Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Nurturing Young Minds: A Parent’s Guide to Promoting Mental Health


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by: Erin Peace, LCSW, RPT
School Counselor

Over the last few years, educators and parents have identified a need for increased mental health support for children. These needs became especially clear after the transitions and stressors related to the start of the pandemic, and in April U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy stated that “kids’ and adolescents’ declining mental health is the crisis of our time.” A JAMA meta-analysis of over 80,000 youths globally done in 2021 showed about 1 in 4 adolescents demonstrated clinically significant signs of depression, and about 1 in 5 adolescents demonstrated clinically significant signs of anxiety. 

Parents and educators can partner to provide students with the tools needed to identify and address stress, and these shifts can start with us as the adults modeling healthy coping skills to students. Here are some tips for parents on how to have meaningful conversations about mental health with your children.

  • Create a Safe and Open Environment: Begin by fostering an atmosphere where your child feels comfortable discussing their thoughts and feelings. Let them know that their emotions are valid and that you're there to listen without judgment. Encourage them to express themselves in their own time and way.

  • Lead by Example: Children learn from observing their parents. Demonstrate healthy coping mechanisms and stress management strategies in your daily life. When they see you prioritize your mental well-being, they're more likely to do the same.

  • Normalize Emotions: Teach your child that it's okay to experience a wide range of emotions, and that these feelings are a natural part of life. Use everyday situations as opportunities to discuss emotions and how to deal with them effectively.

  • Active Listening: When your child wants to talk, be an active listener. This means giving them your full attention, maintaining eye contact, and asking open-ended questions to encourage them to share more. Avoid interrupting or immediately offering solutions; sometimes, they just need someone to listen.

  • Empower Problem-Solving Skills: Instead of solving their problems for them, guide your child in finding solutions. This helps them develop critical thinking skills and boosts their self-confidence in handling challenging situations.

  • Teach Stress-Reduction Techniques: Introduce relaxation techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness, or even physical activities such as yoga. These tools can help your child manage stress and anxiety effectively.

  • Stay Informed Together: Keep yourselves informed about mental health together. Read age-appropriate books or articles, watch educational videos, or attend workshops that focus on mental health topics. This shared learning experience can spark valuable discussions.

  • Seek Professional Help When Needed: Sometimes, children may need professional guidance to navigate their mental health challenges. Be open to the idea of seeking help from a therapist or counselor when necessary. Explain that it's a positive step towards getting the support they need.

  • Celebrate Small Wins: Acknowledge and celebrate your child's achievements, no matter how small they may seem. This boosts their self-esteem and encourages them to keep working towards positive mental health.

  • Consistency is Key: Make these conversations a regular part of your family life. Don't wait for a crisis to discuss mental health. Consistency will help break down the stigma and create an ongoing dialogue.

Promoting mental health is an ongoing journey, and it's okay to seek guidance from professionals if you're unsure how to approach certain situations. By fostering a safe and open environment to talk about mental health, you can create a lasting impact on your child's mental well-being, ensuring they grow up with tools to be resilient and emotionally intelligent individuals.

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