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Ways to Be Proactive About Your Child’s Mental Health

Here are 5 concrete things you can do to support, advocate for and monitor your child’s mental health.

We don’t let our kids pig out on oreos (okay, at least not every day). We encourage them to drink water and get outside and exercise. We want their bodies to be healthy and we do our best to provide opportunities for that to happen. But do we take the same care when it comes to their mental health? For most parents, this area tends to evoke an if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it kind of attitude. But what if we worked as hard for their mental health as we do for their physical health?

Today we are going to explore some ways that parents can monitor, support and advocate for their children’s mental health. In these tough times, it’s essential.

Keep a journal

Keeping a journal will help you uncover patterns. You may find that your daughter’s anger is linked to her menstrual cycle. Or you might find that February is a difficult month for your son because of decreased physical activities or low levels of vitamin D.

When we notice patterns, we can anticipate problems before they creep up and be better equipped to handle them. Don’t just document what is going wrong, however. Be sure to include notes about good days too. This will help you tease out what is helpful for your child.

In your journal, note things such as mood, level of social engagement, problem behaviors and those activities that either exhaust, calm or energize them.

Don’t avoid the hard stuff

When our children are in a good place after a rocky patch, the last thing you want to do is upset a good thing. But here’s the trouble, that “good thing” might just be a façade. Problems could be brewing and you would never know.

Maybe over the course of the last month, you noticed isolation and withdrawal behaviors in your child. Maybe you caught her crying in her room at one point. But this week, they seem better. Don’t mistake perceived improvement for a sealed-over crack in a broken heart. It’s important to probe a bit to see what is really going on. If you have a teen and don’t feel comfortable doing this, then you may need some help redefining and rebuilding your relationship (click here to learn more).

Sometimes all it takes is a simple “I have noticed” inquiry to get things started. You can say something like: “I have noticed lately that you become withdrawn after you spend time with your friends. I am wondering if you have noticed that too.” This may not produce an insightful conversation right then and there, but can possibly help your child increase his awareness to cause and effect regarding his mood.

Increase their emotional intelligence

It would be very difficult to get around in a country where you didn’t know the language. The same is true when it comes to emotions. Children need the right language to express what they are feeling (to learn more, click here).

One way to increase a child’s emotional intelligence is to use a wide range of descriptive feeling words when you speak. Sad, mad and happy are the basics, but there are so many more nuanced feelings that, when expressed, unlock a doorway to healing. You can use a chart like the one below to help your child learn, identify and articulate a wide range of feelings. Making sure that your child has the necessary language is protective of their overall mental health.

Give them a break

There are times when our kids will just need a break. It might take the form of a day off of school or taking a chore or two off their hands for a day or so. This is not a “free pass” but rather an extension of grace and compassion in a time of stress. Talk to your child’s teacher about ways that he can take a mental health day without the added burden of feeling behind when he gets back. Be sure to help your child engage in some self-care activities during his period of rest.

Engage in self -care together

Self-care is a broad term that means different things for different people. Much of it is dependent on personality type and interests. Some people re-energize and de-stress with a vigorous workout. Some people would prefer a puzzle or a good book. If your child is particularly young, he may not know what works best for him quite yet. If you have been journaling, that information would come in handy. Be sure to engage in personal self-care so you can model this for your child. Ask him to join you as you listen to music or go for a walk. You can say something like, “I really need to relax. I have been feeling _________ [use one of the more descriptive emotion words here] and I think a walk would really help.” Then can ask him to join you.

These are just a few ways we can support the emotional health of our children. What are some ways that you have found helpful in creating an emotionally healthy and supportive home? Please feel free to share in the comments below.

Image by andreas160578 from Pixabay
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Cornerstones for Parents is not liable for any advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations the reader chooses to implement.

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About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed clinical social worker who offers individual therapy to women and moms in Connecticut. She is the author of More Than a Conqueror, A Christian Kid's Guide to Winning the War on Worry. Cornerstones for Parents is the place she combines some of the things she is most passionate about: God's word, parenting and mental health.

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