How To Help Your Kids Manage Their Mental Health
Tips and tools from Meeghan Bourne of Holus Health Counselling
The world we’re living in right now is pretty stressful, right? But it’s not just the adults feeling it. Kids are feeling it too. Even before things like global pandemics, the declining mental health of the next generation has been a big worry. According to Beyond Blue, one in seven young people (4-17 years) will experience a mental health condition this year – sobering stat, right?
But there’s hope! If we’re proactive about helping our kids manage their mental health, we can give them an awesome start to life, help build their resilience and give them the tools they need to manage their own emotional wellbeing when they fly the coop.
So where do we start? With Meeghan Bourne, Principal Therapist at Holus Health Counselling in Bowral!
We chatted to Meeghan about how parents can help their children manage their mental health, and she had some super-useful tips for us to share with you guys.
1 // Validate what they’re feeling
Children (and adults!) can find some emotions difficult to handle and don’t know what to do. By validating what they’re feeling and recognising they are sad or angry or ashamed or hurt, parents are saying to children “It’s absolutely okay to have these emotions, now let’s work together to manage them and find an appropriate response to your anger or frustration or whatever you are feeling”.
2 // Help them understand their emotional response is a chemical reaction.
When a child is scared or stressed or angry, cortisol floods their system – this is part of the Fight, Flight or Freeze response humans have to a distressing situation. First, help them understand there is a chemical reaction happening –this alleviates any guilt or shame they may feel. Then teach them how to manage their behaviour once the cortisol kicks in, rather than working from the primitive mind and lashing out verbally or physically. When they learn to intervene themselves and manage their behaviour using age appropriate tools such as deep breaths for little ones, teenagers going for a run, punching a pillow (all ages!) - whatever it may be that works - you give them the power to operate from a wise mind, rather than a primitive mind.
3 // Teach children emotional intelligence
This is the best gift you can give your child. Leslie Greenberg is a psychologist and founder of emotion-focused therapy. He believes people with emotional intelligence know when and how to move in and out of emotions. How good would that be for us ALL to be across?? Dr Greenberg suggests parents follow this process (which teaches them emotional intelligence) when dealing with a child’s emotional response to a situation.
Identify the feeling: Help your child identify the feeling. Ask them to describe the situation and what they are feeling as a result of the emotion that is coming up. Validate that emotion by letting them know it’s perfectly normal to be feeling that way.
Assess yourself: Assess your own feelings in that moment. Are you being triggered by something you haven’t dealt with yourself which may inflame the situation? Use your emotional intelligence to respond appropriately to your child’s reaction. And if you need help with managing your own responses, come and see me! It will help you and positively impact your relationship with your children.
Appropriate behaviour: Help your child choose an appropriate behavioural response to what they are feeling. It’s okay to be angry, but it’s not okay to hit your brother. Teach your child to use the extra energy in their system (thanks to the flood of cortisol) and manage the physiological response the emotion has brought up. Take them for a walk in the garden, jump on the trampoline, do some star jumps, put some music on and dance it off, kick a ball with them....using up this extra energy will calm them down.
4 // Look in the mirror
In my work, I see how important emotional interactions within a family is, and the significant impact it can have on a child’s long-term wellbeing. I see many adults who are still wounded from their own trauma and act out negatively when stressed or in a challenging life situation. Are you working from a reactive and primitive mind or triggered when your child behaves in a certain way? This models negative behaviour for the child. Emotional intelligence can be learnt at any point in life to benefit yourself and anyone you interact with. Your child will learn from you that they can repair an interaction, make a mistake and correct it. They learn so much from watching us and our responses.
5 // Give them a voice
Parenting isn’t about domination. It’s about guiding and supporting your child as they grow and become the best version of themselves. Empowering your child to have a voice and express themselves improves their self-esteem and resilience. Chat, negotiate and compromise, rather than stonewalling or sending someone to their room. When I see anyone at Holus Health Counselling, I give them a ‘Bill of Rights’ which is a document of statements that makes it clear everyone has a voice in my office, not just the parent. This empowers a child to express themselves, especially one who has been in a dominant and rigid relationship with their parent.
6 // The importance of self-care
This is especially important for tweens and teenagers. Teach them to take charge of their emotional wellbeing by looking after themselves. Encourage them to do activities they love–do it with them for some extra connection time! Looking after their health – nutritional food, regular exercise, solid sleep patterns – will also help. Suggest they download mindfulness apps such as ReachOut Breathe and encourage your child to schedule in some ‘down time’ – screen free! – an hour with a book, colouring in, drawing, gardening, 20 minutes of meditation, or simply resting and being in the moment.
7 // Look out for signs of a decline in mental health
Changes in behaviour that may indicate your child is struggling include withdrawing from friends and family, poor sleep patterns, tiredness and irritability, and changes in eating habits –whether it be eating more or less. Another sign is if your child is constantly unwell – sniffles, coughs, colds, nausea, susceptible to picking up any bug going around school – an unhealthy immune system is a strong indication all is not well mentally and emotionally.
8 // Reach out
Parents don’t have to do this alone. If you’re concerned about your child’s mental health, take them to a mental health professional. If the school has a counsellor, speak to them. Chat to other parents – you’ll be surprised how many parents and children have sought treatment and implemented tools that have helped them manage their mental health. And don’t wait. Trust your gut. If you think something is wrong, it probably is.
Holus Health Counselling Bowral provides professional and discreet mental health and counselling services, and individual, relationship and family counselling and psychotherapy. There’s never any shame in reaching out. If you need help, get in touch with Meeghan.
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