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8 Ways to Support Your Child’s Mental Health ”
People tend to think of children’s bodies and minds as if they were made of resilient rubber. However, this misconception keeps countless children from getting the mental health care they desperately need.
Children are no different than adults in their physical and psychological responses to trauma. Unfortunately, everyone experiences stress and misfortune — it’s your job as a parent to teach positive coping mechanisms. Here are eight ways you can support your child’s mental health.
1. Get Their Bodies in Motion
Researchers did a meta-analysis of 37 studies and compared exercise’s effectiveness as an antidepressant against traditional psychotherapy and pharmacological interventions. They found that moderate cardiac activity worked as well as either of the other two clinical interventions in easing many cases.
Any activity will do, but forcing children to do calisthenics indoors challenges even seasoned gym teachers. However, getting them to the park will encourage them to run, skip and jump while providing antidepressant benefits. Among those who live in areas with only 10% green space, 32 out of every 1,000 people have a depression diagnosis as compared to only 24 of those with more access to nature.
Exercise caution when signing your children up for sports, however. Not everyone cares to measure themselves against others, and research indicates that those lacking this drive may be less stressed and ego-driven than their more competitive peers. They can be active without joining the school soccer team — activities like hiking and tae kwon do may appeal to them more.
2. Regulate Their Diet
Your body is like a giant chemistry set, and everything you add to the solution affects the rest of the ingredients — including food. Kids tend to love their junk food. However, sugar can be as addictive as cocaine, and researchers associate refined carb intake with higher depression rates.
However, your kiddo still needs healthy snacks for after school and before soccer practice. Why not get a little nutty? Many nuts contain high levels of magnesium and selenium, two minerals that can combat mild-to-moderate depression. Some studies suggest that magnesium alone can work as well as a tricyclic antidepressant.
Additionally, over-reliance on packaged convenience foods contributes to childhood obesity, which can negatively impact self-esteem. You don’t want to give your child an eating disorder by declaring some foods off-limits or forcing them into a restrictive diet, but nor do you want them to fall into the nearly 20% of children who qualify as obese.
Instead, let your kids help you grocery shop and cook and bring back family mealtimes. Use these events as teachable moments to discuss healthy nutrition in a non-threatening and encouraging way.
3. Provide a Stable Schedule
How did your children fare with the chaos of 2020? Kids aren’t immune to pandemic anxiety, and even if your child felt mentally healthy before, they could need practical interventions now to get back on their keel.
Please provide a stable schedule as much as possible. Sit down with your child each day and help them review their planner and create a to-do list for the coming day. When they know what to expect, their anxiety levels drop.
4. Introduce Yoga and Meditation
Yoga and meditation can beat anxiety and even help trauma victims reconnect with their bodies. There’s no age limit for either practice, and getting them started young instills a healthy coping mechanism for life.
Use age-appropriate terms, like “round your back like a Halloween kitty” when teaching yoga. For younger children, one minute of mindfulness meditation per year of age tends to work with short attention spans.
5. Learn Non-Judgmental Listening
When your child becomes a teen, you can almost guarantee they will cry, “You never listen to me,” at least once. However, you can take some of the merits out of their future complaints by learning how to open your ears without judgment now.
If you want your children to come to you about challenging matters like sex and drugs, you need to establish trust and safety. You might consider ideas like making written contracts governing what to do if they suspect the friend they go out with of drinking before getting behind the wheel. They’ll be much more likely to text you for a safe ride home if they know they won’t be grounded.
6. Encourage Quiet Time Early
You can save yourself considerable parenting headaches by implementing quiet time early. An ideal age for doing so is when your children first start to outgrow naps.
When they do, continue to put them down as usual, but don’t insist they sleep. Instead, let them use the time to read, draw or perform another quiet activity. Things like coloring are ideal self-soothing activities, and learning to turn to them now helps them choose these coping mechanisms instead of less healthy ones later on.
7. Maintain a Regular Sleep Schedule
If you ever tossed and turned all night, you know you growled like a bear the next day. A lack of sleep can impact your child’s mood, too.
Encourage sound sleep hygiene by going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time each day — even on weekends and during pandemic shutdowns. While you may not be able to keep a computer out of your homeschooled child’s bedroom, create a charging station for phones and tablets in the kitchen so that they’re not tempted to lie awake surfing social media.
8. Seek Outside Help
Finally, even the best parents aren’t all trained psychologists. Learn when it’s time to seek outside help.
Look for signs like failing academic performance, losing interest in once enjoyable activities and self-destructive behaviors like hair-pulling. If you aren’t sure where to look, talk to your primary care provider for a referral.
Support Your Child’s Mental Health in These 8 Ways
Many people feel on shaky psychological ground these days, and children are no exception. Please support your child’s mental health in these eight ways.
8 Ways to Support Your Child’s Mental Health