7 Ways to Encourage Positive Mental Health Habits in Your Children
Despite the stigma that would have us keep the subject much closer to our chests, mental illness is widespread in both children and adults. As many as one in five adults — and just as many children — live with at least one mental health diagnosis, with some illnesses occurring more frequently than others. Even without a mental illness, we can all benefit from taking care of our mental health.
How can you encourage positive mental health habits in your children?
One of the biggest challenges when encouraging positive mental health habits in our children is simply starting the conversation. There is an incredibly negative stigma surrounding mental health and mental illness. Either we never bring them up or when the topic does arise, it’s quickly quashed in favor of other, happier conversations.
Take the time to shed the stigma and start the conversation about mental health and mental illness. Educating yourself and your children can help create a ‘safe space’ where people in your family can talk about their mental health or struggles without worrying about judgment.
It’s often easy to overlook the signs and symptoms of various mental illnesses, especially if you’re struggling to manage your mental health. Take the time to educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of some of the more common mental health concerns for children and teens. These might include but aren’t limited to:
- Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder (ADHD)
- Eating Disorders (more common in teens than young children)
- Other behavioral disorders
Kids might not understand what they’re experiencing or want to come to talk to you about it. Learning how to spot the signs that your child is struggling can make it easier to offer them the help they need.
We grew up hearing our parents tell us to do as they say, not as they do. It wasn’t effective for us as children and it still isn’t effective for our young ones as they grow. The easiest way to get our kids to do something is to do it ourselves. That means setting an example of positive mental health habits and taking care of your mental health.
We have the ever recalcitrant teenager on the opposite side of the coin. Instead of setting an example for them, telling them not to do something and practicing reverse psychology can be incredibly effective. It doesn’t always work, but if they’re not fans of the monkey see monkey do mentality, altering their perspective can make a difference.
Sometimes, the most effective tool for maintaining mental health is getting moving. Studies show that people who exercise regularly have better overall mental health and lower rates of mental illness. This is as simple as sending them out onto the playground and setting them loose for kids.
Older kids and teens might take a little more convincing, but if you can get them interested in a sport or some athletic activity like skating or biking, you’ll have difficulty keeping them indoors.
It sounds simple enough, but I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that while I was familiar with boundaries, I didn’t start setting them with the people in my life until I was well into my 30s. Boundaries give you the ability to protect your energy and, by proxy, your mental health.
Take the time to teach your kids about boundaries and encourage them to set reasonable limits of their own. Make sure you put emphasis on reasonable. Otherwise, you could have young ones setting up boundaries like they always eat dessert before dinner or don’t have a bedtime. Amusing, but not reasonable.
When was the last time you sat and let yourself feel your feelings instead of bottling them up, redirecting them, or ignoring them entirely? We’re conditioned that feeling emotions or expressing them is weak, especially for men who spend their entire childhoods being told to man up and be tough. Women encounter a similar problem as adults in the workplace, where having emotions or expressing them is considered unprofessional.
Let’s end this trend right now. Let your kids feel their feelings. If they’re sad, let them be sad and cry. If they’re happy, let them jump for joy and laugh and shout at the top of their lungs. Don’t teach them to bottle things up or that their emotions are a burden to the people around them because they’re big or loud.
It’s two words that every parent dreads hearing.
If we let it, boredom can be beneficial. When we’re bored, it stretches the edges of our imagination and lets us figure out a way to get out of that boredom. The same thing applies to kids. Instead of jumping to solve the problem, try letting them be bored. Let them take some time to explore what lies inside their minds.
When it comes down to it, the best thing you can do to encourage positive mental health habits in your children is to be there for them. Be the ear to listen or the shoulder to cry on — whatever they need. It sounds simple, but it may be one of the most challenging things you’ll do. Mental health is just as important as physical health so make sure they’re taking care of it.