Good mental health is a powerful force in our children’s lives. It enables youngsters to think, feel, act and interact in positive ways, and this kind of upbeat, resilient headspace has benefits both in the moment, and over the long-term.
Raising Children says that kids with good mental health feel happy and positive about themselves, enjoy their life, learn well, have healthy connections with others, are able to manage ‘big feelings’ (like worry, sadness or anger), and can bounce back when the going gets tough.
During their formative years, good mental health helps children develop socially, emotionally, physically and mentally, and it lays, ‘A foundation for better mental health and wellbeing later in life.’
With all this in mind, it’s important that parents take an active role in promoting our children’s mental health.
The strong relationships we build, the thoughtful guidance we give, and the healthy habits we promote all have a positive effect on youngsters’ mental health, so let’s see how you can support your three- to eight-year-old to have a healthy headspace.
For starters, how can you strengthen the bond you have with your child for the good of their mental health?
Your child’s mental health is bolstered by your love and support, and Raising Children says there are lots of ways to make them feel cherished, encouraged and happy through your daily interactions.
To solidify your parent-child bond and boost your little one’s mental health, the experts suggest that you:
- Share loving words and actions with your child. This means telling them that you love them, no matter what, and using body language and non-verbal communication, too (e.g. looking into your child’s eyes, bending down to their level, returning their smile and giving lots of cuddles).
- Make time to talk and listen to your child every day. Family life is busy, but if your child wants to talk, you’re encouraged to stop what you’re doing (if possible) and give them your full attention.
- Remember to praise and encourage your child if they do something well or behave in an admirable way.
- Simply enjoy time with your child. Choose activities that they like doing (e.g. reading books, playing with toys, kicking a ball or making a cake), then settle in for some ‘us time’.
- Encourage your child to connect with other people in the community (e.g. by saying “hello” to the neighbours or helping out in a community garden).
- And last, but not least, approach all your relationships in a positive way. This means working out ways to solve problems and manage conflict with your partner, your child and among other members of the family.
How can you help your child manage strong emotions to feel better mentally?
The experts say children are more likely to feel good about themselves when they can cope with big feelings (like fear, disappointment, anger etc.), or calm themselves down in challenging or emotional situations; and your words and actions can help them learn these skills.
To support your child’s emotional education, Raising Children recommends that you:
- Talk about different emotions with your child. Encourage them to recognise and name their emotions and explain that it’s normal to have all sorts of feelings (ranging from sadness to joy, and anxiety to hope).
- Focus on role-modelling a positive outlook for your child (e.g. you might say, “I’m disappointed that we missed the bus, but that’s alright, we’ll wait for the next one.”)
- Give your child support when something is bothering them (e.g. if they’re having ‘friend trouble’ at child care, a helpful response is to give your preschooler lots of hugs, reassure them that you’re there for them, and work with their educator to handle the situation).
- Also, think about ways to help your child manage everyday worries before they become big problems (e.g. if your child is anxious about riding a bike, you could gently encourage them to try it.)
How can you promote good mental health by focusing on your child’s behaviour?
Behaviour is also linked to good mental health, and you can promote a positive headspace in your child by focusing on behaviour that encourages confidence, inclusivity, resilience and independence.
Raising Children suggests that you:
- Implement clear, age-appropriate rules about behaviour. Make sure you develop these rules with your child, so they know, not just the rules, but the consequences, too.
- Encourage your child to try new things, learn from their mistakes and take age-appropriate risks (e.g. you could point them in the direction of a new piece of playground equipment, or encourage them to audition for a part in a school play).
- Help your child set goals that are realistic for their age and abilities, then work towards achieving them (e.g. a goal might be for your child to ride their bike without training wheels).
- Help your child learn how to solve problems, so they can develop the skills to do this independently when they’re older (e.g. you can work out what the problem is together, think up possible solutions, then choose a solution to put into action).
- Maintain a healthy balance of screen time and other activities that are positive for their development (e.g. social playdates, physical bike-rides, creative art and plenty of reading).
How can you support your child’s physical health to benefit their mental health?
Nutritious food, regular exercise and sufficient rest makes all ages feel good; and Raising Children says that physical health is a big part of mental health because it, ‘Helps your child stay healthy, have more energy, feel confident, manage stress and sleep well.’
For this reason, it’s important that you focus on healthy food and eating habits in your family; encourage your child to try many different sports and physical activities; and make sure they get enough quality sleep.
In summary, your child’s mental health and wellbeing ties in with everything they see and do, think and feel; and as a parent, you play a key role in promoting a positive headspace as your youngster moves through their days and through their childhood.
Your love and support helps them navigate the good days and bad, and if you’re worried about your child’s mental health, then please remember that your GP and other professionals are on hand to help.
The Active Play Guidelines for young children
The importance of good sleep at child care and beyond
Your child’s mental health
How early childhood education services support young children in the wake of trauma