You provide support for your kids everyday. You make sure that there’s food on the table, that there’s a roof over their heads, and that they’re safe and warm at night. It’s your job to help them get through life’s obstacles. However, an aspect of care that may be underlooked or not immediately thought of is caring for your child’s mental health.
Half of all long-term mental illnesses start by age 14, and more than 17 million children in the United States struggle with their mental health. As a parent, that can be a frightening statistic. You take steps to ensure your children are on their way to sustainable physical health by taking them for their annual physicals, vaccinating them against the flu and deadly viruses, and bringing them to the doctor’s when they’re sick. In the same way, it’s important to take steps to lay the foundation for long-term, sustainable mental wellness.
One of the key ways to accomplish long-term, sustainable mental health is ensuring that you are giving your children the tools to engage in proper self-care. Many times, you’re already doing so without realizing. These four self-care practices are essential in making sure your children can maintain and sustain their mental health.
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Building healthy diet habits in your kids carries more than just physical health benefits. Studies show that what we eat impacts our mood and overall mental wellbeing. Empowering your kids to choose healthy, “real” food over processed foods that are high in saturated fats and refined sugars can have a lasting effect on their mental health.
Junk food, like candy or soda, causes fluctuations in blood pressure that lead to short bursts of energy followed by a crash that leads to being lethargic and irritable. In contrast, foods high in protein, essential vitamins, and fiber can have a positive effect on your overall mood. High protein food, for example, increases the level of dopamine and norepinephrine in your body, giving you more energy and improving your mood throughout the day.
Encouraging your kids to eat healthy early on can build healthy habits for life. If your child is a picky eater, experiment with different healthy recipes and snack options until you finally find their favorites.
Teaching your child how to recognize, articulate, and work through their emotions has a profound effect on their emotional health, which plays a key role in mental health. Emotional health is important in decreasing anxiety, promoting emotional intelligence and regulation, reducing unhealthy behavior, and empowering your child with the freedom to be their best self.
In order to teach your child how to express themselves and recognize their emotions, start off by teaching them simple feeling words like “happy”, “mad”, “sad”, or “scared”. You can encourage them to use their feeling words by creating opportunities for them to share them with you. These opportunities could simply be asking them how they’re feeling during the day, or turning high-emotion moments like a temper tantrum into a learning moment. When your child expresses their emotions in a positive and appropriate way, celebrate that with them and encourage them to continue.
Opening up a dialogue about feelings can also empower your child with the tools to recognize when they might be struggling with their mental health in the future. With an already established open dialogue, they can feel comfortable in coming to you for help. Then, together you can seek out more mental health information and decide on proper treatment.
Getting Enough Exercise
Physical activity helps to manage depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions, along with working to improve mood and behavior. Exercise for children doesn’t necessarily look like hitting the gym and setting up fitness goals. The most beneficial forms of exercise for children come in the form of playing outside with friends or playing sports. This can be as simple as grabbing a basketball and shooting some hoops, or getting one of the best hockey sticks here and joining a team.
In today’s world of smartphones, tablets and technology, many children spend their free time interacting with their screens instead of getting the physical activity and exercise they need. It’s important to find ways to limit your child’s screen-time, and get them moving.
Much like building healthy eating habits can build healthy habits for life, establishing physical activity as something fun and routine can help to build healthy fitness habits for life. This has positive effects on not only your child’s lifetime physical health but their mental health as well.
Finding creative outlets to express imagination is an essential aspect of self-care. Self-expression helps to boost motivation, increase concentration, and build self-esteem.
Make sure to empower your child to explore their imagination and find creative ways to express themselves. Introducing them to the arts is often a great way to embrace their creative side. Encourage them to draw, paint, write, or dance. Anything that engages their imagination and encourages them to create can have a positive influence on their overall mental health and give them a positive channel to express their thoughts and feelings.