Our feelings, thoughts, and actions are all affected by our mental health. Nurturing ourselves mentally is equally as important as maintaining a healthy body, and parents play a very significant part in the mental health of their children.
The job of nurturing a child’s mental health may seem monumental, however, it isn’t as difficult as some parents may perceive it. Parents can promote good mental health in their children through their own words and actions, and through the environment they create at home.
Creating strong positive bonds with family and friends is important for children, and is one of the first steps parents can take in doing their bit to ensure their mental health. Time should be taken to interact with their children each day, for instance, chatting on the way to school or before bed. An article on www.caringforchildren.cps.ca purports that children need a “significant person who is consistently present” in their life who “plays a crucial role in helping him develop resilience.” This person is often a parent or other family member, is someone the child spends a lot of time with, and will become someone the child knows they can turn to when they need help.
Secondly, parents should help children to develop self esteem so that they are confident and feel good about themselves. This may be achieved by showing lots of love and acceptance, praising them for their accomplishments, and recognizing the effort they put in. Simply asking questions about their activities and interests, goes a long way in nurturing a child’s feeling of importance, and self worth.
Knowing that our thoughts and feelings are respected by those we hold most dear is significant in maintaining mental health. Children must be listened to and their feelings must be respected as much as an adult’s. A third tip for parents, is to keep in mind that it is normal, and healthy for a child to feel sad, or angry. children should be encouraged to talk about how they feel, so both they and their parents can understand the source of their unhappiness, and together, find solutions on how to move forward. Mealtime can be a good time for talking. If a parent feels that their child isn’t comfortable talking to them, they can find another person to play the role of confidante. What is important is that the child has someone in their life with whom they can discuss their feelings.
Children should be taught how to relax when they feel upset, and how to handle difficult situations. Deep breathing, taking some time alone, or going for a walk, are some exercises children can use to calm themselves. By constantly talking with them about possible solutions or ideas to improve a situation, children eventually learn how to handle problems on their own. When having these kinds of exchanges, parents must remember never to take over the conversation.
While taking steps to safeguard their child’s mental health, parents must remember to take care of their own. As their child’s role model, they must be sure to talk about their own feelings and make time for the things they enjoy.
There are mental health issues that cannot be predicted and cannot be prevented by creating positive stable, loving home environments. Fortunately, mental health disorders are treatable. The key is recognizing that there is a problem and getting healthy as early as possible. Early treatment of mental health problems prevents them from becoming more serious and can lessen the effect they have on a child’s development.
Parents of children with mental illness may notice changes in how they are thinking feeling or acting. It is also possible for mental illness to lead to physical changes in their child.
According to Mayo Clinic, some warning signs of mental illness include:
- Mood changes. Look for feelings of sadness or withdrawal that last at least two weeks or severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships at home or school.
- Intense feelings. Be aware of feelings of overwhelming fear for no reason — sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing — or worries or fears intense enough to interfere with daily activities.
- Behavior changes. These include drastic changes in behavior or personality, as well as dangerous or out-of-control behavior. Fighting frequently, using weapons and expressing a desire to badly hurt others also are warning signs.
- Difficulty concentrating. Look for signs of trouble focusing or sitting still, both of which might lead to poor performance in school.
Children with mental health disorders have the potential to lead normal lives, and there are many ways for parents to help. The Canadian Paediatric Society suggests that if any of the behaviours described above has lasted for a significant time, or has begun to affect their ability to function, parents should consult with the child’s doctor, or call the local mental health crisis line for help.