How many of us truly make our mental health a top priority? Or make self care part of our daily routine? If you do, that’s awesome!!! If you don’t, I’ll bet that if you had been taught when you were a kid to take care of your mental health it would be easier to do now. In fact, it would just be part of your normal everyday life. It’s certainly much easier to start good habits young than stop a bad habit when you’re older. That’s why if we start helping our children develop good ways to take care of themselves as young as possible, they will have those skills for the rest of their lives. Good mental health helps children think clearly, problem solve, develop socially, have a higher self esteem, and a more positive outlook on life.
So you ask, what can we begin to do? Well, the first step we can take as the adults in their lives is to SHOW them what taking care of yourself mentally looks like. Whether that’s beginning journaling, practicing daily mindfulness, being very intentional about finding joy in each day, or seeing a therapist, whatever you do to take care of you. And if you’re not taking care of you, please begin, maybe even begin with your children. Kids can journal, practice mindfulness, etc.. My son began to journal when he was around 7 or 8 and continues to journal to this day, and he’s 28. When he started, I gave him a regular spiral notebook, pens, and tape when we would travel, and he would draw, tape in little souvenirs, write his thoughts, feeling words, etc… This evolved into almost daily journaling. Since he began having difficulties with anxiety and depression when he was a teenager, this practice has become invaluable over the years.
As parents, we teach our kids to take care of their bodies, their teeth, eat right….We cannot leave out their mental health anymore. The next thing we must do is begin helping your child understand that good mental health means having a good balance in life, and that this balance looks different for different people. Understanding this and discovering their balance could become an essential way of thinking for our kids. Learning this at a young age can help them find and keep balance with school, home, social activities, etc…. It also helps them and us recognize early when things are “out of whack”.
Another thing we must do is to continue to remove the stigma of mental illness or mental health for our kids. And I say continue because I think as a society we are beginning to make a little progress, but there’s a lot more work to do. We often feel a little uncomfortable about mental health issues and we shouldn’t…we can’t. The stigma related to mental health and mental illness can cause parents to overlook problems their children may be having. It can cause kids to be reluctant to share what they are feeling or experiencing or even to acknowledge they’re struggling. They’re scared of being labeled “crazy” or worse. How awful is that? To know you’re having some problems but are so afraid of what others will think you can’t bare to seek help. We must help them understand that problems like depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses are just the same as if we had something physically wrong like diabetes or heart disease. We must help them understand that someone with a mental illness or mental health issue is not damaged, broken, or “crazy”. These are all reasons why opening up the conversation with your child is so very important. If you’re unsure how to even start talking to your child, I will be doing my next post on how to do just that.
Finally, make sure that as parents you are encouraging them, not only in their successes but also in their mistakes and failures. Children should learn early that its not only ok to fail but that’s it is inevitable and important. Encourage your child to not only strive for their best, but to enjoy the process. Tell them you’re proud of them, no matter what. Help them learn from mistakes, not avoid them. When they do fail, tell them your proud of them for trying and that you will be there to help them try again. If they make a mistake, forgive them and praise them for the wonderful person they are and will continue to be. Children need to know that they are loved whether they have accomplishments or not. Mistakes and defeats should be expected and accepted. Confidence grows in a home that encourages children and is full of unconditional love and affection. You might try to help them learn to set realistic goals by matching their ambitions with their ability. And always be careful of your own expectations, we want to help kids meet their potential without pushing them way too hard. Be honest with your children about your own mistakes and failures because this can be very reassuring to them. In helping our kids accept, understand, and learn from mistakes and failures, we give them the tool of not being afraid to try. All of these ideas are going to help your child develop good self esteem and personal confidence which is the most important aspect of good mental health.
If we begin as early as possible in simple, small ways to teach our kids good mental health, and we work at doing our part as their parents, we will raise more confident, balanced adults. If or when problems do arise for them, it will be much easier for us and them to seek the help they need sooner.
If you find yourself concerned that you or your child is having significant problems, please contact us for help. I’m extremely passionate about your and your child’s mental health. I understand the difficulties a child can face, and am a trained, compassionate therapist who has worked with hundreds of kids from pre-k to high school. So please reach out if you need help in any way. You may just have questions, or you might be in need of therapy yourself. Either way, I would be happy to walk down the path of mental wellness with you and your child.