Adults aren't the only ones who need to focus on their mental health to live a happy and healthy life. Children's mental health statistics might surprise you. According to the CDC, one in six U.S. children between two and eight have a mental, behavioral, or developmental condition diagnosed by a doctor or specialist. Not surprisingly, mental health affects physical health, too. Poor mental health is associated with sleep problems, heart conditions, and chronic illnesses like arthritis and cancer.
Although special days on the calendar, like Children's Mental Health Day in May, bring awareness to children's mental health problems, it's more important for parents and caregivers to have regular open conversations with their kids about mental health. Doing so sparks an essential dialogue and makes kids know that it's okay to talk about anything bothering them with those they trust most.
How to Talk to Your Child About Mental Health
Supporting good mental health starts at home. Here are a few ways you can promote openness and transparency about mental health with your child.
The first conversation about mental health can be the most challenging but also the most necessary. This topic will be confusing for younger children, so it's best to explain it in a way they can understand. For example: "I'm glad when you talk to me when you're sad. It helps you feel better, doesn't it? I want you to know that I'll always listen when you want to talk."
It's simple and to the point, and it opens the lines of communication so that your kiddo feels comfortable talking to you. Continue encouraging your child to speak to you about whatever is on their mind. As they get older and have more complex problems to deal with, you'll be glad you laid a strong foundation early on.
Be the Best Role Model You Can Be
Children of any age look up to the people they trust most to understand what they should do in certain situations. And if parents or guardians, teachers, and other respected adults aren't taking care of their own mental health or being positive examples to others, kids will take notice.
Aim to show your child that mental health is important. Start with your own. Take time to relax and do things you enjoy doing that don't involve work and stressful situations.
Then, focus on how you treat and support others. Bullying and negativity can spread like wildfire, and children can grow up mimicking what they see. Treating others with respect is an excellent way to show your child how to do the same.
Teach the Power of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is being present in the moment. It can be a powerful way for anyone to center themselves back to a calmer place when they feel stressed. It's never too early to teach kids to be mindful so that they can build positivity, self-esteem, and helpful stress management techniques.
Many schools are building children's mental health programs into their curricula, and communities are offering programs to help kids become more aware of stressors and learn how to manage them. But you can also help at home.
One of the best ways to practice mindfulness is through meditation. Start with just five minutes and build up to 10-15 minutes daily. Have your child find a comfortable place they can relax in and encourage them to breathe in and out deeply.
As they do that, have them focus on what's around them and how they feel in that moment. Finally, have them think about something or someone that makes them feel proud or happy, allowing them to focus on that image for several minutes as they continue deep breathing.
How to Teach Your Children About Mental Health
Mental health is getting talked about more with adults, but not so much with children. Yet children eventually grow into adults who also need to learn why mental health is important and how to focus on their own. Teaching these strategies to your child can pave the way for open discussions and an understanding of the power of positivity.