Seven ways to encourage your child to look after their mental health
Thinking about how to support your child’s mental health can feel overwhelming. We know that our kids are facing more pressures than ever with social media comparison and anxiety, plus they’ve experienced a global pandemic at a key time in their development. How do we encourage them to look after their mental health now, and as they grow up?
We’ve rounded up a few ideas – start with one or two, and see where they take you!
Model healthy habits
Taking care of your own mental health is positive for your kids, and not only because you’ll have more capacity for positive parenting. Children learn through observing, so they’ll notice what we prioritise, how we handle mistakes, and how we bounce back. Being a healthy example definitely doesn’t mean handling everything like a pro! It’s great to share that we’re all still learning and trying, and there’s room to grow together. Maybe it’s looks like limiting time on your phone, modelling how we all benefit from having a break from screens. Maybe walking is your thing, or sitting somewhere beautiful clears your head. Share why it’s important to you, and keep making time for it.
We all process experiences differently, and we’ll each develop personal coping strategies for anxiety, uncertainty, and sadness. Physical bursts of activity can help shake out that flight-or-fight stress response – try star jumps, or energetic dancing. Listening to a favourite soothing playlist can be familiar and calming. And loads of us use creativity to get our inside feelings out on to a page, whether that’s through drawing, colouring, or writing in a journal. It may be instantly clear what works for your child, or you may need to try a couple of approaches and see what fits. As a pattern emerges, talk about it so your child can learn to use it independently, for example: ‘It seems like moving your body feels really good when you have anxious feelings’.
Normalise talking about emotions
Children experience all the big feelings – toddler meltdowns, anyone? – but they don’t always know how to label or explain them. When we talk about what’s bubbling up inside, it can bridge this gap and offer the reassurance that it’s OK to feel a range of emotions (even if some aren’t pleasant to experience!) This could be as simple as something as “You wanted to stay longer at the park. You’re sad because it’s time to come home”. It may sound like stating the obvious, but empathy can have an almost magical effect as we feel seen and known.
This may feel especially challenging if you had to suppress or ignore emotions in your own childhood – maybe the message was always to be happy (or at least seem happy) or that crying wasn’t OK. Diving into big emotions can feel scary at any age – be gentle with yourself.
Make space for longer conversations
This doesn’t have to be a face-to-face interview at the table. Conversations often unfold while we’re doing other things: planting in the garden, walking the dog, working on a hobby. Sometimes it’s easier to unload while there’s a joint focus on something other than the emotional elephant in the room. There’s no obligation to make direct eye contact, or worry about silences. If you feel something’s weighing on your child’s mind, this can be a great no-pressure approach – block out some time together, actively listen, see what unfolds.
Follow your child's mindful lead
Young children tend to be naturally engaged in the present moment, curious and absorbed with what’s around them. That’s not always convenient when we’re rushing from A to B, but look out for times where you can really lean into it. Most of us grow out of this kind of mindfulness, and then have to relearn it as adults! Engaging all the senses helps us to feel grounded, and can be especially helpful for reducing anxiety. Take a moment, and notice what you can see, smell, taste, hear and feel.
Make a difference to somebody
Make a difference to somebody. Helping others is a great way to feel connected to the wider world, and making even a small difference is incredibly rewarding. Adults who volunteer show measurable happiness boosts, so it’s a healthy thing to encourage in our kids. Join a litter pick up in your area, contribute to a local food bank, put a bird feeder in the garden, or draw pictures for nursing home residents. A lot of advice about looking after our mental health is focused on self-care, but knowing we’re part of a bigger picture is a wonderfully reassuring thing.
Finally, don't forget physical health!
We know that what we eat, how we sleep and how often we’re active all play important roles in mental wellbeing. What’s good for the body tends to be good for the mind. Eating fruit and vegetables helps us produce serotonin, exercise increases blood flow to the brain, and we definitely need quality sleep to be able to function physically and mentally (sleep-deprived parents, you know this firsthand, right?) Healthy habits here will make all the other tips even more effective.
Check out more advice, and ways to get involved with Mental Health Awareness Week, at https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week.
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All the products listed have been chosen as they are designed to support a child's mental health and as not intended as a replacement to more in-depth medical interventions. If your child's mental health is something you're concerned about, please make an appointment with your doctor or GP, or get in touch with any of the support services listed below:
⭐ Mind – www.mind.org.uk – 0300 123 3393
⭐ Samaritans – www.samaritans.org – 116 123
⭐ Rethink – www.rethink.org – 0121 522 7007
⭐ Young Minds - Youngminds.org.uk
⭐ Find a counsellor near you:
🗣 British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy - www.Bacp.co.uk
🗣 Counselling Directory - www.Counselling-directory.org.uk
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