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How to foster your child’s mental well-being

Parents are increasingly aware of the importance of eating healthy and being active for their children’s health. With mental health problems in children on an upward trend, more parents realize the importance of nurturing and supporting their child’s overall mental health.

While kids’ mental well-being is often misunderstood as a concern only for those diagnosed or at risk of a mental disorder, a psychologist from Children’s Health(sm) encourages a new perspective.

Nicholas J. Westers is a clinical psychologist at UT Southwestern and an Associate Professor in Children’s Health. He explains that “good mental health” is about developing, encouraging, and using healthy habits. These include sharing and acknowledging emotions, correcting unhealthy, unhelpful thoughts, showing empathy, and building resiliency.

Dr. Westers advises parents on how they can help their children improve their mental health by teaching them about it.

What is mental illness?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, mental health is our emotional and psychological well-being. Mental health affects how we think, feel, and behave and can influence our daily activities, such as academic performance, relationships, and physical health.

How many children have a mental disorder?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to one in five children living in the U.S. suffer from a mental or behavioral disorder. Children are most likely to suffer from:

  • Anxiety
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorders, and other behavioral disorders
  • Depressive

What can parents do to improve their children’s mental well-being?

Parents are crucial in encouraging and supporting their child’s mental health. If you have anxiety, your child will likely suffer from an anxiety disorder. This is not always true because the environment can also play a role.

Dr. Westers says that the most important thing is to model good behavior and teach healthy habits so children can deal with adversity later in life.

How can we improve the mental health of children?

Parents can help their children develop a healthy mental state by developing strong relationships, setting boundaries, fostering independence and socialization, teaching good habits, and modeling positive behavior.

Dr. Westers explains eight ways that you can improve your child’s mental well-being:

1. Be aware and intentional

By paying attention to the nonverbal and verbal signals of their children, parents can help their mental health. Identifying when your child requires support or someone to talk to is easier.

Parents who are tuned with their children – that is, who are aware of their child’s nonverbal emotional, and physical needs and respond to them empathically – provide a solid foundation for their mental health. Children can tell if their parents care about them and if they approve or disapprove of them. Your child will feel safe expressing their emotions, even before they can express them verbally. When children feel safe, they will learn better. Teaching them to identify their emotions is easier if you can help them express themselves.

2. Closeness and compliance

Good relationships with parents are protective against mental disorders. Find simple ways to foster empathy and closeness. It can create a strong relationship that will make it easier for you to help your child when they have a problem.

If your child is having a tantrum in a restaurant, try calming them down quickly so they can start acting normally. Children must learn to be good citizens. But it’s equally important to show empathy when the situation arises. Consider other factors before telling your child to quiet down. Is she hungry? He didn’t nap today. They had a bad day in school.

It is especially true for older children and teens. When they feel close and loved by their parents, they are more likely to comply with parental requests.

Dr. Westers encourages you to consider if your relationship has enough emotional closeness so that the demand for compliance doesn’t bankrupt your relationship. If your teen is moving out soon, your relationship with them may be more important than forcing them to strictly obey arbitrary rules such as the five minutes extra on their video game or computer.

3. Do not protect your child from failure and distress.

Parents often want to intervene and prevent their children from feeling heartache or failing. These painful experiences are crucial to a child’s development. Dr. Westers explains that failure builds resilience and can encourage growth, understanding, and empathy.

If your child is safe, consider staying on the sidelines to encourage and support them when needed.

4. Children should be bored.

No playdates for this week or the next? No problem. According to Dr. Westers, boredom is the moment when creativity begins. Children learn to resolve conflicts with their siblings and friends, solve problems, manage time, use their imagination, develop self-control, and be independent when bored. These traits are important for building resilience and supporting your child’s mental health. It may prevent your child from complaining about boredom, but this may also stop them from developing these skills. Refrain from feeling obligated to keep your child busy every minute of the day.

5. Structure

When we have established routines and boundaries, coping with life’s challenges and failures is easier. This includes rules about playtime, electronic device limitations, and bedtime boundaries. It also includes expectations of how we should treat ourselves and others. While it is fine to be flexible, establishing boundaries and structure shows your child you care about their well-being and love them.

6. Encourage connections

Our mental health depends heavily on our social health. Our brains are wired to connect. We can learn to be better friends and develop social skills by building relationships.

Dr. Westers says kids need at least 30 minutes of face-to-face interaction every online hour. This means children should play video games online and play with their neighbors outside.

7. Model good behavior

Modeling healthy behaviors is one of the best ways to nurture your child’s mental well-being. This includes being honest about your emotions – but without going into too much detail. This includes showing your ability to bounce back after a mistake.

Parents mess up. “Kids mess up.” We hurt the people we love,” says Dr. Westers. We have to acknowledge that and express our regret. Our children learn not to dwell on the past when they see it’s okay for them to make mistakes. “They can learn to be more resilient and make better memories.”

Physical health is important for our mental health. Healthy eating, regular exercise, and enough sleep all help to improve our mood and protect us from mental disorders.

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