We talk a lot about this thing called mental health, but what does it really mean and how can we promote it in our children?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Mental health in childhood means reaching developmental and emotional milestones, and learning healthy social skills and how to cope when there are problems.”
Laying a strong foundation from the start can help children develop appropriate emotional, social and coping skills.
Here are 5 things parents can do to promote good mental health.
- Help children verbalize feelings from a very young age. The more an individual can use words to describe difficult feelings the less he or she will rely on their body to communicate (e.g. tantrums, hitting or acting out in school).
- Help children be problem solvers. Protecting a child from every possible failure sends the message that he or she cannot cope. Facing failures and frustrations in bearable bits helps build emotional muscle that will last a lifetime.
- Validate feelings rather than negate or stop them. If a child is crying, there is a valid feeling behind it. Be investigators together and find the reason for the feeling. Telling children they have nothing cry about, or telling them everything will be fine when it may not, teaches them to suppress feelings, rather than building tolerance for hard feelings.
- Encourage children to manage their own feelings. Just because a child is angry at you does not mean you have to fix, handle or change the situation. They have a right to their feeling and they have the power to find ways to make themselves feel better – even when life seems unfair.
- Promote empathy. Wonder with your child how other people may be feeling, especially when they may have hurt someone else’s feelings. Encourage children to talk through conflicts and hear another point of view. Make an apology a natural part of conflict resolution – rather than words that must be recited to avoid punishment.
Explore our kindergarten and preschool programs. For younger children, our parent/toddler program provides developmentally minded fun.
About the Author:Kimberly Bell, Ph.D., is Clinical Director of the Hadden Clinic for Children & Families at Hanna Perkins Center; and is the John A. Hadden, Jr. Professor in Psychoanalytic Child Development at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. A licensed clinical psychologist, she specializes in learning issues, parenting, separation anxiety and women’s issues such as Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders (PMAD).