Tuesday, 7 February 2017

How I Support My Children's Mental Health

Yesterday I discovered that this week is Children's Mental Health Week, and it got me thinking. Mental illness is a very real concern for children and young people today - this week Childline revealed that one in six calls they receive relate to serious mental health problems. We often see articles suggesting that mental illness in children and young people is on the rise.

I'm no expert so I won't speculate on the causes of this rise, but I do take my responsibility to safeguard my children's mental health seriously. As much as I want them to be successful, popular and all the rest, above all I want my children to be happy. I think most of us would agree with that.

So how can we support our children to stay healthy in mind as well as body? Again, I'm no expert but here are some things I do:

Take care of your family's mental health and you too could look like this!

Hug

I believe strongly in the power of hugging, and it seems science backs me up: new research shows that cuddling helps little ones to grow up healthier, less depressed and kinder. I try my best to never deny either of my children a hug if they want one - obviously it's not always practical, and in the middle of the night I might be rather grumpy about it, but I want them to know I'm always there for them and always love them. 

Play

When Eleanor was a toddler I read Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen. While I haven't entered fully into the spirit of his parenting ethos, I do try to use play to help my daughter through tough times. This could mean role playing difficult situations with her toys, but more often than not it just means getting her giggling to release tension. And just making time to play with her shows her that she is valuable to me and gives her the attention she needs. It's not easy now I have two, but I'm getting better at it.

Read

Reading children's books is a good way to start conversations about feelings. There are many books out there aimed at addressing certain emotions, but I find with Eleanor she can find them a bit too direct. Instead, I try to talk about characters' feelings in the regular books we read, to help her to recognise those feelings in others and in herself.

Talk

Following on from the last point, I try to talk about feelings as much as possible. This particularly involves naming emotions - we take the ability to say how we feel for granted, but even kids with very competent communication skills can struggle to find the right word. So when my children are angry or upset, and unable to articulate that (which obviously is all the time for Ezra) I will say something like, "I can see you're feeling ..." I also talk about how I'm feeling so they can understand that they're not alone, everyone (even grown ups) have these feelings.

Listen

This side of communication is often the harder one - as much as I believe in talking about feelings, I need to be ready to listen to my children express their feelings. This can be tough, especially with non-verbal children who will mainly express themselves through crying. But I hope that by listening to my children cry (and scream and rant and rage) I am showing them that they can come to me with any problem and I will accept their feelings. I don't want my children to ever feel like they can't tell me about their emotions.

Get outside

I'll admit I'm a bit rubbish at this one. I'm trying to get better though, because there is growing evidence that getting out into nature helps your mental health. I'm very much a fair weather nature lover - a bit of cold or rain and I'm grumpy, too much sun and I wilt - but when the conditions are right I try to get out to the local park, or even further afield if it's the weekend. I'm also trying to encourage Eleanor to spend more time in the garden, but that's proving a challenge!!

Model

I've saved the toughest till last - I am a role model to my children, so I need to show them how to deal with their emotions and take care of themselves. Before I got pregnant the second time I was pretty rubbish at self-care but it soon became apparent I was going to burn out if I kept giving everything I had to my kids. So I'm trying to do better. And I try to talk about that with Eleanor so she knows that I have needs too - and so hopefully she will learn to take her own needs seriously as she grows up. I'm also getting better at taking deep breaths when I get cross and telling Eleanor what I'm doing so she sees me managing my emotions healthily.

So that's what I'm doing. I've no idea if it's working, and I'm not always great at it, but hopefully it will help to bolster my children's mental health. What do you do with your children to keep their minds healthy?


2 comments:

  1. Thank you for writing this! It's reassuring to read that the steps you have pointed out to ensure children's mental health are mostly incorporated into our daily lives and the ones that we are a bit slack on, I will definitely be improving on after reading this.

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    Replies
    1. Great to hear that you're doing most of it already! I'm not great at some of them either, but I'm trying to make more of an effort.

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