As a parent, you grow to really appreciate the problems that have visible, actionable solutions. It’s easy to stick a band-aid on an injury that you can see. It’s much harder to fix a problem when it’s invisible to you and affecting a child — after all, children are notorious for not always being able to vocalize their feelings. The numbers don’t lie: mental health rates in children and teenagers are dangerously high, with an average of 17 percent of young people experiencing an emotional, mental, or behavioral disorder. The CDC reports that 1 in 6 children aged 2-8 has a mental, behavioral, or development disorder.
How, as a parent, can you help your children when they’re struggling with mental health? It’s hard enough to take care of your own mental health. Luckily for you, we at Ketamine News have put together a comprehensive guide of what we have found in our research.
Ways To Be Involved With Your Children’s Mental Health
To start with, the National Association of School Psychologists recommend a series of steps. Though these are written specifically for an audience of psychologists working in schools, a lot of the steps also apply to parents taking care of their children. Here are some highlights:
- “Create a sense of belonging. Feeling connected and welcomed is essential to children’s positive adjustment, self-identification, and sense of trust in others and themselves. Building strong, positive relationships among students, school staff, and parents is important to promoting mental wellness.”
- “Teach and reinforce positive behaviors and decision making. Provide consistent expectations and support. Teaching children social skills, problem solving, and conflict resolution supports good mental health. ‘Catch’ them being successful. Positive feedback validates and reinforces behaviors or accomplishments that are valued by others.”
- “Encourage good physical health. Good physical health supports good mental health. Healthy eating habits, regular exercise and adequate sleep protect kids against the stress of tough situations. Regular exercise also decreases negative emotions such as anxiety, anger, and depression.”
Mental Health America has a list of tips for parents on how to help with mental health at home.
- “The first rule of caring for your child’s emotional or behavior struggles is that there are no rules. Parenthood doesn’t come with a manual and there will be a lot of trial and error as you figure out what works best to help your child.”
- “Cover the basics. Before you dismiss your child’s outburst as a lack of control, ask yourself if there is a simple explanation for what’s going on. Are they hungry or thirsty? Are they too hot or cold? Are they overstimulated? Did they get enough sleep? Are they feeling under the weather (i.e. — colds, allergies, headaches, upset stomachs)?
- “Pick your battles. Ask yourself if this specific behavior is doing any harm, or if it’s just annoying — annoying probably isn’t worth arguing over. If you do get in an argument with your child, resist the urge to raise your voice. Be matter-of-fact and stand your ground.”
- “Environment matters. Do your best to create a home that is low on stress, safe, and supportive. A ‘Mary Poppins’-type household would be great, but let’s get real. If you and your significant other get in a fight, keep it away from the kids. Give reasonable timelines for getting chores done. Praise your child for the things they do well and let them know that you love them.”
- “Encourage communication. Let your child know that they can talk to you about their thoughts, feelings, or difficult situations they’re dealing with. When they do come to you, really listen to what they have to say. You may not agree or understand, but you need to accept that the difficulties they are having are very real to them. Think about things you struggled with when you were their age.”
Being a parent is one of the hardest jobs in the world, and there is no instruction manual that will work for all parents. Just know that when trying to be there for your children, you are not alone — there are resources that can help you help them.
The fact that you’re reading this right now means that you are headed in the right direction because you are looking for answers. The first, and most important, step is always understanding.