Parenting a tween can be a tricky balancing act. It often feels like you’re navigating a minefield, constantly trying to avoid saying or doing the wrong thing. And just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, your child throws a curveball, and you’re back to square one.
That’s why it’s important to have some strategies in your toolkit to help you navigate these challenging years. Sometimes taking a step back, taking a deep breath, and staying calm while offering support to your growing tween goes a long way in diffusing tense situations. It’s also important to listen to your tween and validate their feelings, even if you don’t always agree with them.
Other times, particularly when it comes to mental health, a more hands on approach might be needed, but it can be difficult to know where to begin.
In this article, we’ll discuss ways you can support your tween’s mental health, from understanding what mental health is to the practical steps you can adopt to help your child navigate the ups and downs of pre-pubescence.
What is mental health?
Mental health refers to the state of one’s emotional and psychological well-being. According to the Australian Government department of health’s statistics, 1 in every 2 Australians faces mental ill-health at some point in their lives. It’s important for your tween, to remember that everyone experiences challenges with their mental health at some point and it’s okay to ask for help.
Mental health facts for tweens
Did you know that 1 in 7 Australian children aged 4-17 experience mental health difficulties? That’s a lot of kids, and tweens are certainly not exempt.
If you’re worried about your tween’s mental health, there are some clear signs you can keep an eye out for.
Changes in mood:
Your tween may become increasingly irritable, withdrawn, or easily upset. They may experience sudden mood swings or display a consistently low mood over time.
Changes in behaviour:
Your tween may exhibit changes in behaviour, such as becoming more withdrawn, isolating themselves from friends and family, or losing interest in activities they once enjoyed. They may also engage in risky or impulsive behaviour which is unlike them.
Changes in academic performance:
Your tween may experience a sudden drop in grades or become increasingly disinterested in school. They may struggle with concentration or exhibit a lack of motivation.
Changes in appetite or sleep:
Your tween may experience changes in appetite or sleep patterns, such as eating more or less than usual or having trouble sleeping or staying asleep.
Your tween may experience physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or fatigue without any clear medical cause.
While it may be difficult to know if the changes in your tween’s behaviour and mood are due to looming puberty or if they’re experiencing mental health issues. It’s always better to err on the side of caution and get your tween the support they need. These can be tough to deal with, but with the right support, our kids can come out the other side stronger than ever.
So, what can we do to improve teenage mental health?
Ways to support your tween’s mental health
As a parent, there are several things you can do to support your tween’s mental health. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Keep communication open:
As our tweens navigate the wild waters of independence, they might drift away from us like a rebellious little boat. We can throw them a lifeline by keeping those communication channels open. Ask open-ended questions that allow your tween to express themselves fully. For example, “How was your day?” is a closed-ended question, whereas “Tell me about your day?” is an open-ended question.
Let them know they can come to you with anything, anytime, and you won’t judge or ground them. And, even if it’s just a quick chat before bedtime, make it a habit to check in with them regularly, so they don’t lose sight of the fact that you’ve got their back, always.
Encourage healthy habits:
It’s common knowledge that physical health is a big deal and it’s also connected to mental health. So, let’s get our tweens moving to get some exercise, munching on nutritious meals, and snoozing like a hibernating bear. These simple habits can work wonders for their emotional well-being.
As parents, we tend to put ourselves on the back burner but remember, we can’t give what we don’t have. So, try to lead by example and show your tween the importance of self-care. Whether it’s practising our sweet dance moves, working up a sweat, or just chillaxing with a good book – let’s make time for the things that make us happy. When our kids see us caring for ourselves, they’ll be inspired to do the same.
Know when to seek help:
There may come a time when your tween needs more support than you can provide. That’s okay! There are plenty of mental health resources available, including teenage support services. If you’re looking for a safe and confidential way for your tweens to get support for any issues they might be facing, the Kids Helpline can be a great resource. They offer free and confidential counselling and support services to children and young people aged 5 to 25 years. You can have an open and honest conversation with your child about the importance of seeking help when they need it. Encourage seeking help during such times as a sign of strength, not weakness.
Encourage positive self-talk:
Positive self-talk is like a superhero power that we can teach our tweens. By helping them focus on their strengths and accomplishments, we can boost their confidence and help them tackle life’s challenges with ease. So, let’s get our kiddos flexing their positivity muscles, and watch them soar to new heights of happiness and self-assurance.
Just like you, I try to be the unicorn in a field of donkeys, bringing some much-needed positivity to my tween’s daily grind. And, to really hammer that point home, I make sure to sneak in a note of encouragement in her lunchbox every day. It’s like a surprise party for her brain and she even told me once that it made her see the bigger picture and she felt like she could conquer the world (or at least middle school). So, now I never skip a day of putting that pep in her step.
Limit screen time:
There is growing evidence to suggest that excessive screen time and social media use can have a negative impact on preteens’ mental health. With the astronomical increase in the amount of time our preteens are spending glued to their screens these days, it could be laying the grounds for mental health issues for later, if we don’t tackle it head-on.
It is important to set boundaries, monitor their online activity, and, where possible, encourage them to enjoy other activities instead. Of course, screentime in moderation is totally okay, but there is nothing like in person connection to keep our tweens thriving.
Our kids today are exposed to a bajillion more voices than we ever were when we were their age. It’s like they’re living in a never-ending chorus of opinions, influences, and memes. But, as their guardians, it’s our job to help them navigate through all that noise and find their own unique melody. By being a positive voice in their lives, we can help them tune out the negativity and hit all the high notes of success. So, let’s turn up the volume on love, support, and encouragement, and drown out the sound of doubt and fear.
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