As parents, teachers, and caregivers of children, we are constantly focused on each child’s wellbeing: “Did you brush your teeth?” “Did you finish your dinner?” “Did you put on sunscreen?” But, are we concentrated on their mental wellbeing? It’s an important question to pose, as mental health should be valued as highly as our children’s’ physical health. Alarmingly, according to experts, 70% of children and young people who experience a mental health problem have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age. Good mental health provides children with the life-long ability to cope with difficult circumstances and situations.
Self-care practices can help alleviate some of the negative symptoms of mental health problems. But self-care is not a “trend” of bubble baths and face masks — self-care starts from within. However, children and adolescents may not be able to identify what they are feeling as mental health concerns nor know how to find solutions. It’s up to us to guide our children and teach them how to navigate through emotional times.
Come to terms with emotions.
The first step to introducing self-care to our children is to teach them how to identify, understand, and accept, their emotions. Vanderbilt University suggests helping children understand their emotions by first, giving the feelings names, and then encouraging them to talk about how they are feeling. With younger children, for example, Vanderbilt proposes saying to them, “Daddy left on a trip, you are sad. You said you want your Daddy.” By helping your child identify and label emotions, you are teaching them emotional competence, which refers to their ability to express or release emotions effectively.
For older adolescents and teens, societal pressures can make it even more difficult to open up about what they are feeling. To ease into any discussion, your child can benefit from free mental health resources like podcasts that allow them to listen to the experiences of others who share similar experiences as them.
Use emotion regulation coping skills.
It’s important to note that regulating emotions, or thinking constructively about how to cope with emotions, does not equate to emotions disappearing. It’s actually important to be in tune with what you are feeling. Emotions are neither “good” nor “bad” but rather, but how you respond to the emotion is what can be classified (i.e. reactive, harmful, ineffective, etc.). One of the greatest skills we can teach our children is mindfulness — the act of carefully observing thoughts and feelings without judging them. Some suggestions for introducing mindfulness to your children include listening practices, breathing techniques, and even attentive walks.
Don’t forget external factors.
Teaching our children to manage emotions is a crucial first step for mental health self-care. But there are so many more actions that can be taken to achieve and maintain positive mental health. In a physical sense, children can develop healthy habits such as nutritious eating, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep or having a consistent sleeping pattern. Speaking in terms of psychological manners, children might consider attending therapy, joining a support group, journaling, or meditating. When children are able to take care of themselves, they are then able to develop into healthy adults that can cope with whatever stressors life presents them with.
It’s been said that, “Having a healthy mind allows you form positive relationships with those around you as well as develop and build up your self esteem and confidence. It is therefore necessary for your kids to be mentally healthy in order to grow into healthy, well rounded adults.” This goes to show that self-care is a fundamental practice for developing a balanced and healthy well-being.
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