Growing up my sister and I had struggled with anxiety. Our parents didn’t know how important it was to promote mental health in their children. When finally going through therapy, I remember our therapist having to explain to our mother what anxiety was and what it felt like for us.
Our mother didn’t have the slightest clue that that is how we were feeling.
We hear all about anxiety. Anxiety is a normal part of everyday life. However, it is a healthy amount of anxiety that is normal. Sometimes children can experience an unhealthy amount of anxiety in their lives that can foster issues in the mental health well into adulthood.
Usually, when anxiety can be described as “healthy” and “normal” that is because when the person is experiencing anxious feelings, they can identify the reason behind these feelings. The anxiety that my sister and I had experienced on the other hand, was the opposite. There was no single reason for these feelings. We couldn’t pinpoint why we felt the way that we did and we definitely couldn’t verbalize what it was that bothered us in that moment.
For myself, looking back, I believe that the underlying fear that I had making me anxious was the fear of failing.
I have always been a perfectionist and often times it is quite anxiety provoking when there is an “unknown” in front of me that I cannot control. After all, if I can’t control what is happening, there is a possibility I will fail.
The thoughts that go through the mind of an overly anxious individual acts much like a hamster wheel.
The thoughts are always repeating. Going around and around in the person’s head. It is constant and relentless worry.
When you are a child and you experience this, you have not yet had the experience to know how to interpret (let alone vocalize) the way you are feeling. Growing up is a journey of continuous change. This can be confusing and overwhelming for any child let a lone a child with extreme worry.
Parents have an obligation to their children to teach them self-care at this time.
Helping your child establish healthy self-esteem though teaching them self-care is crucial. It is necessary for every parent to not only consider but to also promote the mental health of their children because it is a large component to their development.
That is why every parent needs to research how it is that they can implement mental health practices in their home.
The following are 5 of my favorite ways that parents can incorporate healthy mental health routines into both the lives of both their children and themselves!
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Share Your Feelings
I believe that the most important thing that a parent can do for their children’s mental health is to *appropriately* share your own feelings in front of them. This does not mean to say how upset you are with their father. It does not mean to throw something out of anger. What it does mean though is:
- Tell them how much you love them
- If they see you are sad, explain that it is alright to be sad from time to time
- Let them hear you say that you love their father/mother
- If you are happy, say you are happy and why
First, by telling your children that you love them and by allowing them to hear how much you love their father or mother, you are showing them what healthy relationships look like. You are teaching them that love is important and that letting others know you love them is normal.
Second, by letting them know you are happy and why, it teaches them gratitude.
It teaches them to reflect on the things that make them happy!
Finally, depending on the age of your child, they may think that they are the reason that you are sad. It is around the preschool age (3-5 years of age) that they are very self-focused. Meaning, when there are problems, they are most likely to feel as though they had a direct impact on that problem. For example, if their brother becomes sick, they may think that they made him sick.
If they notice you are sad, don’t lie. Let them know that you may be feeling a little blue but also tell them that it is alright to feel sad every now and then. You don’t need to share details but allow them some comfort in knowing that they did not play a role in your feelings!
Allow for Alone Time
As adults, we all know that sometimes it is nice to get away and simply be by ourselves. Being a mother, I know this all too well. I think we forget that children may need this too.
Like I said, things are changing for children every day. They are growing and learning new things. It can be extremely overwhelming for them when so much is going on. Being able to provide low-stress activities or alone time for your children is essential.
Grant them the freedom to just relax and be themselves for a short period of time without having to worry about the presence of their peers.
Whether it is vocal reflection or journaling, I think it is important to promote a moment of reflection for our children. I think one of the best ways to do this is by setting aside some time in the evening (maybe before bedtime) to go over what happened in their day. This may look like asking what it is that they were most grateful for that day.
If your children are a little older and reflecting on their day before bed is no longer something that they are interested in, investing in a gratitude journal can be the perfect way to manifest this practice in their lives. That way, you are still giving them the privacy and space that they seek while giving them an opportunity to participate in this self-care exercise.
Teach Emotion Words
As adults, we know that it can be difficult at times to find the right word to describe how we are feeling. Now, imagine being a child and having an even more limited vocabulary to choose from. Mix this short collection of words with the fact that they are far more confused in how to deal with emotions than we are, and you have the perfect storm of a emotionally tired child.
By using as many emotion words as possible with your children, you are teaching them a vast array of word that they can use to describe their own feelings. My husband for example, wasn’t’ able to really identify his feelings other than “anger” for the longest time. Even into adulthood he had to learn more words to describe the way that he felt. Every time you are upset, it can’t always be “anger”. There are endless amount of words to use that simply haven’t been explored.
A great way that you can help facilitate this if you are having difficulty doing it yourself, is by purchasing these cards. I absolute love them! They not only look at the feelings we are experiencing but the needs that are not being met in order to evoke these feelings.
Listen Before You Speak
We, being adults, often think that we know everything. This may partially be true. Though, one thing that we don’t always know is how are children are feeling.
This is why it is necessary for parents to listen to their child before they speak.
There are a number of things that a parent can do if they choose to talk before listening:
- They may interrupt their child and make their child feel what they are saying is not important
- The parent may inadvertently diminish the way the child is feeling
- Parents may prevent a child from telling them everything they wanted to tell them
Allowing your child the time to relay all of the information they want to you is imperative to their emotional development. This will set them up for success in communicating in future relationships. Being able to communicate in this manner will also support their ability to be assertive and confident when exploring relationships.
If you do not show your child that what they have to say is important, they are likely to carry this notion with them into adulthood. It is possible that they will develop the idea that what they think doesn’t matter. Self-esteem can be significantly affected with thought processes of this sort.
Knowing about mental health is not enough when becoming a parent. You must promote mental health in your children for their long-term psychological success. The continued effort of implementing mental health practices in both your child’s life and your own is paramount in the development of their self-esteem throughout childhood and adulthood.