As parents, we put a lot of energy into our kids and making sure their needs are met. Are they eating enough vegetables? Should we do dance or gymnastics? Are they getting their homework done? But one area we often don’t focus on is our child’s mental health. Maybe because we don’t think about it or maybe because we don’t know how important it is.
For starters, do you focus on your own mental health? Many people believe reaching out for help or therapy are signs of weakness. Others may not realize how important taking care of your mental health is. We focus on our physical health and exercising. We focus on our eating habits and relationships. All of which are very important.
Kids today are facing large amounts of stress. Stress many of the past generations didn’t have. Research shows nearly 25 per-cent of teenagers have anxiety and depression levels at this age group are higher than ever. Stress comes from many areas for today’s kids and teens: school, sports, home life, peers, low self-esteem, being overscheduled, lack of sleep, bullying, and social media pressures.
When kids face stressful situations, their bodies release stress hormones. Small amounts of this can be beneficial because it allows our kids to learn how to manage stress, which is especially true when they have a loving adult to help. But chronic, unpredictable stress can cause cellular damage to the developing parts of their brains, which can set them up for immune system problems and other health issues later in life. These biophysical changes can cause inflammation of the brain and health issues as an adult.
Here are a few ways you can focus on your child’s mental health:
- Take care of your own mental health. Step 1 is taking care of yourself. You cannot take the best care of your children if you are not taking care of yourself. Do what you need to do to be healthy and centered. Eat better, exercise, get rest, meditate, or seek medical help.
- Manage stress. Just as your child can catch your cold, they can also catch your stress. We may not even realize how our children can pick up on our stress. But research shows that children, even while in the womb, can sense and take on our stress. Find ways to manage stress and model how to your children. Try meditation or deep breathing.
- Teach your kids about resilience. Resilience is our ability to recover from challenges. When we view a challenging experience as a learning or growing opportunity, we are better able to handle the situation and other stressful times. Resilience is something we must learn and practice, and as we do, we become better equipped to handle the challenge experiences of life.
- Identify stress triggers. Find what is stressing your child out the most. Is it homework? Sports? Friends? Identify areas of stress and find ways to manage it. Maybe you will need to hire a tutor. Maybe you need to find more time to relax as a family. Managing trigger areas can help reduce stress.
- Focus on your relationship with them. We need to communicate to our children that we love them unconditionally. Our love for them is not based on how well they perform, how good their grades are, or how well they washed the dishes. Your relationship with your child should be the primary focus of your parenting. Create a healthy environment of love.
- Build their self-worth. Children who have a strong self-concept typically do better with friends or school. They go into the classroom believing they can succeed. Children who have a low self-concept often won’t even begin a homework assignment because they believe before they begin that they will fail. There is perhaps nothing more important to a child’s self-worth than the time you spend with them. Their value will grow when they know Mom and Dad want to be with them and love them regardless of their achievements. Giving your child your undivided attention and pursuing time with them shows your love. This is the time when you assist in their character and self-worth development.
- Seek help. If you are or your child is dealing with depression, anxiety, panic disorders, or any other kind of mental health problem, please seek help from a medical doctor or therapist. There is no shame in seeking help. It is a brave and crucial step to take.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Your child’s mental health is always more important than whether or not they did their homework, got a good grade, or made the football team.
- Create a healthy environment. Ensure you and your family eat healthy, get outside, exercise, read, spend time together, and engaged in a loving family environment. Don’t make your kids grow up too fast. Let them enjoy childhood and have fun.
- Let them face challenges. Allowing our children to deal with small challenges is a good way for them to learn they are capable of handling tough situations, and how to manage the release of stress hormones. We can be there to support and help them work through hard times.
What can you do to focus on your child’s mental health?
By Emily Scott, PhD
Followed Renewed Hope Parenting on Facebook!
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