Your Child's Mental Health
Honest discussion about mental health from an early age helps your child normalize feelings we all have. It also provides a foundation for open communication as they grow older and experience more complex emotions. It is important to help them identify and name all their feelings – good and bad – without labeling any as wrong, or telling them how they should feel in certain situations. Doing so will discourage them from sharing when confusing or negative emotions come up in the future.
Mental and physical health go hand in hand, and your child’s actions can provide more information about their health than they can verbalize. Close observation of daily behavior and natural temperament is key to supporting your child’s mental health because it allows you to recognize persistent changes. Unusual behavior can signal that your child is feeling stress. Here are some indicators to look out for:
Changes in appetite, bowel movements, or sleep patterns
Irritability, anger, or aggression with little provocation
Developmental regression, like unexpected bathroom accidents or reversion to self-soothing behaviors more often, like sucking their thumb
Avoiding eye contact or refraining from group activities
A change in how much attention they seek from caregivers, such as withdrawing from physical touch or resisting being separated from a parent
When your child is feeling emotionally charged, is it best to employ a calming-down process, or do they need to work some energy off? There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, and what works one day may not be as effective the next. When you notice they are struggling, ask them to describe what happened to prompt their feelings, and encourage them to explain why they feel a certain way. Brainstorm ideas about what they can do to feel better. Here are some suggestions to work through stressful feelings together.
Mindfulness Meditation - Call attention to what is happening at the present moment, what you are feeling inside as well as what is happening around you, to feel calm and grounded.
Practice Yoga - Simple breathing exercises and yoga poses are both strenuous and soothing, and can develop self-regulation skills.
Create - Focus attention on an art project to expend or redirect energy.
Put on Some Music - Whether you decide to listen to a calming concerto or an energetic pop song, music can shift your mood in a more positive direction.
Nurture - Tend to plants, play with a pet, or tidy up shared space to feel the satisfaction of contributing to the wellbeing of others.
Get Moving - Hiking, dancing, skating, martial arts – it doesn’t matter what you do, just get moving to release feel-good endorphins and decrease the stress hormone cortisol in your body.
Reach out to others in your child’s life for additional support. Sharing your concerns with teachers, family members, pediatricians, and health care providers can offer useful perspectives and strategies to support your child’s wellbeing. With a network of support and the means to explore different self-care practices, your child can be equipped with the confidence and resilience to treat themselves, as well as others, with empathy, compassion, and respect.