There’s a lot of mental health chatter these days and for good reason. Consider these facts:
1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year
1 in 20 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year
1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year
50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24
Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-34
Mental health issues are at a pandemic level and that is why we must keep talking about it, especially with and to our kids.
As a parent, you have a huge impact on your child’s mental health. Of course, there are external factors that contribute to their distress, but when they do, you can still help them and be a conduit of healing.
Here are several ways to help protect your child’s mental health. They are not groundbreaking concepts or complicated strategies. They are simple, basic tools that will make a difference in your child’s mental health if applied consistently and intentionally.
Love your child unconditionally.
Of course you love your child, but sometimes your comments or body language are communicating something else. Even as much as I loved our daughter, there were certain things I said, without realizing it, that communicated a performance acceptance and love for her. I certainly did not want that to happen, but because I was not aware of it, that’s exactly what did happen and it is something we had to work through even when she was in her 20s.
Be sure your child knows and FEELS that your love has nothing to do with how they behave or perform.
Encourage your children to talk about their feelings and validate their feelings.
It may take a while for them to trust that when they do talk to you, you will not judge, critique or correct their feelings. So keep asking and listening.
Listen first, then talk.
Seek to understand your child’s thoughts, feelings and reasoning. Without interruption. After you’ve taken the time to and try to understand, it’s more likely that your child will return the favor and listen to you.
Allow plenty of time for play and fun activities.
This quality time focuses on you and your child truly connecting. Laughing, exploring, playing games, trying new things–these are the times when bonds are strengthened, walls are broken down, and connections are made.
Discipline with respect and teaching, not shame.
Discipline should be done with calmness, love, and intentionality. What do you want your child to learn in this situation and what is the best way for you to help them learn it? Discipline that is you merely venting your anger and shaming your child is not effective for the long run. It only teaches your child to fear you or fear getting caught.
Discipline with teaching, on the other hand, teaches them the why behind the what and gives them a reason to make good choices when you are not around.
Ask your child about their day.
They may grunt or give one-word answers, but don’t stop asking. Try asking different questions, like “what was the best part of your day?” or do highs and lows at dinner. Stay away from answers that only require a yes or no or questions that are too vague like “how was your day?”
Not Rocket Science.
These concepts are not rocket science. You may already be doing them and if so, keep it up! Parenting is a marathon and you have 18+ years to prepare your child for life.
Be honest with yourself as you evaluate these instructions. If you’ve been lax or perhaps not intentional enough, now’s the time to make the change. Your child’s mental health depends on it.
If you’d like help in your parenting, please schedule a free intro consultation here.