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How To Nurture Your Children's Mental Health

How To Nurture Your Children's Mental Health

We can sometimes have an idealised view of childhood: A magical time before you had to worry about bills, body image, and work deadlines.

But as 1 in 4 people in Ireland will experience mental health problems at some point in their lives, and over half of all mental ill-health starts before the age of 14; it’s never too early to start promoting positive mental health with our kids.

Not only does this normalise an openness around mental health issues, it can also help children to cope with the many different challenges they face; like new schools, tests, bullying, friendship dynamics, and other pressures of growing up.

As Jo Loughran of UK charity Time to Change has said:  "Even if you don't think that your child is experiencing any problems, being open about mental health means that if something does crop up further down the line, they are more likely to feel like they can talk to you about it."

So what can I do?

  • Be open about your own emotions. There’s no need to treat your kids like Dr Phil, and unload all your problems; but simply tell them how something makes you feel. For example, ‘Mummy is a bit worried about her work deadline’ or ‘Mom is sad because of what we just watched in Bambi;’ can help children recognise their own emotions, and to understand that it's something everyone deals with. You can also show them how you (and in turn, they) can work through it by e.g scheduling time to finish your work, or having hot chocolate to cheer yourself up.

  • Spend time playing together with joint activities which also have time for chat; whether this is a puzzle, playing with lego, or cooking something.

  • Encourage social activities like a drama class, or sports team; where children can play with others and spend time being physically active.

  • Have regular family time. Eat meals together, read stories, do ‘indoor camping’; and spend time together without the distraction of televisions and phones.

  • Get outdoors. Not only is this another great way to spend time together as a family; but ‘adventures’ however big or small, also teach children about the importance of fresh air and nature for promoting positive mental health.

How do I talk to my child about what's worrying them?

  • Don’t be too judgemental, or tell them what they should have done. Instead listen to what they’re saying, and empathise with how they feel. Just doing this makes a huge difference, though you could also discuss how they might deal with this in the future: But let them take the lead with ideas.

  • Don't be impatient when they are sad or anxious. Avoid making judgemental statements, and instead reassure them that it’s ok to open up about how they feel; even if they don’t want to talk right now.

  • Share a situation where you felt worried or anxious before, and it’ll remind them that this is natural, and it will pass. To explain how inside emotions are sometimes different to how people look on the outside, you could also show a photo of yourself looking perfectly happy, and explain that you were worried about xyz that day, and were finding it hard to relax.

  • Don't be dismissive of their worries and fears, no matter how trivial they may seem. This will only close them off from talking about their problems … we’ve all blown something out of proportion when in a bad mood at some point!

  • Don't bottle up your own emotions. Children are very observant, and will learn by watching you. Encourage good coping skills by demonstrating them openly.

What if there’s something persistent troubling them?

If your little one is having a tough time with something, there may be ways to help change how they think about it, even if there's no way to immediately solve the problem itself.

  • Create a Mind Jar: A bit like a snow globe, when you shake it up a storm of glitter fills the jar; but if you sit and breathe quietly, you can watch the disturbance settle; just like our feelings do. Make your own Mind Jar with a jam jar or sturdy plastic bottle: Fill ¾ full with water, add pva glue (the more glue you use the slower it will settle,) and add your chosen colours of glitter. Seal tight so it won't leak, and so tiny hands can’t unscrew the lid!

  • Make a Worry Box or ‘worry eating monster’: A worry box allows children to articulate their concerns. The first step is letting them decorate the chosen box (a shoe box or tissue box are a good size;) creating ownership of the project. Next, ‘worries’ that the child is experiencing are written down onto strips of paper, and posted into the worry box. Depending on your child’s age, you could help write down the worries for them. This is best done at bedtime, and once all the worries are safely contained in the box, let them choose where it lives (preferably outside their bedroom.) They can then go to bed with the knowledge that you are taking care of their worries, and they can safely go to sleep.

  • Learn about Mindfulness: Practice mindful breathing with a ‘Breathing Buddy’, go for a walk together and spend a minute or two quietly noticing everything around you without speaking, develop your Spidey-Senses; or sign up for a free trial of the amazing Headspace app, which has great resources for kids as well as adults.

  • ​Read: Sitting Still Like A Frog by Eline Snel, Scrambled Heads by Emily Palmer or Grumpy Pants by Claire Messer.

If you think your child might be suffering from Mental Health Problems; talk to your child’s school, and your GP: Who can give advice, and a referral to the CAMHS. For further information for to mentalhealthireland.ie or childrensmentalhealth.ie.

If you want some extra ideas for activities you can spend quality time doing together, read 8 Ways To Help Encourage Your Child's Imagination.


About the Author

Emily is a Writer, Editor, Blogger, and our new Digital Content Intern. She has three awesome nieces, and has accidentally worn the same outfit as them on at least one occasion. Emily likes making things, including hand-drawn cards, and a darn good chocolate cake; and she still sounds very English, despite living in Dublin for the last eight years. More insight into the workings of her brain can be found on dancingcakesandsilence.blogspot.com.

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