Happy Minds at Home
Learning ways to incorporate mental health habits at home is so important. For children, it can be very difficult to identify the exact instances where they first experienced trauma, such as, rejection from a caregiver, bullying, struggles with body image, life transitions or abuse. This is where we, as adults, come in and play the greatest role in supporting and nurturing their mental health.
While therapy is a great step and highly recommended to help with mental health issues, such as low self-esteem, there are so many creative ways to reinforce positive mental health habits at home!
Here are a few great tips:
1. Encourage Emotional Expressions
A child is more prone to behavioral issues when they feel they are not accepted or loved when they show negative emotions. It’s important to be conscious that a child tests limits with their behavior early on, as well. But no matter what form of discipline you choose, for example, taking away material objects, time out, etc., we can ALWAYS support their mental health while doing so. Validating their feelings is of the utmost importance. When we validate their emotions and help them identify what they are feeling, we are letting them know they are still loved and accepted. Teaching them alternative, healthier ways to release their emotions helps remind them that they are always in control of their reactions.
2. Active Listening
Life can get busy. Whether you have other things on your mind or 100 things on your to-do list. Whether you have multiple children or multiple businesses. It is SO important for a child to feel heard. Being present in the conversations between you and your child on the way home from school, or when you are playing a game together is vital. As adults, we can feel undervalued when the person we are speaking to is not engaged in the discussion. A child can feel the same way! Listen for details in their story and ask about them. If you are in a rush, you can explain that you have to attend to another task at the moment, while reassuring how interested you are in hearing the rest later that day! A helpful strategy for active listening that works incredibly with younger children and preteens is paraphrasing. It shows them you are listening and helps you stay engaged, as well!
When a child does not feel heard, they will communicate the best way that they know to get your attention. This can look like temper tantrums and outbursts. It can also look like a child needing constant reassurance from friends or overly saying “I love you” and “I miss you.” For older children, it can look like withdrawing from social interactions, regression, verbal or physical aggression and self-harm. One great way to ensure your child is getting the attention they need is setting aside a certain amount of time to spend with them each day and engaging fully through talk and play!
3. Practice Daily Affirmations
Reminding your child about their worth, value and strengths is never a waste of time. The earlier you start, the better! Encourage your child to recite positive affirmations when they start and end their day. You can practice this as they brush their teeth in the morning, on the drive to school, and during the last five minutes of the day when you are saying goodnight! Another awesome technique on positive affirmations is having the child affirm you. Helping and supporting others has proven to help children’s mental health (Fraga, 2018.) It teaches them selflessness and generosity which has been proven scientifically to help their feelings of self-worth, as well as, social skills.
4. Find Out How a Child Gives and Receives Love
Any form of daily connection with a child is beneficial, but children feel loved the best in different ways. Some children feel most loved through hugging/cuddling with their parent. Other children feel most connected through quality time, such as watching movies, taking long bike rides or playing video games together. Find what your child loves the MOST and be intentional with showing them affection in the forms they receive it best. They can change as they grow up, but exploring your child’s love language is an amazing way to show them that you care about what they care about. “The Five Love Languages of Children” and “The Five Love Languages of Teenagers” by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell are great books I always recommend.
These are just a few tips I have found to be helpful for families having trouble supporting their child’s mental health. Other factors to consider are your child’s diet, physical activity, amount of sleep/rest, and school friendships. Spending extra time nurturing a happy, healthy mind for your child takes practice, but is worth it! Some of the benefits, as a result, are stress resilience, confidence and high self-esteem and social skills.
Fraga, J. (2018, January 13). Helping Strangers May Help Teens’ Self-Esteem. Retrieved October 29, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/01/13/577463475/helping-strangers-may-help-teens-self-esteem
Contributed by: Erica Sanchez, MS