We’re so lucky we live in a time where we not only understand the importance of mental health but that it’s also something we are more open with and comfortable talking about. Thankfully attitudes are changing and we know that it is vital to nurture this positive relationship with mental health in our little ones right from the beginning. We know that mindfulness and mental wellbeing are just as important as nutrition and exercise to keep our children healthy and thriving.
With Covid-19, lockdowns and many big and devastating world events, our little ones’ lives have been completely turned upside down over the last three years so it’s never been more important to arm them with the right tools to be able to understand and accept their feelings. As parents, the role we play in this is key and starts with our own relationship with our mental health and how we model that to our children.
Kiindred’s resident psychologist Jaimie Bloch shares her 5 tips for helping your child nurture a healthy relationship with their mental health.
1. Normalise and practice being vulnerable
The first thing we must teach our children is that our vulnerability is our strength. That when we can share our truth and be vulnerable with others we can connect and create change in our life. This is a hard thing to do for many adults, not just children.
The best place to start is modelling as the adult in the family how to make amends and repair relationships when a mistake has been made. This is the art of making apologising meaningful. We are all going to lose it or make mistakes as parents. Being a parent isn’t about getting it right all the time. Misunderstandings, disagreements and differences of opinion are normal. They happen for all parents and in all families, and they aren’t a sign that things are not OK.
As parents, it’s important that we have the courage to acknowledge that we don’t always get things right. Being able to say sorry in a meaningful way by acknowledging how what we did impacted our children can be enormously helpful in teaching children how to be vulnerable and repair relationships.
2. Talk about emotions and communicate them
Research has found that children who are not able to verbalise their negative emotions are more likely to develop depression. Verbalising, expressing emotions and being able to communicate our needs is fundamental to overall wellbeing and mental health.
Our mental health suffers when our needs are not met, however, people aren’t mind readers! We need to be able to learn to communicate and ask for what we want in order for our needs to be met. A simple way to start talking more about emotions and how to communicate needs, to practice modelling and using sentence starters with “I-messages”. Try: “ I am feeling ______. Can you _______”.
3. Be mindful about the language we use when disciplining our children
The language we use is very impactful on our children. Often when we are disciplining our children and setting boundaries we can accidentally shame our children for how they are feeling. Remember behaviour is a form of emotional communication in children. When we take our children’s behaviour personally and we are unable to accurately reflect or understand the emotion behind the behaviour, it can lead to a child feeling rejected and unheard.
What then happens is children can take on our expressed frustration of their behaviour and internalise this as about them as a person, this then becomes their own internal voice. This is how negative self-talk can develop.
For example, move away from blaming language: “who left the food out again” to “the food needs to go back in the fridge”. Simply deleting the personalised words can totally shift an interaction with your child.
4. Normalise and encourage the benefits of self-care
The most important thing a human being can learn is the essential nature of self-care. If we are not taking care of ourselves then we cannot take care of others, and we cannot connect meaningfully to our life when we are run down emotionally and physically.
Self-care looks different for everyone. All humans need to learn how to take care of themselves emotionally, spiritually and physically, especially children. If we can support children developing healthy habits at a young age, these tools and skills they create will support them into adulthood as life becomes more stressful.
You can help your child and family by developing a family routine of self-care. Routine is incredibly important for supporting children to create life-long daily practices. Try to come up with self-care routines that can be incorporated into your family’s everyday tasks.
5. Model self-compassion to your child
We are at all times mirrors to our children. When we are kind and compassionate to ourselves and loved ones, then we are modelling how our children can be compassionate to themselves on hard days. Have you ever noticed that our little ones end up sounding exactly like us?
This is no coincidence, we are their model for words internally and externally. Sit with your children and come up with affirmations that can be used when someone is having a hard day. For example, “This feeling is hard but it will pass”, “all gardens have weeds, all people have hard days”, “it’s ok I am feeling this” or “what can I learn from this? How can I grow and what can I see in this experience that I can be grateful for”.
In order for our children to have a healthy relationship with their minds, they need to understand that all minds can have negative critical voices, but that with self-compassion we can turn this voice into our biggest coach.