May 3rd thru 9th is Child Mental Health Awareness Week. During this week, our goal is to raise awareness about Child Mental Health. When people think about mental health, the first group of people that come to mind are adults. Based on research from the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, it is estimated that 13 –20 percent of children living in the United States (up to 1 out of 5 children) experience a mental disorder in a given year between the ages of 3 and 17 years old.
As a parent, you are the first person to notice changes in behavior in your child. Whether your child has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder or not, there are ways you can help your child manage their emotions and stress. Here are 10 ways to support your child’s mental health:
1. Exercise – encourage play, exercise and sports
Exercising is a great way to relieve stress and boost moods. The Little Sports channel on YouTube provides interactive age appropriate workouts for your child to follow. Play and sports can help your child relieve stress and take their minds off of the things that may be bothering them.
2. Behavior – keep an eye out for changes in behavior
As a parent, behavioral changes can be challenging. View your child’s behavioral changes as a window to their feelings and needs. Once you understand their feelings and needs professed by their behavior, you can begin to solve the issue that is causing the change.
3. Support – regularly support, encourage and praise your child
To support your child, you must actively listen before giving advice. Actively listening means you are not distracted by thoughts or anything else, you are solely focused on the words of your child and understanding their feelings. Encouragement and praise are key supports for your child. Saying things like, “My world is better with you in it” or I will do my best to keep you safe” encourages positive thoughts for your child. Recognizing your child’s positive choices will encourage them to continue to make more.
4. Rest time – manage stress by building rest time into their schedule
Children need sleep to keep them healthy and happy, so make sure that your child is getting adequate rest and sleep. Studies have shown that kids who regularly get an adequate amount of sleep have improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, and overall mental and physical health.
5. Patience – don’t pressure your child, exercise patience
Being patient with your child is important when they are having a hard time properly expressing how they feel. You must not criticize them and you must be aware of your tone of voice and how you talk to them. You want to encourage and support them in their times of difficulty, not add to their stress and misunderstanding.
6. Help – don’t be afraid to seek help from professionals
If you can’t decipher if your child’s behavior is just a stage or something a bit more serious, it may be time to seek professional help. Mental health professionals can give you advice on the next steps to help your child. The National Institute of Mental Health offers tips for parents to help them determine if and when you should seek help for your child.
For local help in Hillsborough County, the National Alliance on Mental Health – Hillsborough (NAMNI) offers courses to help you manage and deal with mental health issues and offers free remote support groups. For more information, visit their website or call the information HelpLine at 1-800-950-6264, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.- 6 p.m., EST.
7. Problem Solving – teach your child how to effectively solve problems
If your child is facing a problem or worry about something, help them by teaching them to problem solve. In an article posted by Very Well Family, “How to Teach Kids Problem Solving Skills”, it explains steps to help your child solve problems. These are the five steps listed:
- Identify the problem
- Develop at least 5 possible solutions
- Identify the pros and cons of each solution
- Pick a solution
- Test it out
8. Coping – help your child learn positive coping mechanisms like relaxation
Deep breathing exercises, meditation and stretching are coping mechanisms any child can do on their own. Teaching your child techniques they can do on their own without the help of an adult allows them to cope and calm down in any situation, anywhere. Deep breathing with shapes is an effective coping method for children. Watch this video to learn more: https://youtu.be/6hSkmmNU7PM
9. Conversation – encourage your child to engage in conversation
Using open ended questions allows your child to respond with more than a yes or no answer. It helps them think, process how they are feeling and allows them to include their own understanding of the topic at hand. For examples of open-ended questions to ask your child under 5 years old, read this linked article.
10. Environment – provide a safe and positive environment for your child where they can thrive
Surrounding your child with adults who are strong, stable and show model behavior provides an environment for your child to grow and thrive. Children who feel supported and secure in their environment are more likely to try new things, experiment and express themselves. For tips on how to set the tone for a happy home, read this article posted by The Pragmatic Parent.
Child Mental Health Expert at Champions for Children
Sinziana Bularca, the Program Director for Parenting Services at Champions for Children, is one of the first in the state of Florida to have an infant mental health endorsement from the Florida Association for Infant Mental Health. The mission of FAIMH is to support and strengthen an infant mental health workforce to better serve the young children and families of Florida.
Sinziana says, “My favorite quote when I think of infant mental health and that guides my work with families is: ‘All learning takes place in the context of relationships and is critically affected by the quality of those relationships.’ by Norman-Murch”
There is so much to say and do to support families and their children. Two tips she shares with us are:
- Recognize and regulate your own feelings and behaviors. Young children depend on you to learn and regulate their own emotions.
- Seek emotional and tangible support. Parenting takes a village and if you find yourself alone please choose to build your own team, find people that have the same beliefs as you do and allow them to help.
Champions for Children believes that parents have an obligation to provide a nurturing environment for their children, regardless of their child’s mental health status. Our community has a responsibility to strengthen families and Champions is here to help. If you have questions, need advice, need help enrolling in our programs, or need us to connect you to someone who can help, call our personalized parenting support warm line at no cost, give us a call: (813) 673-4646 Mon-Fri 10AM-6PM.