As parents, most of us work hard to keep our kids physically healthy. We make sure they get to their physicals every year, we feed them nutritious food, and we take them to the doctor when they’re sick. But have you ever really thought about how to support your child’s mental health?
Children’s mental health is just as important as their physical health, and the CDC reports that as many as 1 out of 5 children experience a mental health crisis in a given year. Not all mental health issues can be avoided, but there are things you can do.
Here are three ways parents can support and improve their children’s mental health:
1 - Add more consistency to your child’s life.
Providing your child with consistency is one of the top things that you can do to support their mental health. Feeling safe is key to calming our children’s nervous system and emotions, and one of the best ways to help our children feel safe is to provide structure and predictability.
Here are some simple ways to add consistency to your family life:
- Set up daily routines and calendars so kids know what to expect each day and throughout the week.
- Decide and communicate expectations and consequences in advance so your kids know what happens when they don’t behave as expected.
- Decide and communicate rewards or privileges that they will receive when they are cooperating.
2 - Teach your child stress management skills.
We can’t prevent our kids from experiencing stress, nor do we want to — as it’s a normal part of the human experience they will be faced with time and time again.
Kids are bound to struggle socially with friends, academically, or with a host of other things. I invite you to consider each of these challenges as an opportunity to help your child build skills in navigating through stressful situations.
Raising mentally healthy kids is not a state we help them achieve, but a set of skills that we help them develop. When we teach our kids coping skills to deal with stress in healthy ways, we set them up for future success.
Here is where I recommend you start:
Help kids build an emotional vocabulary by labeling feelings so they have the words to communicate what they are experiencing. When kids are struggling emotionally but they don’t know how to communicate those feelings, it causes additional stress. When your child has the words and skills to communicate their feelings, it helps lower their stress response.
You can do this by simply naming their feelings as they have them, using feeling-faces posters, or with age appropriate books.
3 - Work on your own mental health, modeling positive stress management.
How do you handle stressful or anxiety-provoking situations? Remember, our kids pay more attention to what we do than what we say. When you model positive ways to manage stress and navigate through challenging situations, your children learn from you.
If you find that you’re not managing stressful situations well, or you’re struggling mentally, please get help. Research shows that children are at a greater risk of developing mental health issues when their parents have mental health problems, but when the parents get help, their children’s mental health symptoms improve as well.
By getting help yourself, you also show your children that it’s okay to seek outside help when you need it.
If you want to add more tools to your parenting toolbox and learn how to help your kids develop coping and stress management skills, I can help. This month in the Confident Parenting Club we are discussing how to help kids build both emotional and problem focused coping skills (which you can use too)! Click here to learn more about the Club and get access to more tools, scripts and strategies so you can start parenting more confidently today.
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