Most parents know that routine check-ups, immunizations, nutritious foods, and quality education supports the healthy development of their children.
But when classrooms, school lunches, and group activities were replaced by online lessons, takeout dinners, and TV screens, children’s mental health took a turn for the worst, and parents were left with a difficult situation.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 1 in 5 children experience a mental health disorder in any given year. Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, children’s mental health has suffered from witnessing the alarming rates of infection, death, disruption to their healthy routines, and stress and setbacks among their parents and caregivers.
Without the structures for healthy development in place, how can parents prioritize their children’s mental health and well-being?
1. Model and Engage Children in Healthy Coping Skills
As parents, you can help your children learn how to confront their emotions in a positive way by modeling healthy coping skills at home.
Think of the activities that you do, when feeling lousy, that turn down the volume of your emotions and prevent you from getting overwhelmed.
Whether it’s deep breathing, resting in childspose, or going out for a walk, show your child that they can handle their emotions and in turn, create a healthy environment to live in.
Children learn through observation, and engagement. Make sure to set a positive example of how you deal with stressful situations, and engage your child in these skills or talk them through doing them on their own. Coping activities can include:
- Deep breathing
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Soothing activities like a warm bath or cup of herbal tea
- Using stress balls
- Coloring, painting, doodling
2. Build Trust
Trust, the foundation of all strong relationships, counteracts children’s experience of fear, anxiety, and reinforces their sense of sense. To build trust in your child, establish a sense of safety and security at home, among the members of your family.
Children need accountability, consistency, and honesty in their primary relationships: so say what you mean and do what you say.
3. Ensure a Safe and Positive Environment at Home
Feeling safe and supported is critical to children’s healthy development. Meet your child’s emotional and physical needs by taking care of them when they’re hungry, thirsty, hot, or cold. Provide a safe environment for your child where they know they are always loved and supported, whether they’re feeling sad, scared, anxious, happy, or tired.
4. Encourage Connections
The relationship between children and parents is vital, but it’s not the only relationship to nurture. Social health is a fundamental part of our mental health, and having many relationships with other family members, caregivers, friends, and mentors helps children understand how to connect with others.
5. Let Children be Make Their Own Fun
Lack of entertainment, play dates, and outings makes space for creativity and originality. Children learn how to engage their imagination, develop independence, manage conflict with friends and family members, problem solve, and manage time when left alone and without scheduled play. As parents, it’s important for us to balance our children’s day with consistent scheduled activities and open free time.
6. Form Healthy Habits and Create Routine
Our minds and minds are intrinsically connected. A diet filled with fruits, vegetables, and proper carbohydrates, a good night’s sleep, a responsible use of technology, and plenty of outdoor exercise is essential to your child’s mental health and well-being.
Uncertainty about what’s next can generate a lot of stress and anxiety in a child’s life. Encourage peacefulness by creating daily and weekly routines for your child to follow, whether it’s a schedule for meals, a wind-down routine, or a weekly game of hide-and-go-seek.
7. Teach Mindfulness
Mindfulness involves learning how to pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judgment. It also involves becoming aware of the here and now, rather than worrying about the future or dwelling on the past.
Research shows that teaching children mindfulness can help lower stress and anxiety, improve self-control, attention, resilience, and academic performance.
8. Encourage Playful Movement
Physical activity provides a necessary outlet for children to release their energy, and keep them engaged. Help your children find a form of movement that they enjoy at an early age, and participate in the activity with them!
In our competitive and goal-oriented society, it’s important for children to learn and experiment with activities that bring joy, rather than victory. Allow your children to play for the pure joy of playing!
9. Communicate About Emotions and Feelings
Children learn by watching their parents, including parents’ emotional expressions and regulations. If your child is present during a hard conversation you’re having with your partner or co-worker, try to handle your emotions with clarity and grace.
Talk to your children openly about the moment you felt stressed in a difficult situation, explain to them your coping skills, and encourage them to practice handling their emotions in difficult situations too. When you help your children express and articulate their emotions, you’re helping them overcome problems, strengthen their relationships, and improve their overall sense of being!
10. Watch for Behavioral Changes
While it’s normal for children to behave differently through their early development, if your child has become more withdrawn or socially isolated from their friends, teachers, family members, or routine it might be an indication that they’re experiencing a situation or feeling they don’t know how to process on their own.
Always check-in with your child and remind them that they are loved and supported.
11. Seek Professional Help When Necessary
It is never too early for a child to seek mental health treatment. In fact, early diagnosis and appropriate services for children and their families can drastically improve all areas of life for children with mental health disorders. Your child deserves to live a healthy and joyful childhood!
If you notice any of the following warning signs in your child or if you suspect a problem or have questions, please consult one of our trained mental health professionals at Handel Behavioral Health:
- Decline in school performance
- Poor grades despite strong efforts
- Regular worry or anxiety
- Repeated refusal to go to school or take part in normal children’s activities
- Hyperactivity or fidgeting
- Persistent nightmares
- Persistent disobedience or aggression
- Frequent temper tantrums
- Depression, sadness or irritability