How Do I Help My Child Look After Their Mental Health?
Did you know that 1 in 8 children and young people have a diagnosable mental health condition?
I got this statistic from the children’s mental health charity Place2Be, who are running #ChildrensMentalHealthWeek this week. Their theme this year is ‘Find your Brave’ which focuses on teaching children the importance of looking after their own emotional wellbeing.
I’m a huge advocate for children being taught about mental health as young as they can, so they can start to build strategies and awareness about their own mental health which will help them manage it throughout their adult lives.
There’s so many things we can do as parents to help children understand their feelings and thoughts, as well as teach them how to regulate these healthily.
Due to my own mental health I often worry about how my son is learning to manage his thoughts and emotions, so I’ve spent time researching ways to teach him things that don’t come naturally to me.
Here are my tips, feel free to add your own in the comments, the more the merrier!
Ways To Help Children Look After Their Mental Health
Educate Them In A Fun Way
What is mental health? Informing children about what mental health means is the first step. I try to make it fun with games and books where possible, and we talk about it whilst doing something relaxing.
I’ve found some brilliant books over the last seven years that have described mental health and how to recognise and manage your emotions aimed at children of all ages. My son has had many bedtime stories that have had these important messages and teachings within them and they’ve opened up great conversations for us for days afterwards.
Rather than listing all of my favourite books, I’ve added them all to my recommendation list on my Amazon store*.I’ve even got lists there for some great books that have helped me with my own mental health as well as parenting around the subject.
Tell Them Your Real-Life Scenarios
While you are driving, baking or playing together tell them about times when you have dealt with things that have been tough emotionally.
This helps your child to feel like you understand them, as you are showing them you have been through similar things.
Don’t forget to include some times where you have NOT dealt well with things, as it’s important that they realise we all make mistakes while learning about our emotions and trying to find what works best for us as individuals.
Practice What You Preach
Parents are a child’s biggest teaching tool. We show them ways to deal with emotions every single day. They observe our every move from the day they’re born, so we’re responsible for modelling ways for them to deal with emotions and feelings.
Being open about how we are feeling, both positive and negative feelings, helps them learn to verbalise their emotions.
The ways we respond to our feelings can encourage our kids to react in the same way when they feel this. I’m guilty of getting snappy when I’m running late or have lost something, so my son has started to mimic this when he has similar experiences. I’ve been trying to now verbalise how I’m feeling during these scenarios so he can start labelling his emotions too, and I’ve noticed that as soon as I say the feeling out loud it helps me to calm down a little.
During times I don’t regulate well, such as snapping or shouting over things that didn’t need that response, I now make a big point of apologising to my son and talking through how I felt during those moments. This does a range of things including ensuring he knows it wasn’t his fault and that he is loved, whilst helping him begin to understand that feelings can affect our behaviours if we don’t recognise them early enough.
I am learning a huge amount about the difficulties I have with regulating emotions through trying to parent my son about this
Check In With Them
Try to find space at least once a week to check in with them about their feelings. This helps them to get into a habit of exploring their feelings, as well as experience in verbalising them to somebody they trust.
It also builds trust and a closer bond between you, whilst giving your child the regular space to offload if they need to about anything going on for them.
Praise your child whenever they manage their mental health positively; Did they apologise after having a tantrum? Did they get upset and use feeling words? Did they walk away instead of react to something? Did they do something brave out of their comfort zone?
Praise reinforces the skill they are learning and encourages them to continue to respond in these ways and helps to raise their self-esteem and confidence.
Teach Regulation Strategies
If, like me, you struggle to handle your own emotions, then it can be hard to teach a child how to do it in a constructive way. I have been reading a few books lately focusing on how I can respond better to things (check out the adult book recommendations on my Amazon shop here*) and these have given me techniques to try which my son has noticed.
This has included breathing techniques, including holding an imaginary hot chocolate and then breathing in the smell of it, before breathing out slowly to cool the drink down. He loves doing this with me and showing me how I can ‘do it better’.
You can also teach them how to look after themselves by having treat nights, where they learn that things like having a relaxing bath, watching a happy film and playing board games can help them to have space to calm.
There are websites like Childline where you can tell them about where they can talk online to professionals for support if they don’t want to talk to somebody they know, so whenever they feel sad or angry they have another outlet to use.
You could find meditation and yoga practises on YouTube to do with them so they can try out other ways that may give them space to calm and think mindfully too. These things may then become the go-to they use whenever they feel overwhelmed.
Identify Good Strategies
Whenever you see somebody else around you, on TV or social media using good strategies to deal with their feelings and emotions, identify them to your children. These help to further motivate and teach your child about ways they can support themselves.
It’s important for young people to know it’s OK not to be OK. They can feel sad, angry, irritated and upset, they don’t need to block the feelings out as this can cause them to build up. As long as they aren’th urting others in the way they are letting those feelings out, they need to be able to spend time with those emotions.
If they do show the emotions in a way that upsets somebody else, reassure them they can help ease this for the other person by apologising and explaining what they were feeling at the time and listening to how this affected the other person.
Reassure them the feelings will pass and that they have the ability to manage them.
This post is not in collaboration with anybody.
*Links to my Amazon shop have been included, which is affiliated meaning if purchases were made in the shop I would receive a small commission.