May is Mental Health Awareness month, and it’s a good opportunity to speak towards the importance of maintaining positive mental health. It’s not always easy to identify when kids are struggling, but there are several steps parents can take to help support their child’s emotional well being.
1. Place an emphasis on quality family time. Spending time with our kids allows for many wonderful teaching opportunities for parents, and it’s also a core part of building our child’s self-confidence as they grow up. The same is equally true for tweens and teens – studies show that adolescents’ self-esteem is directly related with family function, and that families have a “crucial role in shaping self-esteem.” An added benefit of family time is that it can provide windows for communication – our next important tip.
2. Encourage honesty and communication. As all parents know, kids do not always address issues directly. Even from a young age, children can be hesitant to tell their parents something they associate with being “negative” – for example, sneaking some cookies from the pantry before dinner. When it comes to mental health, powerful feelings can be confusing and difficult to process. Unfortunately mental struggles are often associated with feelings of guilt or shame, making individuals even less likely to open up when they most need support. Our best advice for parents is to let their children know they have a safe space and can feel comfortable speaking in complete confidence. While making sure to use a calm tone of voice, provide reassurance that things aren’t going to escalate and that they will not be “in trouble.” When it comes to our children, it’s simply always better to encourage honesty for the sake of safety.
3. Be on the lookout for signs they are struggling. Understandably, it’s not always easy for people who are experiencing mental health difficulties to communicate their feelings to others. When it comes to children and teens, there are a number of different signs parents can be aware of – for example, if your child experiences a sudden change in behavior, motivation, or overall attitude. These factors often extend towards academic habits, as an unusual decline in grades or test scores can also be an indicator they need support. In many cases, these can also be signs of academic difficulties – which in turn can damage a student’s self-confidence and negatively affect their overall well-being. When it comes to approaching mental health concerns, our advice to parents is to utilize all the resources available to you. Speak to their teachers, school counselors, and medical doctors to ensure you have a complete picture of the situation. And most importantly, if you are concerned your child is struggling with mental health, give them a hug and let them know you are there as an unbreakable pillar of love and support. As we all know, sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that you have a shoulder to lean on.