We teach them how to say “mama” or “dada”. We teach them how to hold a spoon. We teach them how to connect letters and read words. We try and keep them physically healthy by encouraging exercise and giving them healthy foods. But the one thing most parents seem to neglect to do is teach their kids how to take care of their mental health.
October 10 is World Mental Health Day and as adults, we’ve read a lot about the importance of caring for our mental health. But with mental health disorders on the rise among young people, there’s never been a better time to foster good mental health practices in our children.
Here are five ways to teach your children about the importance of taking care of their mental health:
Good sleep habits start from when they’re babies. Teach them to self-soothe, stick to a consistent bedtime routine, and ensure that sleep is a priority in their lives – not an afterthought. If your tweens or teens have cellphones, it’s imperative that they don’t take the device to bed with them. Establish a family rule that after a certain time of day (8pm for example), all devices are placed in the kitchen or office and only returned the next morning.
Be their role model
Just as they model their other behaviour on yours, so too will they follow your example in caring for their mental health. Whether it’s putting away your phone at certain times of the day, scheduling your weekly yoga class, or going off to do a 15-minute daily mindfulness session, make it obvious to them that you make mental wellness a priority – and they will follow suit.
Help them identify emotions
This is especially true for younger children, but it will serve them well as they grow up, too. So often a child struggles with the way they are feeling because they can’t put a label on it. Teach them what “disappointment” feels like, or “frustration”, or “embarrassment”, and tell them that it’s normal to feel like this at times – life isn’t about being happy 100% of the time. It’s also a strength to ask for help when you need it: if you need some professional guidance, some medical aid companies have emotional well-being programmes where consultants will provide a listening ear and refer you or your child for professional counselling if needed.
Make time for playing and creativity
As adults we have to give a name to our play time: we call these activities hobbies. With all the over scheduling we do for our kids, it’s vital for their mental health that we set aside free time – and not just when they’re toddlers. Tweens, teens and young adults all need free time when nothing is expected of them and they can just relax, recharge and have fun. Ensure that as the parent, you work this into their busy schedules.
Talk and communicate
This sounds so obvious, but unless you’re making a conscious effort to pause in your busy lives and connect with your children, asking how they’re feeling – you could miss vital warning signs. A useful and practical solution to this is to hold family meetings once a week, where you all sit down and take a turn to talk about what happened to you this week, and how you felt about it. It could be around the dinner table on a Sunday – and you could even take notes, listing a goal for each of you, or something problematic you want to address.
We owe it to our children to give them practical tools and habits that will build their resilience and prepare them for whatever awaits them in the wider world – and strong mental health is crucial.