You have likely noticed that day to day life has become much more difficult in the past year. Adults are struggling with loss of jobs, loss of income, and loss of career stability. Children have witnessed all of this loss for their parents and on top of that, have suffered isolation, frustration, and a lack of understanding as to why life has completely changed. Working in a child care and preschool program for the past year has illuminated the mental health crisis we are facing with our children. Negative behaviors are on the rise along with complete emotional breakdowns over seemingly minor issues. Of course, children’s issues may seem minor to us and be overlooked when adults are facing the challenges of living in a pandemic. Is there anything we can do to help our children maintain their mental health through this crisis? The good news is we can help them, and in the process, help ourselves too.
If you have taken the time to do a Google search or better yet, a Pinterest search of nurturing children’s mental health, you’ve realized this is a very hot topic! You may also have noticed that there are many ideas that parents can implement fairly easily. I will share a few ideas that I have found to help my family.
- Increase outside time but not through organized sports. Help your children develop a relationship with nature. Start a collection of rocks, sticks, or photos of what you and your child enjoy about nature. In my house, I used to joke that all of our clothes were “stone-washed” even when it wasn’t the style due to my boys rock collections! At age 28 and 24, they still hunt for Minnesota agates and polish them. It’s been a great connection to nature. Find places of solitude and quiet. Absorb the peace of the world at it’s basic operation. Lay on the ground, feel the warmth of sunshine, look at the clouds, dance in the rain, talk about what you love about where you live. Breathe. Listen. Clear your mind of other distractions.
- 2. Look for things to be grateful for. I started a gratitude journal several years ago when I was struggling with my own contentment. I found that I spent a great deal of time with my attention and focus on the parts of my life didn’t satisfy me. I needed to change my perspective as my attitude was affecting everyone around me. Put simply- I was no fun to be around! Fortunately, I found and purchased a pre-made gratitude journal that was cute and came with stickers that made me smile. I worked to find one small thing to write down each night before I went to sleep that I was thankful for. Many days, this was a hard task for me. I had lost my sense of wonder for the small beautiful parts of life. This daily practice of looking for the good in my life gained traction over time, and I have reconnected with the beauty of a sunrise, the comfort of a warm house, and even enjoyed a good hair day! There are many studies showing statistics on how gratefulness will improve your mental health, but I like a personal story more…. hope you do too! You can help your child develop an attitude of gratitude by staring a journal with writing, drawings, photographs, or stickers to recognize what makes them feel happiness. If they are anything like me, paging through the journal will pull them out of a funk every once in awhile. My final piece of advice would be to journal with your child because modeling good mental health habits is one of the most important lessons you will teach your child.
- 3. Breathe. O.K. I realized we do this 8-16 times per minute without even thinking about it. It’s natural and life sustaining. It’s not a conscience act or choice. I am suggesting that you to put breathing into your conscious acts. Find a way to count that helps you focus on your breathing. For me, I use a “square breathing” technique where I breathe in for a count of four, hold my breath for the same count, breathe out to a count of four and hold that for a count of four. This has helped me through some very challenging emotions in the past few years. I also love to do this at bedtime after writing in my gratitude journal. This will help me make the transition to sleep. It can do the same for you and your child. You have probably noticed when children become upset or highly emotional (the famous public breakdown), their breathing becomes very erratic. I used to watch my cousin hold her breath until she passed out when she became overwhelmed. Watching was scary! How would those moments play out if we taught our very young children the concept of deep breathing for relaxation? Equally as important as the breathing is helping kids identify when they are getting “worked up” and direct them to breathing techniques. It’s a life long skill that will benefit them (and you) immensely.
- 4. Talk about feelings. It’s O.K. to not be O.K. The question of how to deal with feelings is irrelevant if children are never taken through the process of identifying what they are feeling. Talk about the feeling of characters on television. Speculate about feelings of characters in books. Have them look at faces in pictures and try to figure out how people are feeling. Developing empathy for others allows us to develop empathy for ourselves as well. Once we recognize what we are feeling, we have a better chance to use one of the tactics from above to turn negative feelings into positive ones. I admit this task of talking about emotions and feelings is by far the scariest of those I have offered up as ways to work on mental health. We parents don’t always have the answers when it comes to the mental health of our children, and it’s hard to not have the ability to help our children when it’s needed. This is why we need to know that asking for help is important. If our children are sick physically, we don’t hesitate to call the doctor or nurse or run to urgent care to make them well. I know this from vast experiences of doing this exact thing! Why should we treat mental health any differently? Together we have an opportunity to raise the generation that breaks the stigma of mental health issues. We can do this! I have sent both of my boys to talk with someone when I realized I could no longer “fix” their challenges. They both benefitted from their time working with a mental health professional, and appreciated the fact that I steered them in that direction with no hesitation or judgment. Don’t force your children to struggle with issues that a professional can improve. Teach them the lesson of asking for help when it’s needed.
If you followed through with the challenge to Google or Pinterest mental health ideas for children, you have found there are hundreds of fun ways to help your children develop resilience and improve mental health even in times of crisis. I have touched on only a few that I have personally used. The point to this article is not to find the “right” way to help your children, but to find YOUR way to work on mental wellness with your children. Let’s give our children the gift of being intentional about the health and well being of both their bodies and MINDS!