Common Misconceptions Around Kids and Mental Health

In the last several years, our society has begun to talk more openly about mental health in children and youth. Sadly, this is primarily because so many young people are suffering in this area. We are realizing that raising healthy kids includes leading, equipping, and nurturing ALL aspects of their lives, including social, physical, educational, and mental/emotional.

Supporting children with their mental health is a challenge for which many parents are understandably not prepared. Let’s face it: We‘re living in a different world than the one we grew up in. Even though we may tire of hearing about the evils of technology, we cannot deny that research shows a direct correlation between access to social media and increasing anxiety, especially in girls twelve and above. When we add that to the global trauma we all experienced through the COVID shut downs, we find ourselves living in a world full of stressed out, hurting people. So, what can we do about it?

 

While phrases like, “Just get over it!” or “Calm down!” were very common in previous generations, they don’t create an opportunity for parents to teach kids how to identify and process their big emotions with a trusted adult. When emotions are left unprocessed, kids tend to find a way to communicate them through acting out or isolating. In other words, they’ll find a way to communicate one way or another.

Nothing replaces spending time hanging out and listening to our kids. In these times together, we make space for kids to tell us what’s going on, even when what they’re saying makes us uncomfortable. During these times, we can determine if there’s something deeper going on than the problem currently causing stress. In other words, are we at a point of needing to ask for outside help or gain perspective from other experienced parents, teachers, counselors, or doctors?

If we’re not sure, let’s consider one definition of childhood mental health. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “Being mentally healthy during childhood means reaching developmental and emotional milestones and learning healthy social skills and how to cope when there are problems. Mentally healthy children have a positive quality of life and can function well at home, in school, and in their communities.”

Some other indicators of positive mental health in kids are:

  • Affection
  • Resilience
  • Positivity
  • Curiosity
  • Self-control
  • Persistence

Everyone goes through hard times and needs the support and mentorship of trusted adults. Routinely take time to consider your child’s development in these areas, and if you’re concerned they’re not at an age appropriate level in any one or more of them, ask for some help. You may find that you or your child need more specialized support in order to thrive.

Here are some things you can do at home to nurture the important characteristics mentioned above:

Affection: If a child isn’t comfortable giving and receiving affection, consider getting a pet. If getting a pet isn’t realistic, volunteer or visit an animal rescue to interact with the animals. Give children pats on the back and gentle eye contact while respecting personal boundaries and honoring what makes them feel safe.

Resilience: Talk about how kids will face problems as they arise by practicing “What would you do?” scenarios, like:

  • Your friend says they don’t want to play with you today.
  • Your sister takes your new ball without asking.
  • Your teacher tells you to stop talking and get in your seat.
  • Your soccer game gets rained out.

Positivity: Play a game where you get points for every positive thing you say about a certain topic. Ideas include:

  • School
  • Family Members
  • Friends
  • House

Once you accumulate a certain number of points you get to choose the dinner menu, etc.

Curiosity: Take turns sharing fun facts at dinner. “Did you know?”
  • A cloud weighs around a million tons
  • Giraffes are 30 times more likely to get hit by lightning than people are.
  • Identical twins don’t have the same fingerprints.

Self-Control: Do a family challenge that requires delayed gratification. For example, saving money in a jar. Talk about how you could save for ## days and and get (a pack of gum), you could save for ## days and get (a candy bar), you could save for ## days and get (a slice of pizza), etc.

Persistence: Choose something to learn together or work on, like a puzzle that will take multiple days, learning to shoot free throws, etc. Collect ideas for what each person wants to work on and set goals.

Conclusion

Parenting is a BIG job, especially when children are struggling with their mental health. You’re not alone! Please reach out to Finally Home if you need some extra tools in your tool belt or connection to resources.

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