To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, we’ve rounded up the things you can do as a parent to care for your children’s mental wellbeing
Recent figures from the Office of National Statistics reveal that one in 10 children between age one and 15 suffers from a mental health disorder – a sobering statistic. No matter your child’s age, there’s always something you can do to help them understand their thoughts and feelings. Establishing healthy habits from the beginning will benefit them greatly in later life, because looking after your health – whether it is physical or mental – is a life-long task.
Here are five things you can do to help support your child:
- Talk, talk, talk
It may seem pretty straightforward, but often just talking about emotions and sharing feelings can ease the burden. Whether it’s at the dinner table, or a quick catch-up before bedtime, take the time to be truly present for your child without any distractions. If you have more than one, it might be beneficial to have quality one-on-one time with each child, letting them know they can speak to you about anything whenever they feel the need. However, if it transpires that they would rather open up to someone else, put steps in place to make it happen. It might be a teacher, or perhaps an aunt or uncle, but it’s important they have someone to speak honestly with.
- Learn to listen
Really listen to what your child has to say. Give them your full attention, without any distractions, and it will only encourage them to speak honestly and openly. Try and remember what it was like as a child when talking to parents about your feelings, and respond accordingly. Ask open-ended questions and give thoughtful answers without overreacting – they might be put off talking to you again if you come over all flustered and angry.
If your little one seems reluctant to openly talk about their emotions, try addressing these issues through play. This allows conversations and questions to be interweaved into the situation, and can prevent it feeling like an interrogation. You can always try a creative activity; ask your child to depict their feelings through a story or picture. If this task proves particularly useful, you could set aside some time to do it once a week. This sort of commitment gives kids an opportunity every week (or however often you choose) to open up.
- Create a safe and positive home environment
A happy home is a healthy one. Praising your children will help them develop self-esteem and feel good about themselves and their abilities. Try not to talk about things like finances, illness, or particularly harrowing news stories in front of the children; it will only make them worry. Keep a check on their media use, too; free reign of the Internet might not be such a good idea for inquisitive minds.
- Be a good role model
Look after your own mental health and it’ll have a positive effect on your entire family. After all, children learn to mirror the actions of their parents, so think about how you deal with your own emotions – such as anger and frustration – in front of them. Try and explain your behaviour – both good and bad – and demonstrate how you go about solving problems. And, of course, don’t forget the basics; eat a healthy diet, make time for exercise, and get enough sleep.