As parents, it’s important to ensure that our children feel supported through each stage of development. While professional intervention can be warranted in situations where children are having great difficulty coping with life, there are many ways that parents can support a child’s mental health.
1. Model healthy coping skills.
You can help your children learn how to deal with their emotions in a healthy way by modeling coping skills at home. You can engage in these skills with your child or talk them through doing them on their own. Activities such as deep breathing, using stress balls, making art (painting, coloring, doodling) or going for walks can be great strategies for coping with feelings.
2. Watch for behavior changes.
It’s very normal for kids to go through changes in behavior while progressing through different developmental stages. However, if you notice that your child has become more withdrawn or isolated from their friends, family or routine, it may be a sign that they’re experiencing a situation or feeling that they don’t know how to process on their own. Check in with your child and let them know you’re there and ready to support them however they need.
3. Keep communication open and honest.
It’s important that your child knows they can approach you with any issue, and that they will be received and listened to with love and support. Simply letting them know that you are there to support and listen to them without judgment can increase the likelihood that they’ll come to you when they have a problem.
4. Create a routine and set clear boundaries at home.
Uncertainty about day-to-day schedules can lead to a lot of stress or anxiety in a child’s life. Creating a general routine at home can provide some relief and peace for your child, whether it’s a schedule for daily meals or a weekly movie night. Having clear boundaries is also important for your child to know what is expected of them at home and can minimize feelings of frustration from both parent and child.
5. Let them know they are loved and supported.
For a child, one of the most important things you can provide is an environment where they know they are loved and important. They know they are supported no matter what they do, and this increases their feelings of security and safety in the home.
6. Provide positive feedback and encouragement
Kids love to receive positive feedback and learn that they’ve done something well. Knowing they’ve done something well increases feelings of pride and confidence, which can stick with a child long term. In addition, providing positive reinforcement for behaviors will often encourage children to repeat that behavior.
7. Encourage joyful movement.
Physical activity provides a necessary outlet for kids, which is important for both physical and mental health. Helping children find a type of movement they enjoy, even from an early age, is a great way to ensure they remain engaged and interested. Participating in movement together with your child can also be a great way to get them involved.
8. Talk about emotions and feelings regularly.
Kids learn so much by watching their parents, including behaviors when it comes to emotional expression and regulation. Rather than simply saying your day was “good” or “OK,” try to discuss different emotions you felt throughout your day when talking with your child. Talk to them about the moment you felt stressed in a meeting or frustrated with a coworker—and then talk to them about how you handled your emotions in that situation. This teaches them that these feelings are normal, provides suggestions on how to handle the feelings and gives them the vocabulary to talk about a wider range of emotions affecting them. Don’t be afraid to bring up the subject of mental health with older children and adolescents.
9. Involve them in decision making.
As adults, we feel we know what’s best for our child, and so children are often left out of the decision-making process. Of course, it may be more appropriate for the parent to make the final decision. However, finding ways to include your child in making decisions can help them feel that they are heard and valued in their home. Something as simple as asking them whether they think you should prepare rice or macaroni and cheese with dinner can show them they have a voice and give them the confidence to use it.
10. Get professional help if needed.
Recognizing when your child needs help is a crucial skill to have as a parent. There may be times when it can be overwhelming or frustrating to try to handle your child’s behaviors or respond appropriately to their emotions. Don’t be afraid to find and ask for help—it can be a great benefit to both you and your child.
Discovery is here to help
As you go through this process, remember that children go through changes during development that affect emotional expression and regulation, and it’s quite normal to see drastic differences in how your child handles each stage.
These tools can be excellent ways to help support your child’s mental well-being. But if your child is struggling with depression or anxiety, and you have exhausted your own means to help them, reach out to Discovery Mood & Anxiety Program for answers. We can find the right path for your child and you.
Madeline Radigan Langham is a registered dietitian who works with adolescents in mental health residential treatment. She is passionate about advocating for weight inclusivity and a non-diet approach to help people heal their relationships with food and their bodies. In her free time, she enjoys being outdoors and spending time on trails with her family. You can find more of Madeline’s thoughts and work at radnutrition.net or on Instagram at @mradnutrition.