Updated: Oct 24, 2022
Mental health affects the wellbeing of individuals, families, societies, and nations, without discrimination, not sparing our most innocent and vulnerable; children.
Mental health disorders in children are scarily common with one study finding 14% of all children aged 4-17 had experienced a mental health disorder in the previous 12 months (Young Minds Matter, 2013).
The concept of mental health may be difficult for children to understand. They may not have the knowledge or experience to accurately identify their symptoms as a mental health disorder. A child may report ‘my tummy is sore’, when they are feeling anxious or afraid.
Carers have the unique opportunity to play a significant role in improving their child’s mental wellbeing as they know their child best. Often children find these big feelings of anxiety or depression confusing and overwhelming.
Emotion coaching for caregivers can help children become aware of their own feelings:
Step 1: Be aware of your child’s emotion
Step 2: Recognise your child’s expression of emotion as a perfect moment for intimacy and teaching.
Step 3: Listen with empathy and validate your child’s feelings
Step 4: Help your child learn to label their emotions with words.
Step 5: Set limits when you are helping your child to solve problems or deal with upsetting situations appropriately.
Anxiety and depression in children may be caused by a combination of biological and environmental factors such as stressful life events including neglect, abuse and violence, loss of loved ones, disharmonious family life and/or relationship with carers, bullying, discrimination, and family hardship. Additionally, parents who suffer from their own mental health may pass on genes to their children, which makes their children more likely to have a mental health concern too.
Studies also show that if a mother is stressed, anxious or depressed while pregnant, her child is at increased risk of having a range of mental health concerns including anxiety and depression (Glover,2011).
Interestingly a study by Ogundele (2018) found that poor parenting skills contribute to the occurrence of anxiety and depression in children. Here are some suggestions for how to develop a positive attitude in your child and build a connection:
LOVING KINDNESS MEDITATION
Engage your child in loving-kindness meditation. It involves thinking of loved ones and sending them po- sitive thoughts. The four traditional phrases are, “May you feel safe. May you feel happy. May you feel heal- thy. May you live with ease”.
RECORDING AWE MOMENTS
Encourage your child to create an Awe Journal. In the journal, they will record sights or moments from their daily lives that they find beautiful or extraordinary: a rainbow, a kind act,
or even the smell of freshly baked cookies. Your child can record these moments with drawings, descriptions, poems, etc.
SETTING AND ACHIEVING GOALS
Encourage your child to set goals and visualise and plan for obstacles in advance. This is called the WOOP approach: Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan. This approach makes it more likely that your child will actually achieve their goals, resulting in increased confidence and a more positive attitude.
Share positive experiences with your child. Laugh with your child, hug your child, set aside time to provide your undivided attention, and enjoy positive experiences together.
DEVELOPING NEW SKILLS AND TRYING NEW ACTIVITIES
Recognise your child’s strength and give her opportunities to develop them and experience success. If your child expresses interest in a new activity, let her try it out. You can even find new activities to try with your child in order to increase your shared positive experiences.
PRACTICING POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS
Guide your child to come up with affirmations that are short, positive, and present tense: I am kind. I am enough. I am loving. Instead of giving your child instructions or requiring her to say affirmations, try to use them in a playful manner.
(Big Life Journal, 2020).