Following a year filled with many changes for most due to the coronavirus pandemic, the mental health of children has risen to the forefront among professionals and parents. As we slowly begin to return to our pre-pandemic activities, feelings of fear, anxiousness, and uncertainly can begin to creep in. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re sharing insight on ways you can improve your child’s mental health.
Establish (and re-establish) healthy lifestyle habits.
While it may seem obvious, establishing healthy lifestyle habits is key to ensuring a well-rounded life and promoting positive mental health. Sleep, a balanced diet, and physical activity are all components that should be evaluated when discussing and creating goals with and for your child. It is important to remember that as we return to normal or transition into summer, re-establishing healthy habits and goals with your kiddo might be needed. Turning to your child’s primary care pediatrician can be a great resource when seeking to understand what goals are most appropriate for your child at their particular age and stage of life.
Encourage expression of emotions.
Creating a safe space for children to express their thoughts and emotions not only affords the opportunity for the child-parent relationship to become stronger, but it also increases the likelihood that your child will learn to be empathetic towards others, develop emotional intelligence, and have more positive relationships. Whether it is providing an emoji feelings chart for your little one to identify with or spending quality time with your teen during a challenging time, encouraging your child to express their emotions, thoughts, and feelings can be an excellent way to promote positive mental health in your home.
Build and maintain relationships.
It’s no secret that screens surround us and our children in our daily lives. While technology can be an excellent tool for building relationships, especially during the pandemic, in-person interactions are imperative in a growing child and teen’s development. Teaching and encouraging children to pursue, build, and maintain healthy friendships and relationships can enrich their lives long-term and increase their overall sense of belonging and community.
Teach stress management skills.
Failure, unexpected road bumps, and stress are to be expected in life and it is our job to guide our children in identifying the triggers and ways to address them. Assist your child in proactively searching and identifying ways to cope with and manage stress. For some, this might look like taking a bike ride and for others, it could be journaling. Spending time outdoors or chatting/ playing with a friend can also be healthy outlets for releasing stress in your child’s life.
Instill self-confidence and promote self-esteem regularly.
Self-confidence and self-esteem are building blocks to a child’s future success. By providing timely and genuine praise, avoiding sarcastic remarks, developing and using healthy self-talk, and creating opportunities for independence, you as a parent can instill these core principles into your child. While this is not a conclusive list, these habits are a great start when it comes to uplifting your kiddo and encouraging them to see themselves through the eyes of those who love them.
Seek professional help when needed.
Enlisting the help of your primary care pediatrician or a pediatric mental health professional can be a great resource at any point in your child’s journey. In fact, early intervention can oftentimes lead to the best outcome for both the kiddo and parent. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, red flags will look different for different children at various ages but some may include irritability, more frequent tantrums, problems with memory, thinking, or concentration, and changes in appetite. We encourage all parents to stay attuned to their child’s behavior and feelings and empower them to consult their child’s primary care pediatrician should red flags start to be raised.