Conversations to build strong mental health in your children
Growing up is hard at the best of times and the last few years have made it even more challenging for young people. Mental health is just as important as physical health and one of a parent’s key roles is to support their child’s mental wellbeing. Here psychotherapist Noel McDermott offers the following top 10 tips on helping kids open up and improve communication.
- Listen to their opinions: By asking your children questions you will teach them that their thoughts and voices are valued and that their opinion matters, meaning they are more likely to come to you if something is bothering them.
- Identify emotions: Children have a heap of emotions floating around their heads which are often hard to process, and this can make them emotional without knowing why, such as hunger, anger, sadness, jealousy, and tiredness. As a parent you can make this easier by helping them identify how they are feeling and why this might be, this in turn will help them organize their thoughts and normalize them.
- Validate feelings: Normalize your child’s emotions, all emotions are okay to have and the more we talk about them the more it validates this. It’s okay to feel sad and down, explain to your child that we all have moments when we feel we want to cry and that grown-ups cry too!
- Empathy in parenting: Showing empathy involves understanding what your child is going through and quite simply, life is easier for children if they are shown the kindness and compassion they deserve. Children who grow up with kind and loving parents will truly develop empathy themselves. So, make the time to check in with your child, open up the conversation and give them the chance to connect with you, this way if something is troubling them, they are more likely to talk to you.
- Family circle time: Form habits around setting aside time each week for the family to share feelings in a non-judgemental space. It’s often called ‘circle time’ and it doesn’t have to be a big stress. For example, once a week after a family meal spend 5 minutes going around the table giving each person some uninterrupted time to check in with their feelings and share them with each other.
- Open up real life serious conversations: Look for opportunities to stimulate conversation based upon what is happening in the world around you as the UK and the world is going though significant challenges which could be weighing on your child’s mind such as the cost-of-living crisis, the Ukraine war, energy problems, travel woes, political turmoil. All these real-world issues provide great opportunities to put into practice psychological skills, they provoke stress responses and the better we are at recognizing and managing stress the better our lives will be globally.
- Healthy is happy and happy is healthy: Plan activities with your kids of course but also use it as an opportunity to show them how being psychologically healthy is the same as having fun! Wellbeing psychologically is no more complex than doing stuff we enjoy such as having a run around the park, helping your kids understand this simple fact is a great gift.
- DOSE up your life: Close on the heels of fun is healthy, is understanding how we can give ourselves positive hormonal boosts d-opamine (rewards prosocial activities improves motivation) o-xytocin makes you feel loved up after a cuddle, s-erotonin improves mood after getting some sun or having a walk in the park, endorphins make you feel great after strenuous activities such as a game of footie. Kids love getting this sort of knowledge and maybe if they are younger, you can do a hormone treasure map for example showing how and where in home and the local area they can get their fix of each hormone.
- PHSE learning at home: What is PSHE covering at school, and can you take up some of the themes at home? The school your child attends have duties to their emotional health and wellbeing and the best way for any of us to learn is by repetition. So, look at what is being covered there regarding psychological health and wellbeing and continue the conversation at home to enrich the message.
- Learn mindfulness: Mindfulness teaches kids emotional resilience and helps them find the strength to deal with their emotions and manage them. Being mindful means greater wellbeing, more positive emotion, and less anxiety and negative emotion. Teach your children simple breathing techniques, work with them to understand the simple power of taking long, slow, and deep breaths, a valuable self-management tool for life.
Noel comments: “It’s important we don’t try and do the emotional and psychological work for our kids but encourage them to develop the internal resources they need for life to manage psychological distress effectively and healthily. Teaching a core set of psychological skills will equip your kids better than if you solve their problems for them: active listening, emotional intelligence, validation and strong self-esteem, empathy with others, seeing the bigger picture by being mindful in life are a great set of skills to develop.”
The key to all health and wellbeing is learning about it then doing it in real life, like if you go to the gym, learn how to use the equipment then use it regularly! It’s the same with psychological fitness ‘equipment’, learn how to use the skills then drop them into family’s life and use them every day.
Noel McDermott is a Psychotherapist with over 25 years’ experience in health, social care, and education. He has created unique, mental health services in the independent sector. Noel’s company offer at-home mental health care and will source, identify and co-ordinate personalized care teams for the individual – www.noelcdermott.net.