Just as you diligently look after your child’s physical health – from offering nutritious food to doctor visits when they are sick – make their mental health a priority too.

 9 Things to teach your kids about mental health

Good mental health is a key part of overall well-being for adults and children alike. But the pandemic and the uncertainty of the future is taking a toll on mental wellness. Issues such as stress- and anxiety-related disorders are spiking among children. Although you may find it hard, addressing your child’s mental and emotional struggles is crucial for their development.

As a parent, here’s how you can help your child navigate their way towards better mental health. 

1. Watch out for red flags

While it’s normal to have low days once in a while, persistent negative emotions when left unchecked can lead to depression, anxiety, or even substance abuse as a coping mechanism. Keep an eye open for subtle changes in your child’s behaviour, such as the following:

  • Frequent mood swings
  • Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • Spending a lot of time alone
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Eating disorders
  • Inability to focus resulting in Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder

Related: 6 Ways to prioritise your mental health as a woman and why it’s important

2. Develop their self-esteem

Helping children develop self-esteem can significantly boost their mental health. Children seek validation. Genuine and realistic praise for their efforts will instill a great deal of confidence in them. Kids feel a sense of accomplishment when they are able to do things on their own. So give them more opportunities to be independent – it could be something as simple as making a sandwich or completing a school assignment on their own. Encourage them to be sociable and make friends. If meeting friends during the pandemic is not possible, arrange video calls for them to connect. 

3. Instill healthy habits

A healthy diet, a good night’s sleep, and physical activities aren’t just beneficial to physical health, they are also essential for your child’s mental health. Make sure your kids have time to play, do creative things and just have fun. Additionally, encourage them to maintain a gratitude journal. Research has shown that practising mindfulness and gratitude boosts feelings of happiness and positively impacts mental health. 

5. Teach them to manage stress

While you may not be able to prevent all stress-causing triggers such as bullying or abuse, teaching them how to tackle and respond in negative situations can go a long way. Empower them with the skills to deal with adverse circumstances so they can become mentally strong. Some children might get stress relief by playing a sport or doing something creative or maybe just talking to a friend. Help them identify when they are not feeling good and suggest ways they can feel calmer. 

6. Set positive examples

Children are highly impressionable and emulate your behaviour. Teach them about emotional wellness by example. Share your vulnerabilities so that your kids will be comfortable discussing their own. If you lose your temper with your child and ‘blow your top’, apologise and let them know that you too have your frustrations and changes of mood. By modelling mentally healthy behaviour, you can provide kids with a nurturing environment to grow and they will learn the anchors of resilience.

7. Foster good relationships

Your equation  with your child plays a huge role in their mental health and a solid parent-child relationship is based on trust. A safe and secure environment will ensure your children are able to share their thoughts with you without any inhibitions. More importantly, find ways to spend quality time with them. 

Related: 7 Movies that teach kids important life lessons

8. Communicate often

Make mental health part of dinner table conversations. It can help reduce the stigma and judgement around it when they grow older. Let them know that feeling sad, angry, or anxious is normal and that asking for help when feeling emotionally unwell is something strong people do. Start asking them questions from a young age (such as ‘How was your day at school?’) and pay attention when they respond. Keeping communication lines open can build the resilience that can help your kids get through difficult times. 

As children enter adolescence, they start experiencing a more complex set of emotions including sadness, anxious thoughts, peer pressure, body image issues, anger, etc. Instead of dismissing this as a ‘rebellious teenage phase’, check how they are feeling from time to time. Be mindful of your language and absolutely avoid using negative words like ‘crazy’ or ‘weird’.

Related: 5 Financial habits your children can learn from you during the pandemic

9. Seek professional help

If you feel out of your depth, don’t hesitate to seek assistance from a mental health counsellor. Remember, it’s never too early for your child to see a specialist if they are struggling with their emotions.

A mother’s guide to raising financially responsible children