lower stakes than parents do, the human body doesn’t experience stress relatively that way. Even if their fears are not on the same level as ours, it’s still just as equally valid to them.
The fact is, a child’s fear of a monster underneath their bed releases the same cortisol response that any frightening situation would invoke in an adult, such as hiding from a dangerous intruder. It’s extremely important that you don’t dismiss your child’s fears and instead offer them support when they communicate their anxieties to you. How you react to your child when they try to communicate with you is incredibly important. If you react poorly, you might make your child less likely to share their concerns with you in the future.
Encourage Healthy Living
Although mental health and physical health are distinct from one another, it is also undeniable that they influence each other and are inherently intertwined. Positive living habits such as exercise, a healthy sleep schedule, and a balanced diet are all incredibly important — not just for encouraging physical health but also for mental health too. Make sure that your child gets ample time for outdoor activity, as well as spending time having fun and socializing. These are vital parts of childhood that affect development and mental health well into the future of a child’s life.
Seek Help When Necessary
Finally, it’s important to recognize when your child can benefit from additional support that you as a parent may not be able to provide by yourself. Sometimes children experience recurrent phenomena, such as nightmares or chronic fears, that require the support of a therapist or another mental health professional. You should also seek professional help if your child has experienced something traumatic in their lives or if they exhibit any signs of a mental illness.
While it’s important that you remain attentive to any signs of poor mental health in your child, it’s also important to recognize that children, just like adults, have natural emotional ups and downs. You shouldn’t expect your children to always be happy, and they should have permission to always express themselves freely. By contributing to your child’s mental health in a positive way and following these five tips, you can help guide them towards having a positive mental state through their childhood and beyond.
Featured Image by Lorri Lang from Pixabay