4 Ways to Teach Your Kids About Caring for Their Mental Health
In this overwhelming world, where technology and an increase in stimulation can often overwhelm our children, I think it’s important for parents and child specialists to learn how they can best teach children to care for their mental health. I believe a lot of mental health understanding has to do with the way we communicate with our kids in the short periods of time we are alone with them; whether it’s in the car ride back home, carpooling to school or spending time together as a family.
Here are four ways to teach your kids to care for their mental health:
1. Teach them to listen to their bodies.
Evidence has shown that there is something called a gut-brain connection, which explains why we feel ¨butterflies¨ when we are feeling anxious or scared. Our bodies are constantly sending us messages about our emotional state: we might get teary-eyed when we are sad, or feel our ears get ¨hot¨ when we are angry. When our child is experiencing one of these strong emotions, it’s important to ask, ¨Where do you feel it in your body?¨ Not only will this allow them to become more aware of their bodies emotional response, but tuning into these subtle bodily changes might allow them to better distinguish what they might be feeling at a certain time.
2. Set up ¨as if¨ scenarios.
When we take our children to watch movies, or we watch TV shows with them, we often witness storylines filled with complex characters and conflicts. This is a wonderful opportunity to bring up ¨as if¨ imaginative wanderings. ¨What would you do if you were in that situation? What would you do if someone comes up and says that to you? Who would you tell about something bad happening at school?¨ Setting up these scenarios can help kids prepare themselves for possible situations, and during these brief interactions with you, they can start to build their emotional toolbox for dealing with adversity.
3. Broaden their emotional vocabulary.
When children are young, we can easily identify their emotional states: hungry, tired, sad, mad, scared or happy. However, as children grow older, they might experience more complex hardships at school and during other extra curricular activities. Situations that entail even more difficult and complex emotions than the ones previously mentioned. In her book, ¨The Gifts of Imperfection,¨ Brené Brown talks about how emotions like shame get in the way of us truly talking about our feelings. Shame and guilt are often tough emotions to comprehend — even for adults, let alone for kids. There are so many emotions out there: excitement, anticipation, frustration, hurt, shame, humiliation, joy, fear, nostalgia, disappointment, among many others. When we are able to accurately recognize and label what our kids are feeling, we can help them develop a rich emotional dictionary, one that will allow them to thrive in future relationships as adults.
4. Answer their questions with curiosity.
Sometimes our children tell us more with their questions than they actually do with their answers. This isn’t a conundrum. Often times, children will ask us questions about situations that might seem random to us as adults. If we are able to answer back with curiosity instead of abruptly trying to answer or brushing off their questions, we might learn a lot about what’s going on in their minds. For example, when they ask about a catastrophe and why it happened, you might answer back with, ¨Why do you think it happened?¨ When we give them back the power of using a hypothesis, we start allowing them to make connections about their own mental health.
These are just a few ways we can actively participate in helping our children learn to care for their own mental health. The most important thing is that we, as adults, need to be willing to practice what we preach. We can’t expect our children to be open to talking about their feelings when we don’t model those same behaviors. Although not always the case, the more open you can be about caring for your mental health as a family goal, the more you can help prevent mental health difficulties in the future.
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