A Parent’s Guide
Children’s mental health took an unexpected and unavoidable negative turn in 2020. In addition to the usual challenges of growing up, many families are struggling with the loss of loved ones and the consequences of the pandemic.
Mental health is an essential part of your child’s overall well being that’s just as important as their physical condition. Their early development creates the foundation for later success.
As a parent, there are many steps you can take to help protect your child’s mental health. Try these suggestions for supporting your child through difficult times and reducing their risk for anxiety and depression.
Even small children can be overwhelmed by stress. The signs may include mood swings, trouble at school, or physical symptoms like upset stomachs and headaches.
Use these strategies to help your child learn to reduce and cope with stress:
1. Slow down. It’s easy to find yourself rushing around when you’re busy at home and work. Make a deliberate effort to spend more time with your kids. Scratch some nonessential tasks off your to-do list.
2. Teach coping strategies. Be a role model by acting patient and cheerful under pressure. Rehearse dealing with frustrating situations. Make a game out of breathing exercises and naming feelings.
3. Be consistent. Structure helps kids to feel safer and more secure. Establish daily routines, like regular mealtimes and bedtimes. Explain house rules and follow through with enforcing them. You can still be flexible when an exception is justified.
4. Stay active. Moving around is a great way to lift your spirits and release tension. For a bigger boost, exercise and play sports outdoors where you can enjoy fresh air and green spaces.
5. Make art. Creative projects are another way to deal with intense emotions. Stock up on craft supplies online or at a local hobby shop. Draw portraits of each other or assemble a collage. Have dance parties or put on plays!
6. Share a joke. Laughter relaxes your body and releases hormones that make you feel happier. Watch funny movies and read comic books. Play charades and train your dog to do silly tricks.
7. Practice self-care. Staying strong and resilient yourself can make your home life more peaceful for your children. Invest in yourself by eating a healthy diet, working out, and getting adequate sleep.
Many parents and experts are concerned about the long-term effects of physical distancing and school closures. Children may need help with socializing as communities reopen.
Use these daily techniques to help your child stay connected:
1. Start conversations. Healthy relationships depend on constructive communication. Ask your children what they’re doing and how they’re feeling. Listen when they talk. Spend one-on-one time with each child and let them know that you’re available for them.
2. Turn off devices. Technology makes our lives easier, but it’s essential to set reasonable boundaries. Otherwise, it can become a source of stress by crowding out other activities. Designate certain times each day to disengage from phones, computers, and televisions.
3. Eat together. Make a commitment to dine as a family for at least one meal each day whenever possible. The menu can be simple if you’re short on time. Focus on creating a pleasant atmosphere and friendly discussion.
4. Reach out. The pandemic has been a small slice of your life, but it’s the only experience small children have known. Prepare them for new social situations. Start out small and respect their comfort levels.
If you have concerns about your child’s mental health, you can find resources including therapists and treatment facilities at mentalhealth.gov and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Early intervention can enable your child to get the help they need.
Following these strategies can help your child to thrive now and throughout their lives.