An exploration of Children’s Mental Health

A parent holds his child above his head
Photo by Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash

As many of you who have read my blog before will know, I am passionate about Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing for children and adults. I believe that if we can create a positive emotional connection, particularly between parents and their children, this paves the way for their development to thrive in all areas.

This week’s blog will provide you with tools that you can use to nurture your child’s mental health.

1. Actively listen before offering your advice.
We often don’t really listen to what a child is telling us. It is easy to be distracted by other things going on around us and not truly focus on what we are being told. Don’t always offer advice immediately; listen to what you are being asked. The way forward could be problem-solving and looking at options together rather than being a parent that always jumps in with their own advice.

2. Be patient
It may be that your child needs longer to complete a task than you expect. Try to plan time for those tasks which can take longer, give plenty of warning of what is happening next in their routine. Use valuable time to hear what your child is saying and recognise that they may take longer to express themselves depending on their language skills and level of development

3. Share your feelings
Showing your feelings to children allows them to understand and observe responses to situations. It is okay to say ‘I am feeling quite cross at the moment, I need to go and…’ This gives them the opportunity to learn how to act and respond by watching and observing you.

4. Provide validation for their feelings
You don’t have to agree with them, but just showing you acknowledge and respect how they are feeling gives them a safe space to express themselves.

5. Tell the truth
Children do not deal with deception well, particularly at an early age. They will not understand and this may lead to a meltdown. Be truthful and clear with them but do this in an age and developmentally appropriate way.

6. Model healthy behaviours
This is where you can practice some ‘mirroring’. For children to understand how to respond or react in a given situation, they need to learn and the best person to learn from is you! You are the person they will always come to first, so your behaviours teach them how to behave and learn about their world. Healthy behaviours to show them include: exercise, a healthy diet, family time and good sleep. All of these contribute to good mental health.

7. Be consistent and follow through on what you have promised
You need to be consistent with expectations and having these made clear along with behaviour boundaries creates security and a feeling of being safe. If you are always changing your expectations and boundaries, your child will become confused and be unsure how to react. Always follow through with promises. If you have said you will do something, make sure your child sees that you honour that promise.

8. Believe them and in them
Children need to know they are believed. If your child is telling you something, listen to them and work out what they need from you. It might be ‘I believe you, thank you for sharing that with me’, It might be ‘tell me more about that’. Believe in their capabilities and have appropriate expectations for their age and development. If you place your expectations too high, your child will lack belief in themselves; too low and you are underestimating their abilities.

9. Practice relaxation and Mindfulness together
Teaching your child relaxation techniques and mindfulness is a great way of sharing skills that can be used to manage their emotions. However, for these to work, you need to practice them regularly. Make time every day to do a mindfulness or relaxation activity and practice this when both you and they are calm. You want it to become automatic so that when a child feels and recognises they need to calm down or recentre themselves, they draw on these exercises themselves.

10. Recognise positive choices
When children have made positive choices, acknowledge these and praise them. Show them you have observed the positive choices that they have made and where appropriate how other people involved are likely to feel.

11. View behaviour as a window to your child’s needs and feelings
With all behaviour, children are showing us what they are truly feeling. Avoid labelling behaviours as good or bad; they are merely expressions of what your child is experiencing at a given time. Take a step back and try to see the reasons for the behaviour, validate those reasons and give secure reassurances that you are there for them if they need you. You don’t have to agree with a behaviour, but you do need to accept that is what your child is feeling at that specific time.

12. Reach out and hug them
Physical touch is a human need for almost everyone. Sometimes a hug for no reason can emotionally and physically connect you together. Just saying ‘I love you’ shows your child you accept them for who they are and that they belong with you.

13. Value family time and 1-1 time every day
This is very important for a child’s mental health. Having time with each parent wherever possible every day allows your relationship to grow and become something special. Children who are away from you for much of the day particularly need time to connect with you. Even if all you can manage is 10-15 minutes a day, allow for it in your routine. Talk about your day and your feelings from the day along with any challenges you experienced. Allow your child to share as well. It is important that your child leads the play during this time as well. Some suggestions for this time are playing a game, doing some role play or doing a craft activity. Choose something you can both truly engage with. This needs to be a time where you are not distracted by other things, so put away your mobile phones!

Learning more

If you would like more ideas of how to connect with your child or want to understand how to manage challenging emotions and behaviours, contact Julie to see how she can help.