Parenting tips: Supporting mental health for children
Normalizing talking about and prioritizing mental health for children is essential for parents, schools, and our communities. Our children are facing higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, much like adults.
For the last year, our children have been dealing with loss. The loss of celebrating major milestones, the loss of spending time with family and friends, and facing the traumatic impact of the loss of life they have witnessed time and time again.
Our youth need support for their mental health now more than ever.
We don’t have to figure out how to support our children’s mental health on our own. We are not alone.
As a momma and educator, these are a few ways I prioritize caring for the mental health of my children, even if that means sometimes healing through my issues along the way. Whether you are a grandma, the cool aunt, the play big cousin, or family friend, as community, we can help with the mental health of the children we love.
Let’s take a look at these tips for supporting the mental health of children.
1. Leave space for the uncomfortable feelings
As a momma, it breaks my heart to see my children hurting. I want to swoop in like a superhero and protect them from anything and everything, even the uncomfortable things. Unfortunately, protecting them from uncomfortable emotions doesn’t equip them to bravely living the life God created them to live. Instead of solving the problems, sometimes it’s important to let our children feel uncomfortable feelings. Rescuing them instead of equipping them will only make life more challenging as they grow older.
When our children don’t understand their emotions, they avoid or detach from anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. Instead of ignoring what they are feeling, we can teach our children uncomfortable emotions have a purpose. Those emotions are indicators to dig deeper. Taking time to walk our children through processing their feelings equips them to identify, process, and regulate their emotions. We can empower our children to identify healthy choices.
- Give feelings a label.
- Teach coping skills.
- Don’t try to solve every problem.
2. Prioritize Rest
Unfortunately, many of our children are too familiar with constant pulls for their attention. Between access to technology, school responsibilities, practices, games, friends, etc., our children have plenty to keep them busy and their minds distracted. If we are not careful, our children will start to think busy is healthy and normal.
Helping our children’s mental health and emotional wellness includes teaching them how to set aside time for mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual rest. Intentionally safeguarding “white” space on the calendar teaches children how to incorporate rest as a lifestyle instead of a reward for over-exhaustion. Youth need help to create rest and downtime in their lives. We can safeguard their time and model a healthy relationship with rest.
- Regularly observe the Sabbath in your home
- Say “no” to overscheduling.
- Talk to your children about what a lifestyle of rest is like in your home and in their lives.
3. Create healthy relationships with food
Like adults, when children face high levels of stress or anxiety, they can develop an unhealthy relationship with food and their bodies. While some of our children may seek comfort in eating, it is also common for some youth to eat less. You may notice your child going hours without eating anything or even drinking water. These may be signs your child is experience stress, anxiety, or worried about body image.
As parents, we can teach our children to develop healthy relationships with food by creating a positive eating environment. When we talk about food, remove labels like “good” or “bad” and replace them with “healthy” or “unhealthy.” Educating our children about clean eating, processed foods, and developing well-rounded eating habits helps them create a healthy relationship with food. Plus, we need to remember our children are paying attention to our words and our actions regarding our relationships with food.
- Try not to use food as a reward or as a punishment.
- Think about your relationship with food? How are you modeling this relationship in front of your children?
- Help your children recognize stress triggers.
4. Practice Gratitude
Spend time helping your child see the good and express gratitude. Whether you talk about the kitchen table at dinner or curled up today before going to bed, carve out time to teach your child to practice gratitude. Teaching your child how to identify one area of gratitude a day will condition your child to start seeing the good around them.
- Take turns sharing one aspect of your day you are grateful for.
- Purchase a gratitude journal for your child to use
5. Get them moving.
Good physical wellness supports good mental wellness. One significant way to help the mental health of our children is to get them physically moving. Encourage plan, regular exercise, and getting outside. Schedule time to do something outside your children loves to do. Ride the bike with them, play football, go on the run, or learn to double Dutch. Regular exercise helps to regulate hormones and can help decrease anxiety, anger, and frustration.
- Go for walks for connection.
- Carve out time to play outside doing something your kids enjoy.
6. Let your children feel sadness and help them grieve.
When we see our children experience sadness and/or grief, we can push a positive attitude and perspective that is unhealthy and unrealistic, mainly because the positive attitude makes us feel better. This toxic positivity causes our children to ignore their sadness and dismiss their grief, creating unhealthy behaviors. Instead of pushing your kiddo toward toxic positivity, give your children space to embrace their sorrow and recognize their grief.
Our children (possibly you, too) are sad and grieving what they hoped this past year be. Your child may be sad about the 16th birthday they were not able to have, the football season they missed playing, and the friends and family they miss. Don’t minimize these emotions. This sadness is real for your children.
- Help your children recognize signs of sadness and grief.
- Ask your children to write a story or draw a picture about what they are feeling.
- Keep the dialogue open and ongoing.
Above all, be proactive.
If you start to notice signs of concern regarding the mental health of your children, get help. Don’t wait for your child to “grow out of it” or assume it’s “hormones.” Early prevention can help your child navigate through a difficult season and help them live a healthy, thriving life. Seeking professional help, joining a support group, or talking with your pediatrician are valuable resources to support your child’s mental and emotional wellness.