With the conversation of mental health becoming more common, information can quickly turn overwhelming. So let’s keep this simple, following are 5 ways you can daily care for your children’s mental health.
Let’s start with quality time, with life moving fast from work to school it can be challenging to spend a lot of time together, focusing on quality over quantity can prove to be very helpful. Use the time that you do have and play a board game, read a book together, or go on a walk – exercise is great for both children and adults. If you’re able to have dinner together, you can use this time to go around and share the highlight of your day, something that did not go over so well and something you’re looking forward to. This is a great time to gauge how your child is feeling and connect.
With growing children, sometimes emotions can seem big – validating and navigating emotions can help children become comfortable with emotions rather than overwhelmed by them. Validating emotions can be as simple as saying, “I know you’re sad and that is really hard to feel,” or, “it’s okay to feel mad, I’m here.” This allows children to feel safe and open to learning how to navigate these, sometimes, intense feelings.
Navigating emotions means helping children problem solve through feelings and exploring different solutions, like what choices they have while feeling frustrated or disappointed. This also helps children build confidence in coping through feelings and increases their willingness to practice healthy ways to calm their bodies, like counting to 5 and taking a deep breath or positive self-talk like, “I can handle this.”
As you practice helping children navigate emotions, this is a perfect time to use praise. If you just take a look at restaurant reviews, it is clear we attend to the negative more than the positive. It makes sense that praise can be hard to do, however whatever we attend to in children will multiply. Anything from, “I like the way you talked to your sister,” to “good job brushing your teeth.” The behavior does not need to be grandiose it just needs to be. Praise can also help in building your child’s confidence and self-esteem. In making quality time part of your daily routine, there will be more opportunity to praise your child as well.
As parents, balancing parenting, work, and social life, among other things can be difficult, which makes self-care all that more important. Just like the flight attendants say on airplanes, “before putting the oxygen mask on children, first place it on yourself,” same goes for attending to children’s needs. Sometimes when we are simply on the go, we can start to become easily frustrated or irritable and react in that way, which can cause children to feel unsafe and nervous. Often times, self-care can be as simple as a mental time out, checking in with what you’re feeling in the moment and validating it to help you respond to situations rather than react. Since children have been known to thrive with consistency and routine, taking care of yourself will allow you to be consistent with the way you respond to them, in spending quality time together, helping children validate and navigate their emotions, and utilizing praise.
If these practical skills seem like a lot, pick one and start there and slowly add another. Parenting is not easy, be compassionate and patient with yourself. You are doing great!
Dinaba Dubón, AMFT, is a clinical therapist in The Guidance Center’s School Based Program, where she helps guide children and families struggling with mental health conditions or abuse toward positive and productive futures. She is especially passionate about working alongside children and families in better understanding the importance of open communications and self-awareness, to bring about positive change and stronger family units. Before joining the Guidance Center team in 2017, Dinaba worked with elementary school children as a Teacher Assistant. Dinaba earned a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy with a specialization in Latino Family Studies at Pacific Oaks College.