Mental health problems are getting more common and they can start to develop in childhood. This is why it can be so important to take steps to improve your children’s mental health and help to reduce their potential for anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.
Here’s how you can help your child with their mental health and how to spot the signs that something may not be quite right.
Triggers for mental health problems
Some of the common triggers that can affect your child’s mental health include:
- Changes in their day-to-day life and routine, such as starting school for the first time, moving house or to a new school or the birth of a new sibling
- Traumatic situations involving bereavement, long term illness, parental separation, abuse, bullying and caring for a relative
- As they get older, issues around identity and working out who they are can become an issue
Tips for encouraging better mental health for your child
Encourage your family to speak about their emotions. Kids can be less likely to experience mental health problems if they grow up in an environment where they feel comfortable discussing their feelings and emotions. It can also help if you lead by example and openly discuss your feelings with the younger members of the family. You could even introduce it as part of a mealtime ritual. This can get them used to the idea of sharing what’s on their mind, rather than trying to bottle things up. And if things do get on top of them, they’ll know that they can turn to you for support. Don’t feel disappointed if you don’t get a response straight away … it may take kids a while to feel comfortable enough to start opening up about how they feel.
Don’t hide your failures. We’re all human and we all make mistakes at some point. Being open about setbacks and failures can help children to see that it’s okay if things don’t always go right. Being scared to mess up can put a lot of pressure on young minds and it can help a lot to know that failures are just an opportunity to learn from the experience.
Limit their media use. A lot of screen time can affect wellbeing but there’s a lot to be said for minimizing your family’s use of media in general. This includes watching television and films, accessing the Internet and playing computer or online games. Ideally, you’ll want to keep a close eye on how much media is being consumed, what exactly is being accessed (especially in terms of content) and who they may be interacting with. According to studies, significant amounts of screen time are linked to poor brain connectivity with regards to language and cognitive control, especially compared to reading.
Set time aside for physical activity. One of the ways to cut screen time is to replace it with physical activity. Exercise is proven to have a positive effect on wellbeing and mental health. Bonus points if you can make it a family activity. Any form of physical exercise counts for this but depending on ages, you could try to make a game out of it. Doing things as a family is a great opportunity to bond together and make sure that you’re present as a parent. This can be more challenging than you think, especially if you’re a working parent and juggling home and work life.
Nurture creativity too. For younger children in particular, fostering their creative skills can work well too. This can help them to express themselves, especially if they aren’t comfortable with talking about how they feel.
Teach relaxation techniques. Working with your children on ways that they can relax when they feel stressed or upset. This can help them to deal with their emotions in a positive and healthy way.
Spotting the signs of mental health problems
Some of the signs that your child may be struggling with their mental health include:
- Becoming more negative about themselves
- Having trouble concentrating
- Falling behind at school
- Seeming unhappy, worried, angry, irritable, hopeless or lonely
- Isolating themselves
- Getting tearful, especially over situations that aren’t that significant or seem out of proportion to their reaction
- A lack of interest in things that they used to love, especially if this has happened very suddenly
- Problems sleeping
- Spending lots of time daydreaming
- A lack of energy
If you start to notice these types of behavioural and emotional changes in your child, it’s worth speaking to your doctor to see what they recommend. If a mental health condition is thought to be the culprit, it can be the first step towards helping them to get treatment and get back on track.
Mayhem to Mindful offers a number of mindfulness and positive psychology programs for children from preschool to Year 12 to teach them long life skills for a brighter future. For more information on program available and upcoming dates please visit www.mayhemtomindful.com.au/peaceful-kids or call Kasey on 0402 437 922.